The patient’s go-to

Nurse navigators reduce anxiety by helping patients through health care journey
September 27, 2016

Jerry Clemons thought he had found the smartest man in the hospital.

“Dan’s the man,” said Clemons, who recently completed 45 treatments of radiation for prostate cancer at UCHealth Cancer Center in Fort Collins. “When I didn’t have answers, Dan did.”

Daniel Norfolk is one of about 40 nurse navigators throughout UCHealth who help lead patients through their tough health care journeys. Norfolk helps patients at UCHealth’s Cancer Center in Fort Collins.

“Dan” is Daniel Norfolk, (pictured above) a registered nurse with more than a decade of oncology experience and one of 40 people throughout UCHealth who serve as nurse navigators.

“My goal is to bring down anxiety,” Norfolk said. “As patients are trying to grasp everything dealing with their new health issue, I can help lead them.”

The nurse navigator’s role is three-pronged: provide education on the diagnosis and treatment; connect the patient to services, such as rehab or dietary programs; and break down barriers to the patient getting well, such as addressing financial or transportation issues.

Nurse navigators are a key component to making sure patients have access to high-quality care, said Joann Lovins, director of oncology for UCHealth Northern Colorado.

“When you first come down with cancer, it’s a really scary thing,” Clemons said. “You have so many questions.”

Clemons and his wife, Kathy, were first introduced to Norfolk in March during their first visit with radiation oncologist Dr. Joshua Petit, of UCHealth. During the entire two-hour meeting, Norfolk took notes. Afterward, he handed Clemons those notes and his business card and told him to call with any questions.

“There is so much information given at these first meetings that only about 20 percent is retained,” Norfolk explained. But it wasn’t just the first meeting that Norfolk attended; he accompanied the Clemons family on their entire journey through treatment.

“Every time I had a question I would call Dan,” Clemons said. “And I was shocked. Dan was on the other end of the line every time. When you first start out, you have many questions concerning your illness. Dan was the man.”

Kathy also had questions.

“I think I talked to Dan more than Jerry did,” Kathy said. “The worst thing in the world is wondering and trying to get answers and then having to leave a message or get the run-around. Dan was prompt and always followed through, whether it was having the answer right then or checking with Dr. Petit.”

Oncology is one of the more complex health care paths to navigate, Lovins said. Depending on the type and severity of cancer, a patient can have more than 100 different appointments in their first year. Clemons is on a hormone suppression therapy program, and he requires a shot every three months. Two months into that therapy, he started radiation therapy, which is five days a week for nine weeks. He also meets with Petit once a week.

Patients also have access to numerous resources outside their doctor visits. They can use the center’s Wellness Place, which includes access to massage therapy, nutritional services and support groups. A navigator helps coordinate all these services for the patient.

“Dan is the person that helps make it better for the patient,” Petit said. “He reduces that burden by coordinating everything. And that coordination then allows us to do things more efficiently for the patient by using the resources we have for them. Nurse navigators like Dan make it all happen.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.