Sara Owens, RN, BSN, OCN, is a nurse navigator for WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, GA. She has served as a nurse navigator since September 2015 and an oncology nurse since 2011. Owens was the recent recipient of Wellstar’s Crump Award for Excellence in Oncology Nursing.
Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Sara Owens: I’ve felt that the most important work that we do as nurse navigators is providing patients a sense of hope in a time that is very uncertain. Especially for a patient who is facing a cancer diagnosis, health care can be very overwhelming. They are often rushed from appointment to appointment without time to absorb what is happening. They have to interrupt their day to day in order to fight what very well may be a chronic disease. It is a life altering situation for which few are prepared.
Nurse navigation can help these patients see the light at the end of the tunnel. It can provide a safety net for those who feel that they could never do it all alone. It helps them know that they have someone to help them through it and to fight with them.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
SO: I think nurse navigation provides a lot of value to patients. Nurse navigators give patients education about what to expect from their treatment, provide them with resources in the hospital and in the community, and give them confidence in their ability to manage their own care. Nurse navigators can help patients receive the preventative care that they need in order to keep small problems from becoming larger ones. They can also provide the patient with someone who can see the big picture, knows that patient and their history, and can improve continuity and coordination of care.
Q: Can you share any particular patient stories or experiences that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
SO: As a nurse navigator, I have helped patients with problems ranging from scheduling appointments, to fixing billing issues, to coordinating transportation, to finding translation services. However, in one of my most challenging cases, my social worker and I had to help remove a woman from her home due to domestic violence. Her English comprehension was poor, she was illiterate, she had no family, and she had very few options to support herself. She was able to get connected to a local organization that helped her get housing, get through treatment for her breast cancer, and find a lawyer to help with ongoing support.
I believe without the team in my facility (including nurse navigators and social work) that she wouldn’t have survived her diagnosis. I know she will have many challenges going forward, but I believe that she has a good shot.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a nurse navigator?
SO: One of the challenges of doing our job is being able to accept the limits of what we can do for a patient. Sometimes it comes down to simply “getting them through” treatment and then providing support as we can for them going forward.
Q: What would you say to an organization that is contemplating whether to implement a nurse navigation program?
SO: Nurse navigation can be beneficial to any patient trying to navigate the health care system. Nurse navigators provide the patient with a resource who not only knows the ins and outs of health care, but has connections within the hospital and community. Navigators can reduce costs by eliminating barriers for patients to receive preventative care and they provide a bridge between patients in the inpatient and outpatient setting. They can also ensure timely and appropriate care for patients by coordinating and assisting patients with scheduling of appointments and communicating with the health care team about test results.