( Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / July 8, 2014 )
What does your job entail?
My primary role is to remove obstacles and barriers patients face in accessing or receiving treatment. I listen to patients' concerns and understand their needs. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, they are so overwhelmed they just don't know where to start or go for help. I will meet with them and listen to see where their area of concerns are and guide them through the treatment process. Many of the patients I assist need help with practical issues such as transportation to and from treatments, getting health coverage, financial concerns and supportive/counseling information.
What kind of schooling or training did you go through?
I received my degree in mass communications from Towson University, specializing in public relations. Shortly after graduating, I started working for the American Cancer Society, where I've had several roles before becoming a navigator. I have also had several trainings and conferences in patient navigation.
What inspired you to this career?
I am a people person and enjoy talking to people. I worked at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, which is a facility [where] patients stay while they are traveling from out of town to receive cancer treatment. Sometimes patients would be at the lodge for months for treatment; this was their home away from home. We would talk every day and I really got to know them. The patients would talk about their highs and lows during treatment. After hearing what one goes through, I knew that I wanted to help.
What do you like best about your job?
I enjoy meeting and talking with the patients and their families. I like to hear everyone's story and how they ended up at Mercy. It is very inspiring for me to see the strength and courage one has when they are faced with such a tough situation. Everyone's story is different, but the patients all usually have similar issues or concerns. I am glad I'm able to assist by giving them support to help relieve some of the stress they are going through. If I can remove one barrier, such as giving a patient a wig to help them cope with the physical changes they will go through, I am happy. As one patient once told me after I fitted her for a wig, "Sometimes it is the little things in life that can make such a difference in how we feel; giving us confidence and give us a little lift in our spirits." To me, it is rewarding to put a smile on one's face during this hard time.
What are the challenges?
As a navigator, I want to be able to help relieve any burden a patient has while undergoing treatment. When a person is getting chemotherapy and cannot work, there are many issues one faces. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of financial resources out there to help a person during their treatment. There is very limited funding for rent, utilities, food, etc. People come to me looking for help to resolve their financial issues, and sometimes there just isn't an easy answer. It is hard to tell a patient that I used all the resources I have and there isn't any more funding. Patients risk losing their homes or having their power turned off because they cannot pay their bills. This is always a challenging issue.
Simplyhired.com estimates the average patient navigator salary is $41,000, but it varies by location, company and experience.