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Toby's Take: The Nurse Navigators - Part 2

Sara Somlin headshot

August 29, 2022

When we left off, the navigators were taking calls, pouring over phone records, matching up medical information and images to patient profiles and checking to see if they had left the iron on downstairs.

The Navigators

“The Navigators” does sound like a Marvel or DC Comics franchise, doesn’t it? Of course, everyone knows, in this world, not all superheroes wear a cape. 

We profiled 3 nurse navigators, all working from home, in last week’s blog. Our director of nurse navigation, Teri Banman, connected me with Corrie House and Carol Are, who help cancer patients navigate the process of care – from their first call through their first appointment and a detailed treatment plan thereafter. The purpose is for a clinically trained professional to walk with patients all along the way.

Sara Soliman, RN, BSN, CPN, is the focus of this second part of this story. Not that she wants the attention or thinks she’s something special. But she is special at The University of Kansas Health System in that she’s a navigator who does see patients face-to-face.

Navigation is churning and burning behind the scenes to make this happen,” Sara Soliman said. “I love all the guts and glory that takes place in navigation. I didn’t want everyone to think I did this all on my own. – Sara Soliman, RN, BSN, CPN

Nurse Navigator

A navigator in action

First, she’s a bit of a hybrid. Soliman, married to Tyler and mother of 3 children, has spent her nursing career in pediatrics. Now she’s the first nurse navigator for the health system’s new Proton Therapy Center. She also navigates for pediatric cancer patients in general, whether they end up in proton treatment or not.

“I got lucky with my role,” she said. “I fought hard to keep peds. I had to see my patients. Having someone close is a sense of comfort for patients.”

The health system had an ace in the hole when they opened the proton center in May.

“As a radiation oncology nurse, Sara supported Dr. Ronny Rotondo and the pediatric program,” said Darrin Kistler, senior director of radiation services. “The proton navigation position is a perfect fit for her background, training and education.”

A key role in patient care

“I ‘get’ peds oncology,” Soliman said.

When the health system started building the proton program, which uses a pencil-size radiation beam to zap tumors, leaders knew the clinical and administrative team needed to be as impressive as proton technology and the massive machine itself, housed at our main campus in Kansas City. Soliman, an RN, is surrounded by internationally known radiation oncologists, medical physicists, radiation therapists and dosimetrists (they figure the dosage of radiation).

She’s the proverbial front door, the company clerk, the person who makes sure that clinicians are connected to patients (young and old) and patients know what’s going to happen, as much as possible. Talking to them first, then seeing them in person when they arrive, gives Soliman a chance to witness an advocacy approach to care and be a part of it.

“Navigation is churning and burning behind the scenes to make this happen,” Soliman said, hilariously. During my TV news career, we used to refer to people like Soliman as “a talking soundbite,” and you get the feeling she doesn’t mean to be. She’s very good at expressing how important navigation is in this unique role and her shyness about being called out.

“I love all the guts and glory that takes place in navigation. I didn’t want everyone to think I did this all on my own.”

We know you didn’t, Sara. But it makes a good superhero story.

Nurse navigators support patients through the unfamiliar world of treatment.

In other news

We win again!

In another tight competition with Nebraska Medicine’s staff, The University of Kansas Health System’s employees have won the Step Into Summer challenge for a second year in a row. We previewed the competition with a Toby’s Take Step Into Summer blog post in early July. Considering the hundreds of participants and the number of hot days during the competition to see which organization could combine to have the most steps, this was CLOSE. We came out on top by just 8,978 steps.

The best news? The win generates a $3,000 donation to the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge. As back-to-back champs, let’s go for a 3-peat next year!

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