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A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become a Patient Navigator

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A patient navigator provides information, tools, and support to help medical patients make informed decisions within the healthcare system. They consider the patient’s unique circumstances, needs, and desired outcomes. 

Navigators assist with tasks like finding doctors, understanding treatments, accompanying patients on visits, and handling medical paperwork. They also help solve financial and other issues that arise during treatment. From admission to discharge, patient navigators work closely with patients. Understanding the specific knowledge requirements is essential to become a patient navigator.

Areas in which a patient navigator can assist a patient:

  • Medical/Navigational assistance
  • Insurance Assistance
  • Home health assistance
  • Elder geriatric Assistance

How To Become A Patient Navigator – Skills Required

A good patient advocate possesses several key qualities and skills to support and represent patients’ interests effectively. To answer the question of “how to become a health navigator,” here are some characteristics that explain how to make a good patient advocate:

Empathy and Compassion: 

A good advocate must be empathetic and compassionate, able to understand and relate to the experiences, fears, and concerns of patients and their families.

Communication Skills: 

Strong communication skills are essential for effectively conveying patients’ needs, concerns, and wishes to healthcare providers. This includes explaining medical information and treatment options to patients clearly and understandably.

Knowledge of Healthcare Systems: 

An advocate should have a good understanding of healthcare systems, including medical terminology, procedures, insurance coverage, and patient rights. This knowledge helps navigate the complexities of the healthcare system and advocate effectively on behalf of patients.

Problem-Solving Skills:

Advocates often encounter challenges and obstacles while advocating for patients. Being able to think critically and creatively to solve these problems is essential.


Advocates need to be assertive in advocating for patients’ rights and ensuring their needs are met. This may involve advocating for appropriate treatment, accommodations, or access to resources.

Trustworthiness and Integrity: 

Patients and their families must trust their advocate to act in their best interests with honesty and integrity. Maintaining confidentiality and respecting their autonomy and decisions is crucial.

Cultural Sensitivity: 

A good advocate should be sensitive to the diverse cultural backgrounds and beliefs of patients and their families. Respecting their values and customs while advocating for their needs within the healthcare system is important.

Collaboration and Teamwork: 

Effective advocacy often requires collaboration with healthcare providers, caregivers, and other members of the healthcare team. Advocates should be able to work collaboratively with others to achieve the best outcomes for patients.

Patience and Persistence: 

Advocacy can be a lengthy and sometimes frustrating process. A good advocate must be patient and persistent, willing to continue advocating for patients even in the face of challenges or setbacks.

Education and Training:

While not always necessary, formal education or training in patient advocacy can provide advocates with valuable knowledge and skills to better support and advocate for patients effectively.

By embodying these qualities and skills, a good patient advocate can make a significant difference in ensuring that patients receive the care, support, and respect they deserve within the healthcare system.

How To Become a Patient Navigator – The Process Of Development

Developing as a patient navigator involves a combination of formal education, practical experience, and ongoing professional development. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to develop as a patient navigator:


Obtain a relevant undergraduate degree in a healthcare-related field such as nursing, social work, public health, or healthcare administration. Some universities offer specific programs or courses in patient navigation. Enroll in patient navigation programs.

Gain Experience: 

Seek opportunities to gain practical experience in healthcare settings. This could include internships, volunteering, or entry-level positions in hospitals, clinics, or community health organizations.

Specialized Training: 

Consider pursuing specialized training or certification in patient navigation. Several organizations offer certification programs for patient navigators, which typically involve coursework and an exam. Examples include the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants (NAHAC) and the Association of Patient Advocates (AAPA).

Develop Communication Skills: 

Patient navigators need strong communication skills to effectively interact with patients, families, and healthcare providers. Work on developing skills in active listening, empathy, and clear communication.

Learn about Healthcare Systems: 

Gain a deep understanding of the healthcare system, including how different healthcare facilities operate, insurance coverage, and healthcare policies. This knowledge will help you guide patients through the complexities of the healthcare system.

Cultural Competence: 

Develop cultural competence to effectively work with patients from diverse backgrounds. This includes understanding cultural norms, beliefs, and practices that may influence healthcare decisions.

Stay Updated: 

Stay informed about developments in healthcare policy, new treatments, and advancements in patient care. This could involve attending conferences, participating in professional development activities, or staying connected with professional networks.


Build a network of contacts within the healthcare industry, including other patient navigators, healthcare providers, and community organizations. Networking can provide valuable support, resources, and opportunities for collaboration.

Continuing Education: 

Commit to lifelong learning by participating in continuing education courses, workshops, or seminars relevant to patient navigation. This will help you stay current with best practices and emerging trends in the field.

Seek Feedback: 

Solicit feedback from patients, colleagues, and supervisors to identify areas for improvement and refine your skills as a patient navigator.

By following these steps and continually seeking opportunities for growth and development, you can enhance your effectiveness as a patient navigator and make a positive impact on the healthcare experiences of patients and their families.

How To Become A Patient Navigator- Businesses Or Organizations That Hire Patient Navigators

Patient navigators are employed by various types of organizations across the healthcare industry to assist patients in navigating the complex healthcare system and accessing necessary services. Here are some businesses and organizations that commonly hire patient navigators:

Hospitals and Healthcare Systems: 

Large hospitals and healthcare systems often employ patient navigators to help patients navigate through various departments, schedule appointments, understand their treatment plans, and connect them with support services.

