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What Is a Nurse Navigator? Career and Salary Overview

Written by: Wilson College   •  Jan 11, 2024
A Nurse Navigator Points to a Document While Explaining Its Contents to a Patient.

What Is a Nurse Navigator? Career and Salary Overview

The maze of health forms and protocols required for a medical treatment or hospital stay can be overwhelming for patients. That’s why health facilities have begun to assign trusted, knowledgeable, and experienced nursing professionals to guide them through the process. These individuals are called nurse navigators.

So, what is a nurse navigator? These health professionals ease the stress of patients by being a helping hand and medical resource before and after medical treatments. It’s like having a personal health advocate by a patient’s side. 

What Does a Nurse Navigator Do?

Nurse navigators are RNs who act as liaisons between medical staff and patients, their families, and caregivers. They are assigned to be the point-of-contact for patients during hospital stays and treatments. They provide customized and continuous care, such as supporting patients through appointments and testing and educating them on procedures, side effects, and medications. Nurse navigators also arrange social worker referrals and address barriers to treatment such as lack of housing, transportation, and childcare. 

Work Settings for Navigator Nurses

Where nurse navigators work varies by their specialty and where their services are needed. For instance, these professionals may work in cancer centers or oncology departments. Other specialty areas include neurology, organ transplantation, and cardiology. 

It’s common for nurse navigators to work in hospitals, outpatient centers, and community centers. In addition to performing in a range of environments, nurse navigators also work with a variety of medical personnel. These include physicians, physical therapists, discharge staff, pharmacists, specialists, and other nurses. Having nurse navigators on staff can dramatically improve a health system’s patient experience by providing focused individualized care. 

Key Job Responsibilities

Specific duties differ depending on specialization, but nurse navigators are always needed to offer knowledge, emotional support, and an ear for patients. As part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team, these clinical advocates and educators commonly perform the following duties.

  • Guiding patients before, during, and after treatments and hospitalizations

  • Educating patients and their families on treatments, conditions, resources, and services

  • Requesting medical records on behalf of the patient’s medical team

  • Explaining treatment side effects

  • Coordinating care with physicians and other medical staff

  • Assisting with transition care

  • Arranging visits to seminars and other education resources

  • Explaining complex medical information

  • Assisting with insurance or finance-related issues

  • Securing additional health support (i.e. dieticians, fertility specialists, clinical trial options)

Fundamental Skills for Nurse Navigators

Nurse navigators share many of the basic competencies and skills of other RNs, including physical stamina, problem solving, ensuring patient confidentiality, emotional stability, and organizational skills. However, the following additional skills are also crucial.

Communication

To establish a rapport with patients during their most vulnerable moments, nurse navigators need strong verbal and written communication skills. They’ll need to be comfortable explaining complex medical information, being responsive, and collaborating with other members of the patient care team. 

Patient Education

Nurse navigators educate patients on their disease, treatment options, post-surgery care, and future health management. This skill is particularly vital for patients who are navigating terminal diagnoses. 

Case Management

Nurse navigators must be highly skilled at organizing and performing their job responsibilities in an orderly fashion. Case management skills help nurses quickly locate important files such as referrals, appointments, and care team contacts. A centralized organizational system is fundamental to a seamless process, and optimizes the quality of patient care.  

Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) Expertise

Most nurses use the EMR system to learn more about patients’ medical histories. For nurse navigators, understanding how to use this platform is especially key, because that information helps them monitor treatments, coordinate care, manage medication, document patients’ adverse reactions, receive diagnostic results, and create treatment plans.

Compassion

Nurse navigators see patients of various backgrounds and assist with all sorts of health conditions. As a result, nurse navigators must be empathetic to patients’ medical, social, and cultural needs. Showing special sensitivity is important, especially to patients who are battling, recovering, and receiving treatment for terminal illnesses. 

Nurse Navigator Salary and Job Outlook

The median nurse navigator salary was about $78,700 in October 2023, according to the compensation website Payscale. However, actual salaries can vary depending on experience, specialization, location, and employer. For instance, Payscale notes entry-level workers with less than one year of experience earned approximately $67,000, while nurse navigators with over twenty years of experience saw a median salary of $87,000.

Certification can increase salary potential. Currently, only the Oncology Patient Navigator–Certified Generalist certification is available through the Academy of Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigators. This three-year credential is available for licensed RNs who are in good standing. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects position openings for RNs, including nurse navigators, will increase by 6% between 2022 and 2032. This expected growth is due in part to nurse retirements and career changers, and the rise in healthcare needs for individuals with chronic medical conditions as the U.S. population ages. 

Advance Your Nursing Career by Earning a Master’s Degree

A nurse navigator is one of the many roles that individuals with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can pursue. The Wilson College Online MSN program offers an education track and a leadership and management track, all of which prepare students to pursue various advanced nursing roles through courses in healthcare finance, ethics, health systems, and leadership models.

Our graduate program—which requires no additional clinical hours—trains nurses to become confident leaders who are knowledgeable in health policies, ethics, and quality improvement methods. 

Find out how an advanced nursing degree from Wilson College Online can prepare you for a nurse navigator career.

Recommended Readings

How to Become a Nurse Manager

Why Earn an Advanced Degree in Nursing

MSN in Education: Curriculum and Career Opportunities

Sources:

Academy of Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigators Certification

Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, Specialized Nurses Help Breast Cancer Patients Navigate Treatment

Healthline, “Your FAQs Around a Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator”

Indeed, What Is a Nurse Navigator and What Do They Do? (With Skills)

Payscale, Average Nurse Navigator Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

World Health Organization, “Malta Nurse Navigators’ Embody Patient-Centered Care”

ZipRecruiter, What Is a Nurse Navigator and How to Become One

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