Welcome to our Nurse Entrepreneur Series.
This edition features Susan Scherer, RN, BSN, OCN. Susan’s medical career spans more than 24 years. Her experience ranges from working in trauma, diagnostic coding, neurological, medical and surgical intensive care units, neurological-oncology, endocrine cancer and disorders, as well as oncological emergency medicine. In July 2013, Susan began a new chapter in her nursing career, founding RN Cancer Guides, a professional oncology nursing navigator service through which patients can rely on advocacy and guidance in their cancer treatment journey.
Q. What was the impetus for creating RN Cancer Guides? What services do you provide?
A. I saw cancer patients struggling with their cancer issues, not just in my practice but in my community. They struggled with scheduling new appointments, finding the right doctors, lack of emotional and financial support systems. They had trouble understanding their treatments and had a lack of knowledge regarding what to look for to prevent hospitalizations and ER visits. I also had a personal experience with my brother-in-law in 2011, who was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma at the age of 46. I was very much involved with his care and wondered how patients without anyone knowledgeable in oncology to support them are able to receive adequate care. It became my passion and mission in life to help these patients.
From a nursing perspective, I knew that I would have appreciated another set of eyes and resource for my patient population. The physicians I worked with were also looking for this type of assistance as their practices continued to grow with less time to be able to spend with patients. They did not want their patients to fall through the cracks. I knew that I would need to be able to remain objective and be specifically beholden to the patient, not an institution or health insurance company. So I invested my financial resources and heart and soul into starting RN Cancer Guides!
We provide oncology navigation services for cancer patients and their families, using oncology certified nurses to help patients overcome the financial, medical and emotional barriers associated with their cancer diagnosis. It is very personalized, as everyone has specific and varied needs. We attend physician appointments, research clinical trials and providers, educate, and utilize community resources, just to name a few. We also started the first Employee Cancer Assistance Program (ECAP®). This program is furnished by the employer for an employee that has a diagnosis of cancer, including family members over the age of 18 and the employee’s parents. Our third program is the Patient Medication Compliance Program which provides in-home oral chemotherapy education along with other measurements to increase oral chemotherapy compliance and reduced hospital admissions.
Q. Can you share any tips or resources for nurses who are interested in becoming a nurse guide?
A. The first thing that is important is to obtain your OCN — oncology certified nurse certification. I use this as a fixed requirement for all of my nurses, regardless of their educational background. I would strongly advise getting involved with the Academy of Oncology Nurse Navigators, the National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators and, of course, the Oncology Nursing Society — Nurse Navigator Special Interest Group. Currently there is not a recognized national certification for a nurse navigator. There are many programs that require nurses to pay for a certificate so it is important to research them. The Oncology Nursing Society has developed nurse navigation competencies that will demonstrate the scope of knowledge and skills that a nurse navigator must possess.
Q. What are the best things about being a nurse entrepreneur?
A. For me, the best thing is that I don’t consider it work but a passion that I get to do every day; I make a difference in people’s lives. Entrepreneurship offers flexibility in your work schedule. It also allows you to be more creative, increase your earning potential, expand your social circles, and increase your knowledge about business opportunities and the interworking’s of the business world.
Q. What are the greatest challenges?
A. Be prepared to forgo security and income for a period of time. You will need to educate and change the misconception that nurses can only work in hospitals, clinics, etc. Even when I call for new appointments for patients, I get asked, “Who is the referring doctor?” I then have to tell them I am the referring nurse! Nurse education programs lack business classes for those who don’t want to work in an institution. Nurses without advanced degrees are unable to bill for services, which can hinder a professional practice. This is going to have to change as the reality of proper teaching, education and guidance by a nurse has so many benefits. Lastly, as flexible as the working hours are, be prepared to work 50 + hours a week until your company can operate efficiently.
Q. Looking back, as you started your business, what do you wish you had known, and what advice would you give others?
A. I would say be cautious. Don’t share your ideas until someone signs non-disclosure paperwork. Make sure you research the backgrounds of people you bring into your company, as there are people who have other agendas. As nurses, we have a tendency to think people have the same altruistic motives as we do, but that’s not always the case. Get involved with your local resources such as a SCORE chapter, a university or the Small Business Development Center. They offer either very inexpensive or free classes.
You can find more information about Susan Scherer here and about RN Cancer Guides here.