Oncology nurse navigators (ONNs) fill a critical, ever-growing role in cancer care settings across the country, providing patients with the resources, education, and care coordination they need to successfully navigate their cancer journey. By reducing barriers and burdens on patients and their caregivers, ONNs help lead patients from initial diagnosis, during treatment, into survivorship, and often through end-of-life care. 

“Regardless of whether you are a novice or expert ONN, your goals are the same: provide evidence-based education to patients and their care partners, reduce barriers to care, and increase access to medical and psychosocial care across the cancer continuum,” ONS member Darcy Burbage, RN, MSN, AOCN®, CBCN®, supportive and palliative care nurse navigator at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center in Newark, DE, says. “Studies have shown that nurse navigation programs have helped improve adherence to treatment, ensured timely access to care, and reduced hospital stay times. All of these factors contribute to improved quality of life for our patients, increased patient satisfaction, and resulted in fewer migrations of services.”

In 2017, ONS released an updated version of its ONN Core Competencies, outlining the essential knowledge and responsibilities of ONNs in practice. Furthermore, because of extensive ONN integration in institutions throughout the country, ONS added a new definition for expert ONNs: “proficient in the role and has the education, knowledge, and experience to use critical thinking and decision-making skills pertaining to the evolution of the ONN role and process improvement in the navigation processes.” 

A Growing Need for ONNs 

Many cancer treatments are more successful now than previous treatments, translating to more patients surviving and thriving after their cancer diagnoses. However, a growing community of cancer survivors requires sustained support as they continue to live beyond cancer. ONNs are filling a vital role for a number of these populations.

“Because of the advances in early detection, treatment modalities, the growing population of childhood cancer survivors along with the aging population, and the number of individuals in need of support, the demand for ONNs will also continue to increase,” Burbage says. “It’s important to look to the future and continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of health care.”

Moreover, evolving healthcare systems like the Oncology Care Model (OCM) are being adopted into practice, and ONNs are playing a unique role in those models.

“The OCM is a federal health reform program that aims to change the way that cancer care is delivered in the United States,” Burbage says. “It’s yet another example of how essential the role of ONNs are for meeting the standard of care delivery. The OCM’s goal is to provide high-quality, well-coordinated cancer care to patients while reducing costs for Medicare and beneficiaries. Who better to help in this process but ONNs?”

Supporting New and Existing ONNs

The Oncology Nurse Advisor and ONS are jointly hosting a Navigation Summit from June 14–16, 2018, in Chicago, IL. The summit will bring together experts in oncology nursing navigation to discuss a wide array of topics integral to the evolution of ONN practice from novice to expert. 

“The nurse navigation summit is a premier event for ONNs,” Burbage says. “Topics include patient acuity tools, tracking metrics, survivorship, financial toxicity, along with navigating patients receiving immunotherapy. Attendees will learn from experts who have experience in establishing sustainable programs and measuring outcomes that validate our essential role in oncology care.”

For Burbage, the future of oncology nursing navigation is about supporting and guiding ONNs to further their practice.

“Developing a training module for navigation that builds on the ONN Core Competencies can help standardize the role,” she says. “This would be helpful for new and experienced ONNs as the role continues to be an integral part of oncology care. With standardization, metrics specific to the role can be developed and evaluated to measure the impact of ONNs across care systems.”