Spotlight on LCRP patient navigator, Theresa Wilkins
Theresa Wilkins, BSN, RN
Oncology patient navigator, Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion
Education: Armstrong Atlantic State University
Nurse: 14 years (one year at LCRP)
Why did you decide to become a nurse?
Theresa: I raised my family and then went back to school to become a medical assistant. I was working at a doctor’s office, and I had two doctors there that mentored me tremendously and encouraged me to go back and get my nursing license, and that’s what I did. The mentors in our lives make a difference.
What made you decide to join St. Joseph’s/Candler and the LCRP?
Theresa: The pandemic. Things had changed, and I had to reevaluate life. My husband had passed away (from brain cancer), and then too many other people were passing away. I spent some time reevaluating my life, and when it was time, I applied here. This was something I always aspired to do. It really is my heart.
What made you choose to work in oncology, with cancer patients?
Theresa: Being a caregiver, a pastor’s wife, and with my husband having cancer, I saw the work of the navigators. They were safe to call whenever you needed anything. We were traveling back and forth between Savannah and Duke (in North Carolina) for my husband’s cancer treatment, and we wore out a car. I had to call the navigator and tell her we couldn’t make it to his appointment because the transmission went out in my car, and she said she’d call me right back. She had gotten us a flight with Angel Flight Soars back and forth, so we flew to and from Duke after that. It’s the care like that that I now get to share with others. I saw the crucial need in the role of the navigators, so when this job came open, it fit.
What are some of your responsibilities as a nurse navigator?
Theresa: Our main thing is to be a point of contact for our patients and their caregiver; to provide resources and education for them. We meet with them at their doctors’ appointments. We call them on the phone to check on them, and we are always here for them. We lead them to the financial counselors, the social workers, clergy, palliative care and the other resources that are available, and remind them that there are resources out there for them.
What are some things that you love about your job?
Theresa: There’s an atmosphere when you come into this place that’s almost tangible; you can feel that people care. The teamwork from (President & CEO) Paul Hinchey to the people that meet you at the front door all the way back to the physicians. Everybody is great. The Magnet status is important too. It shows quality; it shows compassion; it shows we follow evidence-based practice. Our faith-based mission means a lot to me also. In nursing school, I had to use the Telfair Mammography Fund when I didn’t have insurance. Then I learned about the Good Samaritan Clinic and St. Mary’s Health Center and all of the outreach we do. It literally brought tears to my eyes. St. Joseph’s/Candler does outreach to the community a lot, and I see that as valuable, very valuable.
This job isn’t without challenges. How do you handle some of the more difficult aspects of being an oncology patient navigator?
Theresa: Always reset your days. I reset it in the morning. I reset it at lunch. I call it self-care, where you can take care of yourself so you can give more to other people. I say when you get a diagnosis of cancer it’s like a spinning top that doesn’t quit spinning, and patients and caregivers need somebody that they can rely on and talk to and remind them to also reset their days.
Being that you went back to school later in life, what advice would you offer to those at any age considering a career in nursing?
Theresa: It is never too late to go back to school. Going back at 40 was very rewarding. I was a nontraditional student, but going to Armstrong, it was easy. I had mentors that would tell me we are all A+ students. Even if you don’t get a perfect A, keep going. That was encouraging to me to hear keep going, you can do it. I value education. Something I prayed over my children all the time was that they would grow in wisdom and knowledge and stature in favor of God and man. I would also say that to somebody coming in, that they can grow in wisdom and knowledge as well as a nurse. Nursing is a rewarding career. Just in the short time I’ve been a nurse, we’ve had a lot of breakthroughs in medicine. We have a successful treatment for Hep C; the targeted therapies that are in place for cancer; and our survival rate for cancer has increased. It’s an exciting time to be a nurse.
Family: I’m blessed with a great loving family. Five children – four boys and one girl. I could not have picked out better partners for my children if I had done it myself. My four daughters-in-law and son-in-law are considered my best friends. I have seven grandsons and one granddaughter who is the youngest on both sides of the family.
Hobbies/Interests: I love photography, being outside, gardening and I’m always studying