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A Born Navigator in Oncology Care

Sometimes in life, we are fortunate enough to meet an individual who inspires us, motivating us to be our best. I was fortunate to meet Valerie “Val” Betancourt, M.S.N., RN, NP-C, OCN, over 20 years ago. Little did I know this was going to be the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
 
BY Lori Sammartino, M.S.N., RN, NP-C, OCN
PUBLISHED July 28, 2019
Sometimes in life, we are fortunate enough to meet an individual who inspires us, motivating us to be our best. I was fortunate to meet Valerie “Val” Betancourt, M.S.N., RN, NP-C, OCN, over 20 years ago.

As a brand-new nurse, I was assigned to begin my career on the oncology unit where Val was a per-diem staff nurse. I immediately observed that she was not only energetic and vibrant but full of knowledge. Little did I know this was going to be the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

Valerie also worked in an oncology practice full time, but whenever and wherever she worked, she brought an energy that was infectious and motivating. She was well-versed and an inspiration. I remember watching her with awe as she moved from patient to patient with ease and compassion. She remembered every patient’s name and diagnosis. She could recite the patient’s history and treatment regimen as if it was her own. I remember marveling at her knowledge and setting goals for myself to strive to be “like Val.”

Nursing navigation was not a job that any of us would have been familiar with at the time (1995); however, Valerie was already filling that role. She was always coordinating the care of her patients between the hospital and the private practice where she worked.

Fast forward to several years later, when Val left the per-diem hospital position and I moved to an oncology practice. Although we did not work together, I still spoke with Val every once in a while or met her at an oncology conference or event. She was consistently the same — full of energy and in love with the work she was doing each day caring for patients with cancer. She made such an impact on these patients with her spirit and compassion! Everyone knew Val. Once you met her, you couldn’t forget her smile and caring ways.

Many years later, I became the nurse manager on the oncology unit where I had started my nursing career. I saw a need for someone with Val’s knowledge, spirit and drive. I extended an invitation for us to meet and discuss career opportunities, and, thankfully, she accepted! I felt like I had hit the jackpot. She came to work with my team, and we and our patients have been blessed.

As a Commission on Cancer-certified organization, we understood the need to expand our services and begin to formally navigate our oncology population. Valerie was the perfect candidate to begin this journey with us. She was already performing the role of the navigator without the title. She happily agreed to take on the challenge of this new position, jumping in feet first because it meant putting all her energy into helping the patients, which is always her focus. Valerie went to New York and was trained and certified at the Harold P. Freeman Institute for Patient Navigation. This certification gave her the tools necessary to start this wonderful and long-overdue service for our community, which seems to be her true calling.

Our organization has added a lung cancer screening program, and Valerie is the navigator heading this initiative. Due to all her years of experience, she understands the needs of the patients, their families and their caregivers, as well as how to help them maneuver through the health care system. Over the years, she has developed a wonderful rapport and relationships with the physicians, helping her to coordinate patient care. Although much of her time is spent determining insurance benefits, obtaining authorizations, arranging transportation and scheduling follow-up appointments, she never hesitates to hold a patient’s hand, listen, reassure and offer understanding.

Navigation is about coordinating and orchestrating patients through the continuum of their cancer care from diagnosis through survival and sometimes end of life. Valerie is committed to this purpose each and every day. There is not a patient she has touched who does not remember her kindness, compassion and spirit.

Most days, I have to tell Val to go home. Her energy is at such a high level that it is sometimes hard to turn off. In addition to her work, she has a wonderful husband she loves and two beautiful sons. She is the epitome of what an oncology nurse navigator can be and an inspiration to all aspiring oncology nurses. I know that I am a better nurse because of her and continue to be in awe of her endless energy and compassion.
 

Teaching Moment:
Navigation is about coordinating and orchestrating patients through the continuum of their cancer care from diagnosis through survival and sometimes end of life. Valerie is committed to this purpose each and every day. There is not a patient she has touched who does not remember her kindness, compassion and spirit.

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