Jared Ediger, RN, BSN, MS, is an oncology nurse navigator at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver, Colo. He has served as a nurse navigator at Porter since June 2015.
Q: How would you define your role as a nurse navigator?
Jared Ediger: My role as a nurse navigator is to provide support to people who are going through the inconveniences of cancer. There are a variety of barriers that make it hard to get through treatment successfully. My goal is to help patients deal with these barriers so there is no delay in getting a patient successfully through treatment. The common barriers that people face are transportation, financial, emotional, treatment-related side effects, and communication. Some of these barriers I can directly address as a navigator, while others require me to reach out to other people who can help with addressing these barriers.
Communication is one of the biggest tasks that I have as a navigator. Patients who are treated here at Porter have multiple providers making decisions, and many times the patient gets confused by all the decisions that need to be made. My priority as a navigator is to make sure patients understand what has been communicated with them. When you have multiple messages coming in from different providers, it is natural for a patient to feel overwhelmed. Navigation can help clear up the message and relieve the stressors created by misunderstanding and hopefully allow the patient to focus their emotions on treatment.
Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
JE: Connecting with people. I have always been a person who loves developing relationships. Anytime I get away from that aspect of nursing, I feel less fulfilled. Nurse navigation requires a lot of relationship and trust building with patients. I find that many people have not heard the term oncology nurse navigator, so I end of paraphrasing it with care coordinator. Once I can help them, I believe they began to value my role in their care and rely on me more consistently. Not all people need nurse navigation, but there is a steep learning curve in cancer that I feel navigation can benefit almost anyone coming through our doors.
I feel that navigation still suffers from people not understanding what our role is in their care. I am hoping the title “nurse navigator” will have a more well-known role in patient care, to the extent that people will ask for nurse navigators instead of stumbling across them.
Q: Can you share any stories or experiences that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
JE: I think one of my most memorable opportunities while being a navigator at Porter involved an uninsured patient from Mexico. This patient came to us through a local dermatologist that knew of the work we do here at Porter for head and neck cancer. We had a surgeon, Dr. John Campana, who was willing to take him on as a charity case and our administration was generous enough to see that this would happen.
This patient had a large skin cancer that had spread to his eye and was causing blindness. He had no options for further medical care in Mexico, and his options here in Colorado were limited due to insurance issues. Helping to connect this patient with the right team and group that was willing to do this collaboratively was a learning experience. Guiding someone who has so many barriers in place really tested my navigation skills.
I think the result was about as good as we could have hoped for. He is living back in Mexico with his wife and four kids. It makes me proud to be a part of a hospital that said “yes” to a charity case like his.
Q: What would you say to an organization that is contemplating whether to implement a nurse navigation program?
JE: I would say that it is a must for any organization building a cancer program. Nurse navigators are on the front lines of what people are going through. They help support positive patient relationships, and serve as an internal referral source for the variety of needs that patients have as they come through the doors of the hospital. I help connect patients with counselors, chaplains, nutritionists, speech therapists, dental hygienists, physical therapists, and many specialist physicians within Porter.
Most patients are not aware of the variety of resources that are offered in the hospital. Navigators play as the connecting link between patients and supportive services. I think we all are aware of the role that patient experience will have in our hospitals. Navigators work hard to make sure that patients are satisfied when they are done with treatment and beyond.
Q: What do you see as ways to improve nurse navigation?
JE: I think that nurse navigation could benefit by having a more consistent set of standards across the board. Nurse navigation is still relatively new enough that it doesn’t have a clearly defined role and training program. When you ask people how they navigate at most hospitals, you are going to get a different description from each place. I feel that if we developed more consistent standards, navigators would know what to expect and feel more satisfied about accomplishing tasks.
I have seen people get out of navigation because it was not clear to them what navigation was and what they had to accomplish. I would like to see more training programs to help new navigators feel comfortable with what they are doing.