Photo: Jason Fochtman, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer
With the addition of a new nurse navigator, patients at the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital will have one more resource to count on as they navigate treatment.
Jessica Miller, who also operates as the clinical nurse for the center, started in her new role in March.
The role of the nurse navigator isn’t a new one within the health care field but is new to the cancer center, which is part of the CHI St. Luke’s health systems.
The St. Luke’s The Woodlands location is an extension of the flagship Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center located in the Texas Medical Center.
As the nurse navigator, Miller helps facilitate the care for new patients who have been recently diagnosed.
“When patients come through our doors, the whole process of getting a diagnosis can be very daunting, just very stressful,” Miller said. “The nurse navigator helps get the patient started.”
Before this role was created at the cancer center, the many aspects of the nurse navigator job were being filled by various other staff members. Now, the coordination and education for the patient are more concentrated.
The nurse navigator helps educate patients about treatment, coordinate with necessary treatments like CT scans, coordinate with referrals to other departments, and helps provide access to resources like social workers or financial assistance. Miller acts as a liaison and advocate for her patients. The central point between doctors, nurses, and caregivers.
Miller started her nursing career in Colorado at an acute care placement center for trauma and oncology. She moved to The Woodlands about three years ago and has seen the cancer center go through several changes in structure and location. One of the things she loves about being the nurse navigator is being able to help her patients understand their treatment options through education.
“Being that advocate for them was something I really enjoyed and I think they saw that and asked if I would be interested in the position,” Miller said of being approached for the nurse navigator job.
While in high school, Miller did a semester-long internship at her local hospital and discovered that she enjoyed working in the medical field. After graduating from nursing, she was introduced to oncology while shadowing a nurse at the same hospital who explained that she loved her job because the patients in oncology took a positive and uplifting approach to life. Those aren’t usually the words that people think of when they think of oncology, but Miller discovered that the nurse was right.
“A lot of those patients are very positive people, despite everything they’re going through,” she said. “That was what made me pursue an oncology-focused career.”
Since she started in March, Miller’s career as the nurse navigator has been almost entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s looking forward to being able to invite patients’ families into the office. Currently, only patients are allowed into the office to reduce the risk of infecting patients who are immunocompromised.
In the six months that she has filled the position, she has already learned a lot. One of the reasons she took the position was for the opportunity to expand her clinical knowledge, and that’s exactly what she’s done. What she learns she passes along to her patients.
Miller helps handle all new patient intakes as well as established patients from in-patient consults. Lots of organization and collaboration with the center’s team helps keep everything moving. Her background as a nurse has given her plenty of practice with time management and creating connections and relationships with patients. In her new role, she’s able to create deeper relationships as she sees her patients consistently over time.
“I think that’s what keeps our patients coming back because they know that our team cares about them, we want them to do well,” she said. “A lot of my experience and what I’ve learned has been through our staff here.”