Whether at a hospital bedside, home, medical office or clinic, one of every nurse’s most important responsibilities is to be an advocate. As the health care system has become increasingly complex, some nurses are taking on more focused roles as navigators, with a mission to help patients better deal with a system that can be scary and overwhelming.
On May 6, the nation’s 4 million nurses start to celebrate National Nurses Week with the theme: “Nurses: Inspire, Innovate, Influence.” AARP and the AARP Foundation have been working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to strengthen the nursing profession through the Center to Champion Nursing in America.
Some navigators, or patient coaches, work for major medical centers or community hospitals; others are hired directly by patients. Their goal is the same: to help patients and their families cope with a serious illness — from considering treatment options to making sense of the medical system’s often-treacherous terrain. In some cases, a single advocate will support a patient through an entire course of treatment.
“One major job of nurse advocates is to identify barriers to a patient’s treatment,” says Lillie D. Shockney, R.N., an oncology nurse navigator who is also a two-time breast cancer survivor. Shockney directs the Cancer Survivorship Programs at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She says one of her key roles is to ensure the patient’s voice is not lost in what can be very complex treatment regimens that require multiple tests, evaluations and specialists.