Is the COPD Navigator Role Right for You?


You hear a lot of buzz these days about “patient navigators” — clinicians responsible for helping patients make their way through the health care system. Respiratory therapists are increasingly being asked to take on the role of COPD navigator for patients with this often-complicated chronic lung disease, and on first blush the job might sound fairly attractive to any therapist up for a new challenge.

But is it right for you? AARC Post-Acute Care Section Chair Adam Mullaly, BSRT, RRT, AE-C, serves as a COPD navigator at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Bryn Mawr, PA. He offers some insight into the decision in this interview.

The COPD navigator role is popping up in many facilities around the country. How would you define this role for respiratory therapists?

In my opinion, the role of the COPD navigator is to be an ally to COPD patients in their care continuum, identify opportunities to help these patients meet their goals/wishes, and optimize their chronic lung disease management.

What qualifications (experience, education, credentials, etc.) should an RT have before seeking out a position as a COPD navigator and why are these qualifications important?

While obtaining a bachelor’s degree and the asthma educator certification and completing the AARC Pulmonary Disease Educator Course are important for credibility’s sake, I think to truly be successful in this role you must be compassionate, knowledgeable, innovative, confident, friendly, and collaborative. This is not a “task” orientated role, and these characteristics will allow you to adapt to the often-dynamic role of the navigator.

What are the primary challenges of working as a COPD navigator and why?

There can be many uncontrolled barriers to achieving optimal chronic lung disease management for these patients, primarily financial and social barriers. So, it can be easy to get discouraged in this position. You must meet patients where they are, get creative, and be persistent.

What are the biggest rewards of working in this role and why?

I think the biggest reward for me is being able to showcase the value and knowledge of the respiratory therapist to both the chronic lung disease patients, as well as their inpatient and outpatient health care providers who may not have engaged with an RT so closely in the past.

What are your top five pieces of advice for any RT who might be considering whether the COPD navigator role is right for them and why?

  1. It’s not acute or critical care, so if these areas bring a lot of enjoyment to your profession, you most likely won’t enjoy a navigator role.
  2. Reach out to current navigators in your facility or via AARC outlets; ask them questions!
  3. Obtain relevant credentials (i.e., asthma educator, pulmonary disease management)
  4. This role is evolving; you cannot be rigid and mustn’t be opposed to change.
  5. You will be working with many elderly people. Increase your knowledge on advanced care directives, and palliative and hospice care. These can be important components of managing a person’s chronic lung disease goals/wishes.

If you’re ready to explore this area of the profession further, check out the AARC’s Pulmonary Disease Educator Course to see how it can help you achieve your goal of becoming a COPD patient navigator.

You’ll find current navigators in the AARC’s Post-Acute Care Specialty Section and COPD Best Practices Community

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