The National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators (NCONN) is the first association to identify, support, and connect nurses in oncology who navigate patients through the cancer continuum. There are many definitions of the role of the navigator that range from clinical nurses to volunteer survivors. Oncology nurse navigators (ONNs) are clinical professionals acting as a map or compass through the confusing process of diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship.

A navigation program ideally, should include a multiple disciplinary team of professionals working in parallel with one another to address every aspect of a patient’s needs. The primary role of the navigator is to remove barriers and obstacles that patients encounter. Barriers may be real or perceived. In these economic times, understanding the ways in which navigation can improve the patient experience and outcomes is essential for all types of health care providers, and can play a part in health care reform.

This discipline is dedicated to the holistic care of the patient with cancer. These patients and their families are in need of physical, mental, emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual support throughout the cancer continuum. There are numerous health care professionals involved in every patient’s care, but none is there throughout the entire journey to navigate the patient and family around barriers, identifying resources and services needed to improve quality of life, trust, and satisfaction in the system.

ONN interventions can help reduce gaps in care. Through a streamlined approach, clients have access to timely delivery of services, diagnosis, and treatment.  Navigator roles vary widely, some work primarily with clients who have a diagnosis of cancer, however, many work in the community. These community nurse navigators have worked diligently to develop trusting relationships and interventions that are essential to improving the overall well-being of the greater population. Primary intervention strategies involve development of community health screening and educational programs. Many ONNs collaborate with community partners including congregations, not-for-profit programs, health clinics, and statewide organizations to provide screening and education to the high-risk under- and uninsured clients who may be unable to access health services due to cultural, financial, or linguistic barriers. The goal of these types of programs is to educate people on the importance of prevention and early detection techniques that can help to reduce late-stage cancers.

Collaboration, communication, advocating on behalf of our patients, and translating the medical information is essential to our clients making the most informed decisions about their care. The essence of what ONNs bring to the nursing forum is more than just course plotting. These nurses bring knowledge, individualism, trust, critical thinking, and handholding, as well as a variety of other important skill sets, that help patients make educated decisions concerning their treatment planning in a timely manner. Most importantly, ONNs build relationships within their communities that foster trust in the health care system and improve education and screening, thus improving the health and well-being of the people they serve. To learn more about ONNs and the NCONN, visit www.nconn.org or email info@nconn.org.