Patient Navigation

What is Patient Navigation?

Patient navigation in cancer care refers to individualized assistance offered to patients, families and families to help overcome health system and community barriers to care.  The intent is for all patients to have access to quality medical and psychosocial care, from pre-diagnosis through all phases of the cancer journey.

At UNC Health Care, our patient navigators are oncology nurse navigators (ONN).  They are part of a sophisticated support team that helps patients manage a variety of issues or concerns that may be obstacles in receiving care.  They help ensure that patients receive care that is confidential, respectful, compassionate and appropriate to their culture values.  Their goal is to become the trustworthy and consistent face of the cancer experience.

What is an Oncology Nurse Navigator?

Oncology nurse navigation programs are becoming well-known across the country as one way to help patients experience the best of the healthcare system. According to the Oncology Nursing Society, the Oncology nurse navigator (ONN) is a professional registered nurse with oncology-specific clinical knowledge, who offers individualized assistance to patients, families and caregivers to help overcome healthcare system barriers. Using the nursing process, an ONN provides education and resources to facilitate informed decision making and timely access to quality health and psychosocial care throughout all phases of the cancer continuum. Our unique model of patient navigation Adobe pdf file gives every cancer patient quick access to a team of world class cancer specialists.

What does the Oncology Nurse Navigator do?

  • Provides education regarding diagnosis and treatments
  • Links patients to available resource both inside and outside of the UNC Health Care System
  • Serves as a resource to patients and families for questions about the disease, next steps, referrals and support
  • Eliminates barriers to care
  • Enhances communication within all health care providers
  • Provides emotional support
  • Helps patients achieve confidence in order to be their own patient advocate

How does Patient Navigation make a difference?

  • Coordinates communication between medical professionals and patients
  • Helps patient to understand the importance of followup care and taking their medications as prescribed
  • Connects patients to appropriate resources to ensure that all barriers to care are addressed and responded to in a timely fashion
  • Ensures patients move rapidly through the health care system
  • Reduces the fear and frustrations from patients and families

Volunteer Lay Navigation

The lay navigation program works in tandem with the existing UNC hospital volunteer program and members from the UNC Health Care Patient & Family Advisory Committee.  Lay navigators are volunteers from the community who receive additional training to ensure they have the necessary skills for the development of their confidence and success when interacting with patients, caregivers and members of the health care team.

Training topics includes an overview of the health care system and the importance of having communication skills that are clear and respectful to all patients.  Providing emotional support is also covered in order to ensure that patients receive reassurance, encouragement and understanding during their cancer journey.  The training concludes with a review of available resources and support services as well as an understanding of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and cancer prevention awareness. 


Oncology Nursing Society (2013). ONS Nurse Navigator Core Competencies. Retrieved from:

Oncology Nursing Society (2010b, March). Oncology Nursing Society, the Association of Oncology Social Work, and the National Association of Social Workers joint position on the role of oncology nursing and oncology social work in patient navigationRetrieved from: