Vicki Hallum, RN, CBCN, is a breast cancer nurse navigator with Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. In July 2009, she started developing the organization’s navigation process. It was implemented in January 2010.
Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Vicki Hallum: I am often the first person patients talk to after they have been informed by their physician that they have breast cancer and before they see a surgeon or an oncologist. I cannot even imagine what it must be like to wait to talk to someone; fear of the unknown is the worst fear, so I call them as soon as possible. I am their bridge, but mostly I offer reassurance that they will live another day! That is usually the first thing they ask me. I can spend a great amount of time with them on the phone offering reassurance with compassion and knowledge. I explain to them the next steps, and reassure them they are not alone and that our breast cancer team already has a plan for them in place.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
VH: Reassurance that my patients are receiving evidence-based practice quality health care is very important to me as a professional. Education is a powerful tool. I provide an enormous amount of community outreach about breast cancer screening and the importance of early detection. Witnessing the transition my patients experience — personally and professionally — is quite satisfying. It is impressive to watch them grow stronger over time, regain control over their bodies and lives, and overcome their worst fear: dying. The courage and strength they reveal is immeasurable in terms of words — it’s like they have discovered the secret code to life, and they are invincible. I am honored and proud to be a part of that transition.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
VH: It makes good business sense saving time and money. Providing guidance and direction to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients will ensure the patient is connected to a professional, board-certified breast surgeon and oncology team in their community in a timely manner. Navigators are the link to healthcare for many patients who face many disparities. Locating valuable resources for these patients allows them to access and continue their treatment.
Empowering patients with knowledge about their breast cancer so they can be successful with their treatments is a strong value of a nurse navigator.
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a nurse navigator?
VH: Time and resources — there is just never enough of either.
Q: What do you see as ways or opportunities to improve nurse navigation?
VH: Navigation software that is compatible and designed uniquely for each navigator program would be ideal. A navigation software design that is compatible with our hospital EMR system would be so helpful and would save time with documentation and survivorship care plans.
Q: How do your colleagues view nurse navigation and care coordination?
VH: Now that they see how effective nurse navigation is, they are very supportive.
Q: What would you say to an organization that is contemplating whether to implement a nurse navigation program?
VH: I would advise them to consult with a nurse navigator who has an established successful navigator program to inquire about the benefits and how navigation would fit into their organization. Navigation programs are uniquely implemented to fit the needs of the community.
Q: What do you hope for as the future for nurse navigation in the United States?
VH: I am hoping that all healthcare institutions incorporate nurse navigation for all chronic diseases. The complexity of our healthcare systems is overwhelming to most patients. Having a professional nurse navigator guide and direct patient care benefits both the patient and the institution in that it streamlines the process by saving time and money.
Note: Vicki can be reached at email@example.com.