Sharon Gentry, RN, MSN, CBCN, CBEC, is a breast nurse navigator for the Novant Health Derrick L. Davis Cancer Center in Winston Salem, N.C., and serves on the leadership council for the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+). She has served as a nurse navigator since January 2001.
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Q: What is the most important work you do as a nurse navigator?
Sharon Gentry: Being there for the patients and their family or support system — that consistent link through outreach into survivorship. Also improving the quality of care in the system by seeing the whole journey of care.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
SG: There is never a “same” day. I meet all types of people with very interesting lives. The best part is creating happiness for someone who is in doubt of the “system”!
Q: What value do you think nurse navigation provides?
SG: Nurse navigation encompasses the whole patient experience by adding access to resources for care; personalized patient education; psychosocial support; barrier assessment for gaps in care; analysis of patient flow; adherence to National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines; access to supportive services such as genetics, physical/occupational therapy and dietary; a common link for multidisciplinary care; and it proactively guides the patient and family through treatment or, if needed, end-of-life care.
Q: Can you share any particular patient stories or experiences that demonstrate the value of nurse navigation?
SG: Frequently, patients call and express appreciation for consistently being present with them, or they will call and say, “I did not know who to call but knew you could help.” They comment on how they appreciate the honesty of answers or the explanation of why an appointment cannot be arranged instantly, especially if it is dependent on another scheduled event.
Today, a very analytical person that fired question after question on the how, when and why of her disease ended our conversation with a sigh and the simple words of “thank you for being there today.”
One grad student said navigation is a lot like stalking. The navigators are behind the scenes in a stealth manner to assure the patient has a great experience. The patient will never realize some of the “behind-the-scenes ” work!
Q: What is your biggest challenge as a nurse navigator?
SG: Time is always a challenge. There is no one set day — just patient needs. There is also a need to have more people write, publish or speak up about best practices that others can learn from — what worked and what could have been conducted differently.
Q: What technology do you use in your position?
SG: The electronic health record has been a challenge but a blessing to see the team communicate about the patient. Emails are invaluable for communicating among the local and national organizations that are supporting nurse navigation. Better yet is the face-to-face interaction with patients or the personal time with colleagues that support the navigation profession.
Q: How do your colleagues view nurse navigation and care coordination?
SG: Most of my colleagues are very supportive of navigation and care coordination as well as promoting evidence-based care models. I am impressed when I talk with nurses across the United States that are pioneers in their areas with nurse navigation and go up against great odds (lack of administration support) to create a successful program. I love the calls that start with “You are never going to believe this!” because I know a monumental breakthrough story will follow.
Q: What do you hope for as the future for nurse navigation in the United States?
SG: I hope this respect on a national level will continue as standards are developed and certification is established for the navigation profession — nurse and patient navigation. It was inspiring to see AONN+ be invited to be a part of the Commission on Cancer and hear about conversations where programs are looking at the value of navigation.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say to our navigator readership?
SG: I would like to stress for all navigators to be involved in sharing their best practices or, if at a standstill with a barrier, to have a colleague they can reach out to for brainstorming. AONN+, with the mission to provide a network for collaboration and development of best practices for the improvement of patient access to care and quality of life, offers a number of training and education opportunities for healthcare and public health professionals to help advance their navigation practice. The publications promote navigation through patient education or professional sharing. One can come to a regional or annual conference or participate on web-based opportunities.