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What is a patient navigator? Part II of our series

September 20, 2018

Prostate Cancer Patient Navigator Heidi Wiltse, R.N., BSN, OCN

From cancer screening to diagnosis and treatment, these specially trained medical professionals guide you through the process. Our Patient Navigator series takes an in-depth look at a skilled group of caring people who support the award-winning cancer programs offered at NCH.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, a fitting time to introduce our Prostate Cancer Patient Navigator Heidi Wiltse, R.N., BSN, OCN. Heidi has more than 25 years of experience as an oncology nurse.

How common is prostate cancer?

One in nine men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis during their lifetime. 

What are some of your duties?

I meet with patients who have received a prostate cancer diagnosis. I provide support, reinforce education and coordinate appointments. I’m an added layer of support for the patient and family as they move along in their cancer diagnosis and treatment.

I also provide a survivorship care plan and treatment summary when they complete their treatment. I’m just a phone call away for any questions the patients may have regarding treatment, side effects or resources needed, including financial, transportation and support groups.

What is your background?

I graduated from the University of Michigan with a BSN. I’m a certified oncology nurse (OCN). I’ve worked on an inpatient unit, as an outpatient chemotherapy nurse providing treatments to patients in a clinic, and I worked in clinical research on Phase I trials for new oncology drugs. I transitioned seven years ago to patient navigation, putting all of my experience together to educate, support and help cancer patients and their families.

What led you to become a nurse?

I wanted to be a nurse since I was 3 years old. I wanted to help, care for and nurture people who were sick. I had been hospitalized as a child and the nurses were the best. They were so helpful, caring and fun. I wanted the chance to do that – and be that – for others.

How did you end up at NCH?

I was looking for a new role and a change. I saw that NCH had an open position for an oncology navigator, so I updated my resume and went for it. It was the best decision I ever made. I am so grateful to be at NCH and work with such a fine team of healthcare professionals.

What other healthcare professionals do you collaborate with in order to coordinate patient care?

I work with the urologists, radiation oncologists, and primary care providers to help coordinate appointments. We all work to educate and support patients and their families.

How do you make patients’ lives easier?

I’ve helped patients get in earlier for appointments, answered questions and clarified things that their physicians have explained to them. I’ve connected patients who’ve had the same treatments, so that men can make the most informed decisions.

One of my goals is to help patients maintain as much normalcy in their lives and routines as they go through their treatments, and help them see cancer as a detour in their paths, rather than it becoming their lives.

What do you tell patients who have prostate cancer?

I always encourage patients to gather as much information as they need to feel comfortable and confident in their healthcare decisions. There’s always a choice with your healthcare. As a navigator, I tell them that I’m here to support and navigate them through this experience and support their physicians and healthcare team.

I also tell them that cancer does not define them. They are not a cancer diagnosis to us. They are a person with a family and goals and dreams. My goal is to nurture and support all of that.

Early stage prostate cancer has no symptoms, so early detection is key. Medicare covers annual prostate cancer screenings for men age 50 and older. To schedule an appointment with an NCH Medical Group urologist, call 847-618-3800.

Contact Heidi with questions at 847-618-6556 or hwiltse@nch.org.

Find out more about our Prostate Cancer Program.

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