The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) in Baltimore is a National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer center, a distinction that places it in the top tier of cancer institutions in the United States. As part of an academic medical community, UMGCCC integrates cutting-edge cancer treatments with leadership in oncology research and a commitment to medical education, which has led to the generation of new ideas and methods for the prevention and treatment of the disease.
The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA (TON) spoke with Nancy Corbitt, BSN, RN, OCN, CRNI, about her role as an oncology nurse navigator at UMGCCC. In this interview, Ms Corbitt discusses some of the challenges and rewards related to her day-to-day responsibilities at the center, as well as recent advances in the treatment of cancer that she believes hold promise for improving patient outcomes.
TON: Tell us about your role as a nursing professional at UMGCCC.
Ms Corbitt: I have been at UMGCCC for approximately 34 years. In 1986, I started my first job on the hematology/oncology unit and remained there until approximately 3 years ago, at which time I transferred to the ambulatory outpatient cancer center, where I am currently an oncology nurse navigator.
TON: What are your primary responsibilities at the center?
Ms Corbitt: As a nurse navigator, I work with a diverse population of patients with cancer. My main responsibility is to help them throughout the entire cancer trajectory, from diagnosis to treatment to posttreatment and survivorship. The most important aspect of my job is to develop a rapport with patients and their families. I have found that once I earn their trust, they are more willing to share concerns with me, and I am better able to help them.
Another responsibility I have as a nurse navigator is to educate patients on topics that may be difficult for them to discuss. For example, I often initiate discussions on the use of medical cannabis, which, if used appropriately, can help select patients with the side effects associated with therapy. I tell patients that they need to obtain cannabis products from a reputable dispensary. It is also important to determine any other medications that a patient is taking, to avoid dangerous drug–drug interactions. Not every patient can use medical cannabis.
There are also important sexuality issues related to diagnosis and treatment that should be addressed with patients. For example, they need to be aware that certain types of chemotherapy will require them to wait 48 hours after treatment before resuming sexual activity.
In addition, I have a special interest in supporting the LGBTQ community. This population faces a myriad of healthcare disparities, which have gone underrecognized, leading to reduced access to care. For example, although a transgender male does not acknowledge his female organs, he should still be getting mammograms and pap smears. Similarly, a transgender female needs to undergo prostate screening. UMGCCC leadership has supported LGBTQ cultural competency training, which has increased awareness of these health disparities.
Although I was taught that survivorship starts at the moment of diagnosis, I have learned that some patients and families do not like the word “survivor.” As a result, I try to be sensitive to their feelings and minimize the use of this word if it makes them uncomfortable. As a nurse navigator, I always do my best to build trust and rapport.
TON: What is one of the biggest challenges you encounter at your job?
Ms Corbitt: Our institution is a large, well-equipped academic center that offers state-of-the-art treatments, but it is also an inner-city cancer center in Baltimore. One of the biggest challenges for patients is our location; some individuals must drive 2 hours to get here. In addition, some patients with financial challenges do not own a car, or have trouble paying for parking, which can make coming here for treatment more challenging.
We have an excellent supportive care team that includes social work, nutrition counseling, and integrative medicine, and this team meets regularly to discuss the services that are appropriate for each patient and family. Unfortunately, some patients are very tired after their treatment or lack a good support system at home, and they cannot take advantage of these services. One of our recent goals is to implement technology to overcome these barriers to care. For example, members of our multidisciplinary supportive care team are now able to meet with patients and their families through video calls.
TON: What is your biggest reward as a nurse navigator?
Ms Corbitt: My biggest reward by far is making patients feel better. I love going to work every day knowing that I will be able to help someone, even if it means just bringing a smile to their face. That is what I am here for.
When people ask me if it is depressing to work with patients who have cancer, I tell them “no.” I consider it a privilege to be able to help during such a difficult time and make someone’s cancer journey a little easier. I really enjoy working directly with patients and their families; that is why I have been doing it all these years.
Another rewarding aspect of my job is being able to work with my daughter, Ashley Loftice, RN, who is a nurse in the infusion center. Someone once told me that I must have nursing in my DNA, and I guess that is true. I am overwhelmed with pride and joy working alongside Ashley every day.
TON: What are you currently excited about in the field of oncology?
Ms Corbitt: Oncology has changed so much in recent years. It is a rapidly evolving field, and there are always new treatments emerging that have the potential to improve patient outcomes.
I am particularly excited about immunotherapies and oral chemotherapies. I consider these significant advances in the treatment of cancer. Immunotherapy uses the patient’s own immune systems to attack cancer cells. Oral chemotherapies allow patients to be treated at home, keeping them out of the hospital, although there are adherence issues that must be addressed.
I am also excited about finding different uses for existing drugs. Our treatments are helping patients live longer, and I think it is equally important that we do everything possible to make sure they also have better quality of life. Treatments can cause chronic adverse effects, for example, neuropathy and cardiac toxicities. I want to focus on what we can do moving forward to reduce late effects so that patients can have more productive lives as survivors.
TON: If you won the lottery, would you keep your job?
Ms Corbitt: Yes, without a doubt, I would continue to work. I was recently asked when I was going to retire. My answer was “not any time soon.” I love my job, and UMGCCC is an exceptional place to work.