How to Become a Nurse Navigator

6 Min Read Published April 5, 2024
Nurse Navigator Career Guide by

What is a Nurse Navigator?

Nurse navigators are patient advocates who ensure each person receives the highest standard of care from their initial consultation through the entire treatment process. They "navigate" quality patient care by helping bypass barriers to treatment.

It's a nurse navigator's job to ensure that the array of coordinated efforts necessary to carry out patient care is organized, efficient, and effective.

What Does a Nurse Navigator Do?

A nurse navigator's job description may change based on the type of healthcare facility they work in and their specialty area. Some coordinate patient care for an entire medical facility, such as a hospital. Others may coordinate care for a single department or medical specialty.

Additionally, nurse navigators may coordinate patient care in clinics. In this setting, one of their primary duties is patient education. Essentially, they translate complex medical information so patients can understand and apply it to their lives.

Nurse navigators at hospitals usually manage a patient's care from admission through discharge. They work tirelessly to ensure their patients receive the care they need during their stay.

Common Nurse Navigator Duties

While a nurse navigator's responsibilities vary, there are several aspects of the job that translate in most areas. Some tasks you might perform as a nurse navigator include:

  • Educate patients about their disease and treatments

  • Provide clinical resources, such as where to get a second opinion

  • Assess patients for psychosocial distress and referral to a medical social worker when needed

  • Serve as liaison to the physician 

  • Address barriers to treatment, such as finances, housing, transportation, childcare, or prescription costs.

  • Function as a contact point for the patient's interdisciplinary team to ensure quality care

  • Support the timely scheduling of appointments, diagnostic testing, and procedures

  • Educate/identify patients for genetic counseling or fertility preservation and facilitate appropriate referrals

Nurse Navigator Specialties

You will find nurse navigators working with patients in nearly every specialty. However, they very commonly work with oncology departments to help guide cancer patients through their diagnosis, hospital stays, and home treatment plans. 

Other specialties where you may find nurse navigators might include neurology, cardiology, trauma, surgical transplant, or others.

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Nurse Navigator Salary

The average annual nurse navigator salary is $82,498 or $40 per hour, according to reports from ZipRecruiter. The lowest 25% earn $68,000 or less, while the top 25% earn upwards of $109,000 per year. reports a slightly higher average, estimating that nurse navigators bring home approximately $98,402 each year.

These salary reports suggest that nurse navigators earn at or above the average salary for all RNs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2022 mean pay for nurses was $89,010 per year or $42.80 per hour.

Salary by State

Your salary as a nurse navigator will vary depending on where you live. The top five highest-paying states for nurse navigators are:

  • Oregon: $91,337 per year | $44 per hour

  • Alaska: $91,261 per year | $44 per hour

  • North Dakota: $90,966 per year | $44 per hour

  • Massachusetts: $90,582 per year | $44 per hour

  • Hawaii: $89,093 per year | $43 per hour

Source: ZipRecruiter, Extracted 5 April 2024

Salary By City

The top five highest-paying cities for nurse navigators are:

  • Sunnyvale, CA: $105,892 per year | $51 per hour

  • Livermore, CA: $105,836 per year | $51 per hour

  • Jewett, TX: $103,902 per year | $50 per hour

  • Vacaville, CA: $102,208 per year | $49 per hour

  • Napa, CA: $99,719 per year | $48 per hour

Source: ZipRecruiter, Extracted 5 April 2024

Salary Factors

While salary data provides insight, you may earn more or less as a nurse navigator depending on several factors. These include:

  • Geographic region (state, city)

  • Your employer

  • Facility type (e.g. hospital, clinic, etc...)
  • Hours worked per shift

  • Overtime hours

  • Whether you work full or part-time

In general, nurse navigators who live in cities with a high cost of living earn higher wages. You should also consider the total compensation package when searching for nurse navigator jobs. The right benefits package could be worth losing a few cents per hour, depending on your needs.

How to Become a Nurse Navigator

Becoming a nurse navigator begins with becoming a nurse. You'll need bedside experience before becoming eligible for entry-level nurse navigator positions.

Let's explore the steps to becoming a nurse navigator in detail:

1. Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

To become an RN, you must attend an accredited Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. After graduating, you'll take the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). 

Passing the NCLEX qualifies you for registered nursing licensure. You must renew your RN license every two years by completing and submitting continuing education units (CEUs) per your state's nursing board requirements.

2. Gain Bedside Nursing Experience

Before becoming an eligible nurse navigation candidate, you'll need experience working on the hospital floor. Ideally, you should gain at least one or two years of bedside nursing experience before applying to become a nurse navigator. Nurse residency programs are an excellent way to get your foot in the door at a hospital.

3. Apply for a Nurse Navigator Position

It may be easier to obtain a nurse navigator position at a facility where you already have nursing experience. This is helpful because you know your way around the facility and probably know much of the ancillary staff, which will help you coordinate and navigate care for admitted patients.

4. Earn a Nurse Navigator Certification

You can solidify your nurse navigator skills with a certification. Currently, there is only one certification available to nurse navigators: the Oncology Nurse Navigator Certified Generalist (ONN-CG). Offered by the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Managers, you must complete 15 CEUs in the year before sitting the exam.

Applicable CEU areas include the following:

  • Patient advocacy and empowerment

  • Quality and performance improvement

  • Coordination of care
  • Psychosocial distress screening

  • Community outreach and prevention

  • End-of-life care

You will also need to provide a reference letter signed by your employer verifying your role as a nurse navigator.

Skills Nurse Navigators Need

Nurse navigators help to coordinate care for several patients at a time. Therefore they must work well under pressure, have excellent organizational skills, and possess a calm and caring demeanor. Other skills that nurse navigators need include:


Patient outcomes often depend on the effectiveness of the nurse navigator's communication with the patient's multidisciplinary care teams. Communication must be open, reliable, and responsive to ensure patients receive the proper care they need.

Cultural Awareness

Nurse navigators must understand that their patient's values and beliefs may differ. They must be willing to openly and honestly listen to patients' needs to develop a culturally acceptable care plan.

Commitment to Patient Confidentiality

All nurses must honor and comply with HIPAA regulations. However, the nurse navigator's role often requires several revolving doors of communication with many unique contact points. This may require an added layer of awareness in terms of patient privacy. 

Is Nurse Navigation Right for Me?

Although working as a nurse navigator can be very stressful and exhausting, many say the career gives them a sense of pride in their work. In addition, it is often an excellent fit for nurses who no longer want to work at the bedside but still want to provide one-on-one patient care. 

Many nurse navigators who have several years of direct care bedside experience decide they want to move into an exciting nursing role that doesn't require as much wear and tear on their bodies. 

If you love the hustle of bedside nursing, a career as a nurse navigator may not be the right fit for you. 

But if you need a break from bedside care, want to focus on patient advocacy, and help coordinate the highest level of quality care for a wide range of patients, a career in nurse navigation might be a perfect fit.

$70,000 - $90,000 Associate Bachelors Non-Bedside RN Nurse Navigator
Sarah Jividen
Sarah Jividen Contributor

Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a trained neuro/trauma and emergency room nurse turned freelance healthcare writer/editor. As a journalism major, she combined her love for writing with her passion for high-level patient care. Sarah is the creator of Health Writing Solutions, LLC, specializing in writing about healthcare topics, including health journalism, education, and evidence-based health and wellness trends. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two children. 

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