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What Inspires Me to Show Up Every Single Day?

July 5, 2022 | AONN+ Blog | Membership
Featuring:
Alessandra Alvarez, BSN, BHSA, OPN-CG
Alessandra Alvarez, BSN, BHSA, OPN-CG
Patient Navigator for Head & Neck and Endocrine Malignancies
Miami Cancer Institute (MCI)
Miami, FL

I started working for a call center without knowing that I had accepted a position that was going to involve oncology patients. I knew I wanted to help people, and healthcare was the way to go! I took about 100 calls a day, scheduling appointments across all modalities for every doctor and all tumor sites. As the months went by, I realized I wanted to do more than just being behind the phone. I wanted to be there—on-site. I wanted to put a face to every patient’s name. I wanted to know what was going to happen after that phone call. How was I going to do that? A year later, when I was able to transfer departments, I started my journey in navigation. It has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I was a navigation coordinator helping nurse navigators who were assigned to GI, sarcoma, dermatology, head and neck, and endocrine cancers. It was interesting to see how things were “on the other side” and watch these nurse navigators follow patients from the moment they were diagnosed until their last day of treatment. I came into this department with extensive knowledge of the administrative part of the healthcare system and a recent bachelor’s degree in health services administration; but, as time went by, I still felt my involvement was not enough.

The inspiration came from working in the navigation department. I was surrounded by incredible, caring, compassionate, uber-smart, and experienced nurses who specialized in their tumor sites, who knew the patient and what their barriers were. They were educated in different treatment plans, they knew how to communicate, how to identify barriers to timeliness of care, and the list goes on. As the nurses saw how proactive and passionate I was about patient navigation, they all pushed me to go to nursing school. I was mortified though. I was only familiar with bedside nursing and had just finished a bachelor’s degree. Could I even make it through nursing school as a single mother of 2 and still work full time?

Watching these patients day in and day out, seeing what they go through, all the barriers they encounter during their cancer care, and how the need for navigation is so strong, I knew I had a choice to make—work hard toward a sooner, higher-earning paycheck, or work hard toward something I love and will be passionate about for the rest of my life.

Fast forward to today, I have just graduated from nursing school with my second bachelor’s degree. I became the Lead Navigation Coordinator, a role that has helped the continued growth of my career in navigation while I was finishing school and became OPN-CG certified.

This role has grown me immensely—both professionally and personally. It is one of the most demanding roles due to its involvement from the very beginning of someone’s hardest time of life. As a navigator, you serve as the primary link between the patient and the oncology team (all modalities and specialties), which grants for strong communication skills, patient advocacy, great teamwork skills, knowing what the treatment plan entails, and the list goes on.

My team often refers to me as “the glue that holds it all together.” Some of my patients have called me “their miracle worker.” Others have said “your job must be very stressful” or “how do you remember everything?” As navigators, we even struggle with barriers from within. It could be system barriers that we can’t change overnight, but we learn, we adapt, and we advocate to our leaders and work on better processes. On my toughest days, I just go back to my WHY—what inspires me to show up every single day?

I love oncology.
I love helping others.
I love being confident in what I know and advocating for every single patient.
I love the challenges we’re faced with daily and ending it with a solution.
I love being there from beginning to end.
I love meeting the families.
I love learning from the clinic team.
I love how networking with different units has been beneficial to getting my patients through the door faster.
I love learning from other departments, even if it’s “not my job.”
I love being the liaison between the multidisciplinary team.
I love anticipating what could go wrong and avoiding it.
I love working independently and efficiently.
I love being the extra set of eyes and ears.
I love RINGING THE BELL 🔔,

I said it then, and I say it now. Oncology is a calling. But being a navigator truly puts life into perspective. Thank you AONN+, for empowering us all and giving us the tools we need to be the best versions for our patients and for bringing awareness and recognition to this incredible role, which is expanding not just in oncology, but everywhere throughout our healthcare system! Can’t wait to go for my ONN-CG certification next!

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