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Defining the Role of the Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigator

February 23, 2021 | AONN+ Blog | Role of the Navigator

More and more facilities are beginning to see the value in the role of the patient and nurse navigator. As your facility begins drafting job descriptions and initiating the hiring process to add navigators to your cancer care teams, it is essential to take into consideration how you are defining the position, and what tasks and functions you are incorporating into the navigator job description.

What Do Oncology Navigators Do?

Oncology nurse navigators (ONNs) and oncology patient navigators (OPNs) support patients with cancer, their families, and their caregivers to assist them in overcoming any barriers they may be facing in the healthcare system and facilitate timely and quality access to care through all phases of the cancer journey.

Determining What Kind of Navigator Your Team Needs

When hiring for a navigator, you first need to identify the tasks of other members of the cancer team to avoid any overlap or assumptions for the navigator job description. This includes appointment schedulers, clinic nurses, physician extenders, and anyone else involved with the diagnosis and treatment of your cancer patient population.

Based on this assessment, you can determine if you are in need of a patient navigator or a nurse navigator. A patient navigator does not have or use clinical training to provide assistance to their patients. The patient navigator is a paid professional and serves as a broker between the patient and the healthcare system. The patient navigator is a primary point of contact for the patient and works with other members of the care team to coordinate care for the patient. This critical person on the multidisciplinary team provides an important perspective on the logistical, structural, and social needs of the patient, as well as cultural considerations, patient values, and care preferences.

A nurse navigator is a clinically trained individual responsible for the identification and removal of barriers to timely and appropriate cancer treatment. They guide the patient through the cancer care continuum from diagnosis through survivorship. More specifically, the nurse navigator acts as a central point of contact for a patient and coordinates all components involved in cancer care, including surgical, medical, and radiation oncologists; social workers; patient education; community support; financial and insurance assistance; and others. This person has a clinical background and is a critical member of the multidisciplinary cancer team.

Creating a Job Description for the Navigator Role

While the navigator role may be universally adopted into all cancer programs, no 2 institutions are the same. The job role and description needs to be specific to the institution. Consider viewing a job description from other cancer centers or this one from the CDC that provides an overview of the patient navigator’s role, responsibilities, and qualifying characteristics and skills. This description should be adapted to meet the needs of your organization, your care team, and your target population.

Keep in mind the following:

  1. The responsibilities of other members of the cancer care team
  2. Who the navigator will be reporting to and working closely with
  3. What kind of patients they will be working with and how many
  4. The common barriers faced by patients in your institution
  5. The overarching goal you have for adding a navigator to your team

The task of navigating a patient through something as difficult as cancer is daunting, but oncology nurse and patient navigators are ready to face any challenge and assist in any barriers to ensure patients receive the best care possible. Navigators are critical members of the cancer care team and by adding one to your team, you are providing a multidisciplinary approach to care. If you are still struggling to define the navigator role for your program, view these additional resources:

If you are a nurse or patient navigator looking for more resources, tools, and networking abilities, sign up to become an AONN+ member today!

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