Kimberly Bielecki, RN, BSN, MBA, is an oncology nurse navigator for the Norma Pfriem Cancer Institute at Bridgeport Hospital in Conneticut. She has served as an oncology nurse navigator since January 2008, and was a recent recipient of the American Cancer Society Lane W. Adams Quality of Life Award.
Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Kimberly Bielecki: The role of coordinator is a key piece in nurse navigation. Patients diagnosed with cancer are faced with numerous appointments, challenges and being totally overwhelmed with the journey they will face. As navigators, we are here to help pave the road for that journey with support services that are identified by a distress screening tool, completed by the patient. Nurse navigation encompasses many roles including support person, appointment scheduler, transportation and financial assistance, and liaison to the many health professionals involved in the patient’s care. There are patients who need more intervention than others based on the support system available to them. Nurse navigation is all about listening, caring and being there to support patients at diagnosis, treatment and through their established survivorship plan.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
KB: I like the fact that as a navigator I can provide support in so many different ways. Each patient has unique needs, and the fact that we are instrumental in supporting them through their cancer journey makes my role in nursing so rewarding. We are there to listen to frustrations, celebrate successes and find ways to help when at times it seems impossible to patients and their families. There is definitely not a navigator template that we follow; our work involves a creative approach to care and support.
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
KB: As navigators, we are able to search for resources that may benefit the patient, whether financial, emotional or logistical such as finding a way to get them to their many appointments and keeping their care “on track.” I work collaboratively with the health care team to ensure that patients are able to get the care they need when they need it. A hospital volunteer saw me meeting with patients, and when diagnosed with cancer herself wanted me to help her “navigate” her care. Her family lived in different parts of the country and she did not have a local support system, so we worked together to be her support system.
Q: Can you share any particular patient stories or experiences that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
KB: I remember one of my very early patients, a lovely gentleman from Morocco, who was referred to me by one of our medical oncologists who asked, “Kim, how is your French?” The patient had a lovely supportive family who provided care, but it came to the point in his illness that his only wish was to return to his native country to die. I did not realize that navigation could be international, but with help from local oncology support organizations, the patient, accompanied by his wife and son, flew home where he spent his last days surrounded by his family. Every year since that time, the patient’s son, who now has his own family in the local area, visits me and tells me how grateful he and his mother are that his father’s final wish was granted.
Q: How do your colleagues view nurse navigation and care coordination?
KB: I had been in a role of care coordinator in my hospital’s primary care center for 12 years prior to my role in oncology. Those years provided a great deal of contact with not only hospital staff, but many community health centers and organizations. The information and resources gained in my care coordination role has provided great avenues for navigation. As a nurse navigator, I work collaboratively with care coordination to ensure navigation continues past the hospital admission and discharge. I see patients during their inpatient stay and assure that their post- hospital plan of care is followed, utilizing necessary resources in the community. It is an ideal plan to assure continuity of care.