We don’t often take the time to think about our personal and professional growth. I personally believe that every step I’ve taken professionally has led me to where I am and afforded me this privilege of telling my story. But – 800 words are not enough for a talker like myself, so I’ll skip ahead to 2014.
Around that time, I knew there was a more efficient way for us to work as a part of the care team. I googled for “nurse navigator” and stumbled across AONN+; I realized I had found my people! After some research, I asked (read: begged) to attend a conference. I was turned down.
I was just a young nurse trying to have my voice heard.
A couple of years later, our small oncology group merged with the local hospital system. I remained a nurse navigator and continued trying to move the bar, struggling to make programmatic changes. I joined AONN+ in 2017 and somehow convinced our leadership to allow a colleague and I to attend the AONN+ Midyear Conference in Boston in 2018. During that conference, I was a modest 8 months pregnant with my fourth child, further justifying my point—constant growth (professionally AND physically, in this case)! While there, I felt so inspired and connected. I remember looking at Stacey, my colleague, both of us wide-eyed. We saw so many opportunities for growth.
In 2019, one Director of Oncology became 5 different oncology director positions. I was presented with an opportunity to become the first Oncology Clinical Education Specialist for our system. For some perspectives to understand the rapid growth that ensued over the next few years—I started that role in May 2019.
It sounds cliché to say that “everything happens for a reason,” but it’s impossible not to believe it when I think back on this turn of events. I shared an office space with the Director of Integrative Oncology, Dwinelva Zackery, who was tasked with building oncology patient navigation. She frequently asked my thoughts, opinions, and knowledge related to navigation. Oddly, during a one-on-one, the Director of Infusion showed me a flyer for the 2019 AONN+ Annual Conference and suggested I attend with Dwinelva. To this day, I’m unsure why she suggested I attend this conference considering my role at the time. I am, however, forever grateful that she did. (See, things happen for a reason.)
Dwinelva and I attended the Nashville conference, and those same feelings from a year and half before came right back. It was electrifying to listen to people who started where we were to build remarkable navigation programs. I was even able to sit on a focus group to provide feedback for the patient acuity tool!
Not long after the conference, the Oncology Navigation Manager position was posted. My passion for oncology nursing, patients, and the field of navigation was amplified each time I had been around the leadership and members of AONN+ who shared that same passion. I knew I was meant to do this. I started in that role on April 6, 2020.
We all know what happened around that time. While making plans to start building this program, I also spent time helping with COVID-19 screening algorithms. It would have been easy to shut down patient navigation to allocate resources to the pandemic. However, we were allowed to continue building navigation and we were supported so significantly by our leadership throughout the process, even during those difficult months in 2020.
I have attended every AONN+ midyear and annual conference since then. The knowledge that I gained is helpful, but the community that AONN+ has built and allowed me to be a part of is even better. I use AONN+ resources on a weekly, if not daily, basis to grow our navigation program. Through AONN+, we’ve been able to justify our program repeatedly. Our first 2 oncology nurse navigators started in October 2020, when we officially launched Thoracic Oncology Navigation. Since then, we have hired 2 additional nurse navigators and currently we navigate all thoracic and GI patients, totaling almost 900 patients since October 1, 2020. Our average number of active patients per month has gone from 104 to 381 between January 2021 and March 2022. We started out begging for referrals and only getting about 32 per month. In February 2022, we had our highest referral month yet—100 patients. We plan to build Head and Neck Navigation in the coming months and continue to assemble our arsenal of AONN+ Evidence-Based Navigation Metrics with data utilized to hire additional full-time employees.
I used to listen to the presentations at AONN+ conferences in awe—the professionalism, the accomplishments. I’d then lift my jaw off the floor and take ALL THE NOTES. I mean, I still take all the notes, but the difference now is a sense of pride I feel thinking about the growth I’ve seen in myself and our program since 2017 when I joined this community. It’s staggering. I’ve been able to connect with navigators on the other side of the country who asked ME for guidance. Thinking about that girl in 2014 googling “nurse navigator”—these things are mind-blowing. The collaboration opportunities AONN+ has provided me are unprecedented. I am proud to be an oncology nurse, and I am so grateful to belong to an organization like AONN+ that has allowed me to foster the passion I have for this specific field where I’ve been fortunate to build and grow a patient navigation program that is changing the landscape of the cancer care that we at St. Elizabeth Cancer Center provide to our patients.
Like I said, I was a young nurse, trying to have my voice heard. AONN+ has given me a megaphone.
Grow with AONN+. Join today.