Navigators and care coordinators should use their knowledge of current cancer screening guidelines as well as their strong advocacy skills to suggest needed programs. Navigators also have a unique communication advantage that allows them to discuss ideas and potential programs with a broader audience within their institution, such as surgeons, pulmonologists, medical internists, and family practice physicians. Navigators should use this position to advocate screening opportunities that address specific deficits within each targeted area. Examples of this type of advocacy would be: are inner city women able to access mammography centers, are people with lighter skin able to access physicians who can check for skin cancer, and in areas with high smoking rates, do patients have access to lung cancer screening.

With all this being said, oncology navigators and care coordinators by no means work on these programs alone. Identifying community partners for these types of programs is important, from national nonprofit cancer organizations to community businesses and faith-based organizations — cancer screening programs are the strongest when they pool resources from the community.

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One successful program offered breast health education seminars at African American churches, including navigator-assisted follow-up to schedule women for low cost or free screening mammogram programs. The same navigator can also follow through with the same women for assistance with diagnostic procedures after positive results.

Another example is a community-wide skin screening program where family practice residents serve as the screeners and a navigator follows up and issues referrals for those with positive results. In this program the navigator also assisted uninsured patients with funding for necessary procedures. At a time where many people have either inadequate or no health insurance, these screening programs can address problems in vulnerable and needy populations.

Oncology nurse navigators and care coordinators are in a prime position to change attitudes within their cancer center in order to promote high quality programs that offer vital services within their own communities with the ultimate goal of affecting mortality rates for curable cancers.

Diane McElwain is a nurse coordinator at York Cancer Center, York, Pennsylvania, and a member of the Oncology Nurse Advisor Navigation Summit Advisory Board.