Jessica Vanase, RN, BA, CBCN, is a breast care navigator for Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute at William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn. She started working as a nurse navigator in December 2015.
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Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Jessica Vanase: The most important thing I do as a nurse navigator is to make sure cancer patients receive the best possible treatment for their illness and feel supported during their journey. I work almost exclusively with breast cancer patients, and breast cancer has a high cure rate, especially if it’s detected early, so it’s my role to help make sure patients are taking the steps necessary to achieve cure.
Particularly when patients are first diagnosed, they are so overwhelmed that they don’t know which way to turn. Explaining pathology, discussing treatment options and just being there for support helps patients gather the information and strength they need to carry on. Knowing that you have eased the burden even just a little for people going through one of scariest times of their lives is very rewarding.
Also, as a breast care navigator, I’m part of a system of checks and balances that makes sure every patient with an abnormal mammogram or ultrasound receives sufficient follow-up. I take that very seriously — I don’t want a single person to fall through the cracks when it comes to early detection.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
JV: I like working one on one with the patients, helping them understand their diagnosis and treatment, and helping them manage the side effects and pitfalls of cancer treatments. I love being able to open the door to complementary therapies, like yoga or massage. I love it when it all comes together and the patient feels supported during every part of their journey.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
JV: Nurse navigation provides that extra service that some patients really need — especially those patients without a strong support network at home. By removing barriers to care — whether they’re fear, lack of education, transportation, financial issues — we can make sure patients receive the treatments they need. I think that having a nurse there to cover all the bases adds extra value to a cancer center.
Q: Can you share any particular patient stories or experiences that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
JV: Here’s a good example of stopping someone from falling through the cracks. I contact every single patient with a positive breast cancer diagnosis after their physician has notified them. Well, I got a call from a patient I had contacted prior to her biopsy. She wanted to know when the physician would discuss her results. I called the office to find out what was going on — there had been a scheduling mix-up tied in with someone’s vacation, and there was no follow-up appointment. Luckily, they were able to get her into the office right away, as she had a positive cancer diagnosis. The patient was very thankful to have someone to intercede on her behalf. Even the physician thanked me!
Since I reach out to people right at the diagnosis, I’m able to establish relationships early on. I just recently received a lovely thank you card from a patient nearing her treatment end — I was with her from her time of mastectomy until now. She thanked me for being there “every step of the way.” She said she knew I would always call her back and find the answers to her questions, and it helped her get through her difficult chemotherapy sessions.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a nurse navigator?
JV: I think every nurse navigator is pulled in multiple directions, since we’re the “jacks of all trades.” If people don’t know what to do with a patient, they’ll just call me! That part can be both really fun or really challenging. Sometimes navigators can get pulled into situations normally handled by other professionals, and it requires a multidisciplinary effort. I’ve learned that having a network of professional contacts is invaluable.
Q: What do you see as ways or opportunities to improve nurse navigation?
JV: Improved understanding of the role of nurse navigation to physicians and support staff would increase referrals early on, and help them understand how navigation can improve patient care. Unfortunately, because of the breakneck speed at which most providers’ offices operate, it can be hard to get the time we need to reach out to staff.
Q: What technology do you use in your position? What tools do you wish you had?
JV: The most technology I use is a desktop and a phone! I have access to our hospital’s EMR, the private oncology practice EMR, and the radiation oncology software. I wish I had access to private surgery practices’ EMR — it would help make follow-up easier, with less phone calls and paper.