Patient Navigation History

This page provides a brief history of the Nurse Navigator program, and how it has evolved since its beginning.


In an effort to better serve the needs of the North Carolinian cancer patients and their caregivers, the UNC Cancer Network identified a number of clinical, education, research and survivorship goals in 2008. Careful consideration was given to ensure our outreach efforts extended to the entire state. The goals were to ultimately save lives, eliminate barriers to quality care and ensure speedy delivery of appropriate services. 

As a result, three models of patient navigation utilizing registered nurses were developed at:

Six oncology nurse navigators have provided care for more than 3200 new patients residing in over 40 counties in North Carolina. Over 32,000 individuals across the state have been reached through community outreach and educational events. Partnering with the local academic institution and community hospitals have been identified as an essential component of the success of this program. Our programs have demonstrated the importance of having a consistent nurse navigator to enhance the communication and care experience, identify problems and delays in care, and to help patients develop the confidence and skills to manage their illness and treatment.

The UNC Cancer Network collaborates with other partners around the state in order to share expertise, proactively promote patient navigation best practices and help identify solutions to systemic issues related to patient navigation. Our partners include:

More information about education and outreach programs of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and its affiliates funded by the University Cancer Research Fund can be found here.

Lay Navigation

The UNC Cancer Network has developed a model of lay navigation that integrates trained lay navigators with patients and caregivers to increase support and access to information. The Oncology Nursing Society defines a lay navigator as a trained nonprofessional or volunteer who provides individualized assistance to patients, families, and caregivers to help overcome healthcare system barriers and facilitate timely access to quality health and psychosocial care from pre-diagnosis through all phases of the cancer experience (Oncology Nursing Society [ONS], 2010b).

The lay navigation model of support works in tandem with the existing hospital volunteer program and members from the Patient & Family Advisory Committee. Lay navigators 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.

Affiliated with the UNC Cancer Network, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and The Outer Banks Hospital, the Hands of Hope (HoH) Lay Navigation Program is located in Nags Head, North Carolina. The program was developed by a group of individuals including representatives from UNC Cancer Support Program, UNC Cancer Network, UNC Volunteer Program and community members from the Outer Banks dedicated to ensuring that no one would have to face cancer alone. The program was developed in 2009 and offers a volunteer training in partnership with the local hospital’s volunteer program. Potential volunteers receive a back ground check, required JCAHO orientation and a comprehensive lay navigation review. A volunteer coordinator is responsible for identifying and recruiting volunteers who will receive this special training with oversight provided by UNC Cancer Network. In their training, HoH volunteers first are provided an overview of lay navigation, communication skills discussion, the importance of understanding cultural and diversity differences and a guide for healthy lifestyles and cancer prevention awareness. More than 325 patients have received support from this group of dedicated volunteers.