Understanding Patient Navigation

I recently joined UCF as a Program Associate, responsible for expanding Ulman’s successful Young Adult Patient Navigation Program, launched at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, to new cancer centers.  So, what is patient navigation, why do young adults with cancer need this service, and why was I particularly excited about taking on this opportunity?

For most people, and especially young adults, the words, “you have cancer,” are likely to produce a deer-in-the-headlights effect. Shock, anxiety, and fear become the dominant emotions, but you are expected to rationally make critical decisions that affecting your life and well-being. And just to make it a little bit harder, you have to absorb a seemingly endless stream of unfamiliar words, you have to function in a fragmented healthcare system, with multiple doctors and other providers in multiple locations and they may, or may not, communicate with each other.

Full disclosure, I’m a 17 year brain tumor survivor. I was diagnosed as a young adult. The team that had the most experience with my cancer, which was quite rare, was in pediatric oncology, so that’s where I received most of my treatment, alongside lots of kids and teens. The treatment I received was cutting edge and saved my life, but there were few support services or programs for young adults.

Today there are many more services available to patients and survivors to address their emotional, financial, and other needs. But, there are fewer resources for young adults, who may be treated in an adult oncology environment, a pediatric oncology setting, or like me, both. That’s where the UCF patient navigation program comes to the rescue. We don’t replace the programs and services provided by social workers and others in the cancer center, we complement what the hospital’s psychosocial team does with a range of programs, services and case management to help ensure the wellness of young adults with cancer.

My job is develop relationships with cancer centers, particularly the psychosocial teams, get their buy-in for the UCF patient navigation program, work with them to assess the unique needs of young adults being treated or monitored as survivors at their institution, identify an individual to serve as the young adult navigator, and prepare them to work with young adults, understand their individual needs, provide information and connect them with UCF programs or relevant services and programs at other organizations.

The UCF patient navigation program improves the quality of cancer care for young adults, and is really unique in creating relationships with cancer centers that build on the existing services. Being a “survivor” isn’t enough for young adults who are fighting cancer.  Our program can help young adults take control of their lives, and be their ally as they move along the continuum. It is a privilege to be leading the growth of this program and the UCF team!

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