In an ever-more-complex health care system, nurse navigators help keep patients on course for healthier outcomes — whether it’s for cancer, orthopedics, congestive heart failure, sepsis or other chronic conditions.
“I have now worked with nurse navigators in several settings and have observed how critical their role is for our patients and families,” said Denise McNitt, MS, RN, vice president of Patient Care Services.
“They are providing psychosocial support, assisting in finding transportation, ensuring that physician appointments have been made and often act as the patient and family’s own ‘health concierge’ — which leads to better patient outcomes and a more efficient way to provide services.”
CHI Health started growing the nurse navigator program seven years ago. The attraction for nurses is the ability to work closely with patients, families and the entire care team. It’s also a career track that requires gathering experience in multiple areas and taking advantage of additional educational opportunities.
Karen Pribnow, RN, MSN, OCN, CN-BN, is a breast cancer nurse navigator at CHI Health St. Elizabeth.
“As a navigator, you can’t be the expert in everything, but you can direct (patients) to the person they need to talk to about their needs,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s nice for patients to have that go-to person that can help bridge the gaps and make sure everyone involved with their care is in the loop and we’re providing the best care we can for this person.”
Pribnow started as an oncology nurse in 1988, became oncology certified in 1989 and earned a master’s degree in nursing in 2011. “I think that’s important because it shows commitment, dedication and the willingness to go the extra mile,” she said.
Nurses usually hold several nursing positions prior to becoming a nurse navigator. Having the varied experience and a willingness to learn on the job is important because there’s no program for nurse navigators.
Rhonda Burger, ASN, RN, has been a nurse navigator with the Nebraska Spine Hospital at CHI Health Immanuel for seven out of her 26 years with CHI Health.
“I always liked to educate patients preoperatively and postoperatively,” she said. “As a nurse navigator, I’m more involved in patient education, discharge planning and making sure patients know what to expect.”
Spending time with patients means nurse navigators sometimes notice important details.
“Just by communicating with the patients and finding out more about them, there have been times when we can make a safety catch that could have been catastrophic during a surgery,” she said.
Dana Welsh, RN, BSN, OCN, has been a cancer nurse navigator at CHI Health Good Samaritan Cancer Center in Kearney for the past three years, but has been at Good Samaritan in various other roles since 1998.
Helping cancer patients is also what it’s all about for Welsh.
“It’s just about helping them through their cancer journey, whether it’s providing emotional support, explaining their disease process or helping them manage their side effects,” she said. “Whatever the case may be – that’s what our role is.”