Nurses in the healthcare crisis: Sharon Bigelow
As the nation seems to watch the final fate of Obama’s healthcare plan with baited breath, the inadequacies of the current healthcare system are affecting more and more Americans as the economy is leaving workers and families unemployed and uninsured.
One nurse who isn’t waiting around for reform from the White House, but is making her own reforms to the current system in her own way, is veteran oncology professional Sharon Bigelow, RN, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP.
Bigelow founded the NavigateCancer Foundation in 2007 as a way to “further empower cancer patients to understand and find quality cancer care.” As cancer care gaps widened, she identified the need for new niche services and cofounded a national organization to reduce these gaps by providing easily accessible navigation services to all cancer patients.
Sharon sat down with Scrubs to give us details about her work with the NavigateCancer Foundation.
Scrubs: How did you get involved in the work you do with this clinic?
Sharon: Resources are decreasing at a time when the cancer population is increasing. Cancer diagnosis and treatment has become complex and requires a higher level of decision-making and involvement than ever before. It became apparent to me after 26 years of being an oncology nurse that although tumor management was improving, cancer patients were having an increasingly difficult time navigating the complexities of all the new treatments, options and resources. This was noticeably magnified for the at-risk population, the uninsured, underinsured, less educated, and the minority and rural populations. Cancer patient advocacy services needed a paradigm change. No longer is it adequate to just give patients information, but rather to provide a service whereby cancer patients can receive help on how to make decisions and improve the quality of their cancer care. As a result, I cofounded the NavigateCancer Foundation, which provides free services to cancer patients and families by experienced, credentialed oncology nurses.
Scrubs: What are your hopes for the future of healthcare?
Sharon: Unfortunately, great disparities of care exist within America’s healthcare system, but it’s at a crisis level within the national cancer community. Those at-risk populations—including those living in rural communities, those with less than a 12th-grade education, those who are uninsured or underinsured, and minority groups—are twice as likely to die of cancer. The current economic situation is deepening the issue. Many cancer patients are already deferring existing treatments and many are delaying medical consultation, resulting in a later stage of disease at diagnosis. People need access to good, quality care. My hope is that people will begin to work together to quickly and decisively address this issue. The NavigateCancer Foundation is doing its part to alleviate some of the pressure, but we are only a small part of the solution.
Scrubs: What would you recommend other nurses do to become part of a program like this or to start their own program?
Sharon: Nurses are in a unique position to bring about change. They can volunteer their services at public health clinics, church clinics or foundations. There are plenty of foundations looking for help—including the NavigateCancer Foundation. Nurses can start fundraising programs in their workplace to provide assistance for patient co-pays or medications. They can educate their patients about resources for assistance. They can become active in state and federal legislation—government officials like and seek out nurses’ opinions.
Scrubs: How do you find the time and energy to work as a nurse and also volunteer?
Sharon: I resigned my position as an oncology nurse practitioner to start this organization. It required my full-time attention and energy to get it going, and it requires my full-time attention and energy to sustain and build it.
Scrubs: What have been the most rewarding moments of your work with the NavigateCancer Foundation?
Sharon: It’s extremely rewarding when we know a patient has improved his or her cancer care because of an interaction with the NavigateCancer Foundation.
Sharon M. Bigelow, RN, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP, is President and Chief Executive Officer of the NavigateCancer Foundation. Her career includes more than 25 years in medical oncology, radiation oncology and bone marrow transplantation in hospitals, outpatient clinics and hospice care. Bigelow worked at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Baylor University Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina Hospital. She was most recently employed at Regional Cancer Care in Durham, N.C., as a Nurse Practitioner and the Director of Clinical Services. She holds a bachelor's in nursing from Mount St. Mary’s College, a master's in nursing from Texas Woman’s University and a Nurse Practitioner post-master’s certification from Duke University. She has earned the highest credentials in her field with an ANCC Adult Nurse Practitioner certification and an ONCC Advanced Oncology Nurse Practitioner certification. Bigelow is currently an adjunct professor at Campbell University in North Carolina.
By Sharon Bigelow