Wendy M. Hankins, RN, CN-BN, is a cancer navigator for Piedmont Newton Hospital in Covington, Ga. She has served as a navigator since February 2013.
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Q: What do you like best about your job?
Wendy Hankins: I enjoy connecting with patients and their families at Piedmont Newton in a way that brings comfort and reassurance during one of the scariest times in their lives. I help with many things that seem very simple, such as faxing records, coordinating appointments, providing educational materials, and listening to concerns. Yet, my patients tell me these things feel monumental and overwhelming. One of my greatest joys is hearing that I made a bad situation a little easier in some small way.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
WH: Healthcare has become very complicated, and is far from the norm for most people. When faced with a serious illness or injury, patients and families often have no idea where to begin to find the services they need. We give patients tremendous amounts of information — sometimes in terms they may not understand — and expect them to make life-altering decisions in a short time. Navigators explain things in a manner that is easier to understand, offer advice as to which steps need to be taken first, and help make things happen in a timely and efficient manner.
Q: How do your colleagues view nurse navigation and care coordination?
WH: Most of my patients and many of my colleagues had never heard of a nurse navigator, much less what to expect from one. My role at Piedmont Newton was new when I started. The physicians I work with seem to appreciate having someone to help them with coordination of care. The simple things — like getting records when needed and following up when patients don’t show up for appointments — becomes a shared responsibility. This helps keep patients from falling through the cracks. There is a mutual respect between physician offices and myself. We all work together for the wellbeing of those we serve.
Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
WH: If I can help one patient at Piedmont Newton regain a sense of dignity and control in his or her treatment, then I have been successful in my work. This is the reason I became a nurse. This may be the most important part of what I do on a daily basis.
Education is another important part of what I do. To be able to dispel myths and misconceptions about cancer screenings and treatment is so important. Many women in particular believe they are at little risk of developing breast cancer because no one in their family has had it. Men and women often do not realize the importance of annual cancer screenings but consistent screenings really can save your life.
Q: What would you say to an organization that is contemplating whether to implement a nurse navigation program?
WH: At Piedmont Newton, we treat the whole person — not just the disease. Patient navigation is an important part of what we do, and I recommend any organization looking to improve patient care add cancer patient navigation to their services. There’s more to cancer treatment than medicine, and nurse navigators provide an extra level of support that patients often need.