Joan Stewart, MN, RN, is a nurse navigator in ambulatory care for the VA Montana Health Care System in Ft. Harrison, Mont. She started working as the nurse navigator at VA Montana in 2014. Stewart recently received the DAISY Award for extraordinary nurses, and was presented with a “Healer’s Touch” sculpture as part of the recognition.
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Q: Why did you become a nurse navigator?
Joan Stewart: I accepted this position so I could have more contact with veterans. This position, which initially started as a triage job, has evolved to identifying needs and assisting veterans with navigation through the very complex VA system.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
JS: As the nurse navigator, I am able to evaluate and identify veteran needs, provide options and solutions to their problems, and provide ongoing assistance for up to 25 veterans daily. I work with members of the patient aligned care teams throughout the state, VA emergency department, specialty clinics, and support staff to assure continuity of care is provided.
Listening is one of the most important skills I utilize as the nurse navigator. As a good listener, I know that listening improves the quality of my relationships with veterans and colleagues, improves veteran-centered care, and establishes trusting relationships.
Q: Can you share a particular patient story that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
JS: Veterans frequently have difficulty contacting staff at VA Montana Health Care. I recently took an important medical call from a veteran who was very frustrated after several telephone transfers prior to reaching me. He had several issues to address, and told me about them. I informed that I would contact him later in the day once I was able to research his case.
The veteran asked for the nurse navigator telephone number, which was provided. He stated, “You will never call me back or answer the phone when I call.” I assured the veteran that I would contact him by the end of the business day. He hung up and called back within 10 minutes to “test that the nurse navigator would really answer the phone when I called.”
Trust plays an integral role in developing relationships with veterans. I was able to provide resolution to this veteran’s issues and assist with providing necessary appointments to maintain continuity of care.
Q: What would you say to an organization that is contemplating whether to implement a nurse navigation program?
JS: All of these skills I noted are necessary for workplace success. Every VA hospital and community based outpatient clinic (CBOC) should implement a nurse navigator position to provide better service to veterans.
Providing better service means advocating for individual veterans by helping them navigate through the very complex bureaucracy. The nurse navigator role provides me with the opportunity to go the extra mile for every veteran, every day.