Nurse navigators help patients navigate the medical system maze

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When Mary Teel went for a breast biopsy at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine in May, she was understandably nervous.

But she was immediately comforted by Maureen Aschman, a nurse navigator whose job — and heartfelt mission — is to help patients get through the medical system.

“I was devastated,” Teel said of finding out she had cancer. “But Maureen was such a blessing.”

Aschman is one of 12 nurse navigators with the Baylor Health Care System, a free service for patients.

Baylor spokeswoman Susan Hall said the patient-navigation system was instituted in response to a growing need for additional care and aftercare, such as helping patients cope with multiple doctors and decisions.

“Cancer is a complex disease,” Hall said. “Nurse navigators help patients sort the maze. Nurse navigators help oncology patients, often overwhelmed with their diagnosis, understand their cancer diagnosis, treatment options and follow-up care. Plus, they offer emotional support to the patient and even to their families.”

Aschman has done all that and more for the Teel family as Mary Teel endured a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

“My family had so many questions and I needed to be reassured,” said Teel, 63, who recently retired from teaching second grade at Roanoke Elementary. “She knows where to be ahead of time. It was that one familiar face through the whole process. You couldn’t ask for a better person.”

Aschman, who has been a nurse for 36 years and a nurse navigator at Baylor for five years, said serving as a patient advocate is a rewarding profession.

“The older we get, the more we know that it could be me or any of my friends [facing a cancer diagnosis],” Aschman said. “Who wouldn’t want someone to take them by the hand and show them the way?”

It’s a strong bond between nurse and patient — and a lifelong one.

“I just get so attached to these patients and know them so well,” said Aschman, 58. “You get to be like a family member. I never discharge them. We’re there for as long as they need us.”

Aschman has been joined recently at the Grapevine facility by Jo Darling, a second nurse navigator. It didn’t take long for them to mesh because they had met years ago while both were learning the ropes of the relatively new program.

“For years we wanted to work together,” said Darling, who was working at another institution.

While Aschman was hired primarily as a breast nurse navigator, Darling’s position was created to specialize in other cancers.

“We bridge them from inpatient to outpatient and then follow up with them,” said Darling, 53, a nurse for 33 years. “They have so many questions. They don’t know where to start.”

She said statistics show that the nurse navigator program “provides so much better long-term outcome” by helping patients stay on point with their medical decisions.

Dr. Alan M. Miller, chief of Oncology for the Baylor Health Care System, said the program is a win-win situation.

“When an individual is faced with a diagnosis of cancer it can be overwhelming,” he said. “On top of just dealing with the reality that you have cancer, you are faced with having to juggle appointments with multiple physicians and a variety of tests and procedures. Patient navigators can help patients put things in perspective and navigate the system to make it easier for them at a difficult time. Our nurse navigators are an important part of the overall cancer care team.”

Patient assistance can come in the form of helping to schedule appointments, providing transportation, being present on surgery days and providing a quick point of contact to doctors, radiologists and other medical personnel. Emotional support can be just as crucial, to the patient.

“We’re treating not just the individual, but the family,” Darling said.

Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367

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