Tammy Ellison, RN, BSN, is an oncology nurse navigator for Holzer Center for Cancer Care in Gallipolis, Ohio. She has served in this position since August 2008.
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Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Tammy Ellison: I love what I do. I provide a lot of community outreach and education for our patients and their family members. When a patient tells me that they don’t know what they would have done without my help or guidance, it really makes me proud to be able to offer this type of service.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
TE: Nurse navigation makes the patient’s journey easier. Having a listening ear and a comforting touch makes their treatment less frightening. Nurse navigators provide somewhere for the patient to turn to for symptom management and questions. This type of position is truly an emotional lifeline for the patient and family members.
Q: Can you share any particular patient stories or experiences that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
TE: There was an elderly patient who was having a hard time with her diagnosis. Her chemotherapy provided a host of symptom issues, including anxiety, weakness, and reduced appetite. I was able to provide a number of eating and symptom management tips for her. One of the tips was to eat salted peanuts when feeling shaky. That tip stuck with her and she called to say how great it worked.
Post treatment, she called to tell me that she still uses my tips to help her when needed. The patient commented that she didn’t know how patients got through this type of experience without a nurse navigator. It was heartwarming to see how much of an impact I can make on others when it’s needed most.
Q: What do you see as ways or opportunities to improve nurse navigation?
TE: Since this type of service is not always seen or obvious to the patient’s total care, a substantial amount of education is needed for coworkers, managers, and community members. A navigator’s value is immeasurable; however, most of our work is done in the background. I have spent numerous hours working on providing patients with resources for treatments and even basic needs such as food. Individuals approach me with such a broad range of needs. The time I spend on each situation is something that is often unnoticed. With education and sharing of patient’s stories, nurse navigation can continue to grow and be a more integral part of patient care.
Q: What do you hope for as the future for nurse navigation in the United States?
TE: I would like to see nurse navigation extended to more disease management in health care. In oncology, which is the field for which I provide navigation, is imperative to have a navigator. However, there is a need for navigation in any chronic illness. Having a navigator in those fields can provide another resource for patients to discuss symptoms and treatments, and make the patient feel valued and important. Another touch-point for any type of disease management can alleviate many fears and make the journey to wellness smoother.