An Interview with Oncology Nurse Navigator Darcy Burbage, MSN, RN, AOCN, CBCN

An Interview with Oncology Nurse Navigator Darcy Burbage, MSN, RN, AOCN, CBCN
The National Navigation Roundtable (NNRT) sat down with Oncology Nurse Navigator (ONN), Darcy Burbage, MSN, RN, AOCN, CBCN to learn more about her experiences in the field. Darcy is an ONN at the Helen F Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute and an active member of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). Read on to learn more about her experiences.  

Tell us more about your role. What is an ONN?

I was the first nurse navigator hired at my Cancer Center in 1999 to coincide with the opening of our Breast Center. The interview process was lengthy and at the time, I didn’t have a formal job description. I was simply told to “fix it.” The “it” being reducing the length of time between biopsy recommendation to biopsy and to improve patient satisfaction throughout the breast cancer continuum.

The impetus for this role was that patients expressed a need for a single point of contact that knew them and could provide education specific to their recommended treatment plan as well as provide psychosocial support throughout the continuum of care.

To paraphrase the 2017 ONS ONN Core Competencies “… An ONN is a professional RN with oncology-specific, clinical knowledge who offers individualized assistance to patients, families and caregivers to help overcome healthcare system barriers using the nursing process as well as provides education and resources to facilitate informed decision making throughout the cancer continuum…”

Why is it helpful to have an ONN?

It is essential for patients with cancer or an increased risk of cancer to have an oncology nurse navigator. In addition to the benefits to patient care and improved patient satisfaction, there are also benefits to the healthcare system. Outcome measures such as helping to reduce emergency visits, preventable admissions and readmissions as well as decreased length of stay can be attributed to having an oncology nurse navigator.

What is the best part of your job?

Over the past twenty years as an ONN, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and care for a large volume of patients. Some of whom still stay in contact with me and it is probably one of the best parts of my job. They call me with questions or concerns, to share good news about their “cancerversary”, negative test results or even celebrations like the birth of a child or a grandchild.

What about the most challenging part?

Sometimes the calls are heart-wrenching, especially when my previous patients share that their cancer has recurred or tell me about a new diagnosis of cancer in a family member. However, this is also part of the honor of being an oncology nurse – being present with and for the patient and their families as they go through the ups and downs of living with cancer.

One of the most challenging parts of my roles is helping patients who have long-term effects of their cancer treatment. Sometimes, it takes much longer to heal and recover from the physical and psychosocial effects of treatment and I wish that I could do more to help. Also, for my patients who are facing the end of life, it’s hard to see their families struggling with what is coming next.

Do you do any special things for your patients that are not necessarily part of your job description?

Yes, I once found out that a patient of mine had grown up near the same small town that my husband did. The town is famous for a certain cake and it was close to her birthday so I arranged for this cake to be delivered coinciding with an appointment so we could celebrate with her – to say she was ecstatic would be an understatement!

What is something most people don’t know about patient navigation?

One thing that most people don’t know about ONN is that it combines all of your skills and expertise in addition to your “nurses 6th sense”. Along with the unique relationships that you establish with your individual patients, you have the opportunity to improve the care of the population by leading quality improvement projects, educating the public and your peers through professional presentations and through publications. You have to be on your ‘A game’ every day, multitask, prioritize and re-prioritize constantly and there is always a patient to help or a colleague to mentor. The best-kept secret about ONN is that there are so many opportunities for professional growth and development.