Strategies used and challenges faced by a breast cancer patient navigator in an urban underserved community

J Natl Med Assoc. 2011 Aug;103(8):729-34. doi: 10.1016/s0027-9684(15)30412-0.


Patient navigation has been widely implemented by cancer care programs across the United States. While activities of navigators have been described elsewhere, little has been documented regarding specific strategies used or challenges experienced by navigators from their own perspectives. We describe the experience of an African American patient navigator who promoted breast cancer screening and facilitated diagnosis and treatment among inner-city mostly African American women in Newark, New Jersey. We conducted qualitative analysis of journal notes, log data, and in-depth interviews with the patient navigator. Strategies used by the patient navigator to develop trust and rapport included: (1) "meet patients where they are" (outreach is best performed in locations women frequent, such as hair salons); (2) being accessible (must be flexible and available by phone or in person to meet patient's needs); and (3) "bring it down, sista" (must have "street credibility" in dress and language). Key challenges included experiencing threats to safety, setting boundaries, and facing and overcoming burnout. The patient navigator responded to these obstacles by creating new community linkages and resources and reaching out for emotional support from her mother and supervisor. Areas that need to be addressed further for future patient navigator programs include promoting safety in potentially dangerous neighborhoods and helping navigators set boundaries and avoid burnout. Further research into experiences of patient navigators in different settings is needed to build upon this preliminary data, and to consider character traits and attributes best suited for a patient navigator, as well as the support needed for this new health care worker.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Community-Institutional Relations
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • New Jersey
  • Patient Advocacy*
  • Urban Population