Lead, Navigation Research, BC Cancer Agency – Vancouver Island Centre

For the past four years, my research has been focused on patient navigation. The concept of patient navigation emerged from the United States and the work of Dr. Harold Freemen who discovered that if he engaged the African American women of Harlem, New York, who had been through screening and treatment to connect with other women in their community, he could increase the uptake of screening and following up on test results. While the “navigators” were peer volunteers in Dr. Freeman’s case, current programs engage community health workers and social workers to work with individuals within a designated community to understand their particular needs and help them overcome any barriers they might have in accessing health screening and care.

As I learned about these programs, I was struck by the idea that the BC Cancer Agency could also use volunteers to help patients and their families to overcome any barriers they might face in accessing the services and supports they needed. I had worked with volunteer crisis line workers, volunteer fire fighters, and volunteer members of the police department for many years in the not-for-profit sector. I knew that effective training and skill development made it possible for members of the lay community to carry out these very responsible roles in a safe and effective manner. And so began my lay navigation research project.

Over the past three years, we have been conducting research on a competency framework for screening and training lay navigators and a three step intervention program for newly diagnosed lung cancer patients. I am pleased to say that our results have been extremely positive. The competency framework has effectively prepared volunteers for their role and patients have truly valued the program. The following two patient quotes provide a good reflection of the program.

“It provided me with comfort. You become informed about what and where things are. There is so much out there. It all seemed less intimidating. There are lots of helpful things for you. It made me feel confident that people you meet were understanding and helpful.”

“Overall, an excellent program. It has made me feel completely relaxed as I get ready for the road ahead.”

Stay tuned for my next blog post in which I will share with you more exciting updates on my navigation research.