Being an oncology nurse navigator (ONN) during a pandemic has brought many challenges to the role, but changing jobs has presented even more difficulties. If 2020 did not make you evaluate your life and think about what your priorities are, then you are in the minority.
After much reflection, I decided to leave my job in the Southwest and move back to my Midwest roots. I loved my coworkers, I loved my patients, and I knew I had made a difference in the organization and to my patients in my 3 years there.
My heart, in many ways, was calling me back North. When an oncology nurse navigator position became available in the Indiana area, I applied, interviewed over the phone, and started the process of packing up my belongings. Change can be frightening, but this ONN is always up for an adventure.
As a seasoned oncology nurse navigator, I know the role well, but I had to learn the ins and outs of this new healthcare organization. Over the past 3 months, I repeatedly heard the Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believing” in my head. I was just that small-town girl, living in a lonely world of a new workplace during a pandemic.
My introduction to members of the multidisciplinary team was an unusual experience. Handshakes and in-person meetings were discouraged in October with the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the region. Oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, and other members of the cancer care team were just voices on online meetings.
As an experienced navigator, I wanted to share some helpful tips on acclimating to a new job in these unprecedented times:
Be flexible. Your role may evolve several times in these uncertain times.
Smile. Even under your mask, your eyes smile. It also makes your mood sunnier.
Understand. Your priorities may not be the same as your co-worker’s, your manager’s, or even your organization’s. Don’t take it personally, healthcare facilities are maneuvering through the pandemic to the best of their ability.
Ask questions. There is no shame in being inquisitive. It gets you on the same page as the rest of your co-workers. For instance, on my first day in my new building, no one gave me a tour, so I had to ask where the bathroom was! When I orient new nurses, I am always concerned when they don’t ask questions.
Take copious notes. You never know when your preceptor may resign. Yes, this happened to me and I had 2 weeks to learn EVERYTHING. To this day, I still refer to my notes.
Learn your organization resources. Again, this is not easy to do during a pandemic, but find out who key people in each area are, and establish relationships.
- Radiation Oncology Nurses
You share patients with radiation oncology nurses, and they may be too busy to attend to psychosocial needs of the patient and family. Let them know you are available to help.
- Financial Counselors
You may not be able to meet financial counselors in person, but you can connect with the counselors who may have applied for Medicaid on your patient’s behalf. Collaboration between the ONN and financial counselor is even more imperative during COVID-19 since patients and family members have lost jobs, had hours reduced, and may have lost their insurance.
- Social Workers
If you are fortunate to have any in your organization, both inpatient and outpatient social workers are invaluable members of the oncology team. Social workers provide psychosocial support to patients, families, and members of the team.
- Discharge Nurses or Case Managers
Connect with case managers to bridge the gap between inpatient and outpatient.
- Support Groups
Research what support groups are available at your organization. Many places have started virtual support groups that you can recommend to your patients.
Learn about local resources outside of your organization. Local resources can help with any acuity you are facing in your role. As oncology navigators, we need all the help we can get in supporting our patients through their difficult cancer journey.
- American Cancer Society
- Local United Way
- Transportation companies
- Salvation Army
- Gilda’s Club
Keep abreast of your national resources. Continuing growth and education are important to the role of the navigator because of the dynamic nature of oncology. National resources can provide a wide range of support.
AONN+ is an extremely valuable resource with blogs, Facebook Live sessions, an exclusive Facebook page for navigators, and Midyear and Annual conferences. When you attend an AONN+ conference, you receive a free 1-year membership. Becoming a member of AONN+ means gaining access to member-exclusive videos, toolkits, and insights from leadership.
Developed by the PAN Foundation, it is a free resource for healthcare team members to receive timely information on financial support available to patients.
- CONQUER: the patient voice
A great magazine and resource for your patients. Every year, CONQUER releases a Patient Guide to Cancer Support Services to help your patients become aware of the many financial support services available to relieve them of the associated financial worries.
- Triage Cancer
A national nonprofit which provides information and resources on the full spectrum of cancer survivorship issues through their monthly webinars, blog, and quick guides where cancer patients gain invaluable information. They also host free, online educational events for individuals diagnosed with cancer.
CancerCare.org provides free, professional support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical, and financial challenges of cancer.
- Cancer Support Community
Both a local and national, Cancer Support Community offers information on support groups, providing virtual support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ask for an orientation checklist. If there isn’t one, then start one. Keep track of all the items you wish were given to you on day 1, like getting the keys to the office. Your manager will appreciate you for it. No such checklist has existed for me in my past 4 positions.
On March 15, 2020, I was told to start working from home the next morning. I continued to provide great care to my patients and never felt more important to my cancer patients and their families. Hopefully, someday soon, life will return to pre-pandemic normal. My normal has changed, but when you think about it, when our patients are diagnosed with cancer, their life has changed forever. Adapting to a new job isn’t always easy, hopefully these tips help.
Remember that you may be new to the organization, but you have a lot of experience to offer. Don’t be afraid to share your experience.
“You must go on adventures to find out where you truly belong”