Cancer Centers: 

Cancer centers frequently hire patient navigators to provide support and guidance to individuals diagnosed with cancer. Navigators help patients understand their diagnosis, and treatment options, and coordinate care between different specialists.

Community Health Centers: 

Community health centers serve underserved populations and often employ patient navigators to assist patients in accessing healthcare services, applying for insurance coverage, and navigating social service programs.

Nonprofit Organizations: 

Nonprofit organizations focused on specific health conditions or populations, such as those addressing HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or mental health, may hire patient navigators to provide support, education, and advocacy for their clients.

Health Insurance Companies: 

Some health insurance companies employ patient navigators to help their members understand their insurance coverage, find in-network providers, schedule appointments, and navigate the claims process.

Clinical Research Organizations (CROs): 

CROs conducting clinical trials may hire patient navigators to assist participants in understanding the trial process, managing appointments, and addressing any concerns or questions they may have.

Rehabilitation Centers: 

Rehabilitation centers and facilities may employ patient navigators to assist patients recovering from injuries or surgeries in accessing rehabilitation services, coordinating follow-up care, and transitioning back to their daily lives.

Public Health Departments: 

Public health departments may hire patient navigators to assist individuals in accessing preventive services, such as screenings and vaccinations, and connecting them with resources to address health disparities and social determinants of health.

Aging and Disability Resource Centers: 

These centers may hire patient navigators to assist older adults and individuals with disabilities in accessing long-term care services, navigating Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and coordinating support services.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): 

Some workplaces offer EAPs that provide confidential counseling, support, and referral services to employees and their families. Patient navigators may be employed by EAPs to help individuals navigate healthcare and support services.

These are just a few examples of businesses and organizations that may hire patient navigators. The need for patient navigation services continues to grow as healthcare systems become more complex, and there is an increased focus on patient-centered care and improving health outcomes.

How To Become A Patient Navigator – Credentials Or Certifications That Are Required

The requirements for patient navigator qualifications or certifications can vary depending on the specific organization or healthcare institution, as well as the region or country in which the navigator will be working. This section deals with the patient navigator education requirements. However, here are some common credentials or certifications that may be required or beneficial for a patient navigator:

Certified Professional Patient Navigator (CPN): 

Some organizations offer certification programs specifically for patient navigators. The CPN certification demonstrates proficiency in patient navigation skills and may require completing a training program and passing an exam.

Certified Healthcare Access Associate (CHAA): 

This certification is offered by the National Association of Healthcare Access Management (NAHAM) and focuses on skills related to healthcare access, including patient navigation.

Certified Case Manager (CCM): 

While not specific to patient navigation, a CCM certification demonstrates proficiency in case management, which can be relevant to patient navigation roles.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Registered Nurse (RN): 

In some cases, patient navigators may be required to have a nursing license, particularly if they are providing direct patient care or clinical support.

Certified Patient Advocate: 

A certificate from the Patient Advocate Certification Board is also available.

Social Work License (LSW, LCSW): 

Patient navigators working with vulnerable populations or in social service settings may benefit from having a social work license.

Health Education Specialist Certification (CHES or MCHES): 

These certifications focus on health education and promotion, which can be relevant to patient education and support provided by navigators.

Relevant Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree: 

While not always required, having a degree in a related field such as healthcare administration, public health, social work, nursing, or a similar discipline can be beneficial for patient navigators.

It’s important to research the specific requirements of the organization or institution offering the patient navigator position to determine which credentials or certifications may be necessary or preferred. Additionally, gaining relevant experience through internships, volunteer work, or previous employment in healthcare or patient advocacy roles can also be valuable for aspiring patient navigators.

Final Thoughts On A Career As A Patient Advocate

A career as a patient advocate can be incredibly rewarding and impactful.  This section describes “what patient navigators do”. Here are some final thoughts to consider:

Passion for Helping Others: 

Patient advocates play a crucial role in supporting individuals navigating the complexities of the healthcare system. Having a genuine passion for helping others and improving their health outcomes is essential for success in this field.

Advocacy Skills: 

Effective communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills are key in advocating for patients’ rights and needs. It’s important to be able to articulate concerns clearly and advocate for appropriate care and resources.

Empathy and Compassion: 

Dealing with patients who may be facing challenging health issues requires a high level of empathy and compassion. Being able to understand their perspective and provide emotional support can make a significant difference in their healthcare journey.

Knowledge of Healthcare Systems: 

A strong understanding of healthcare systems, policies, and procedures is essential for navigating bureaucracy and advocating for patients effectively. Staying informed about healthcare laws and regulations can help ensure that patients receive the care they deserve.

Continuous Learning and Professional Development: 

The healthcare landscape is constantly evolving, so staying updated on new treatments, technologies, and healthcare policies is crucial. Continuing education and professional development opportunities can help patient advocates stay current in their field.


Working as a patient advocate can be emotionally demanding, as you may be dealing with individuals facing serious health challenges. Practicing self-care and setting boundaries to prevent burnout is essential for maintaining your well-being and effectiveness in the role.

Collaboration and Networking: 

Building strong relationships with healthcare providers, organizations, and other advocates can enhance your ability to advocate effectively for your clients. Collaboration and networking can also provide valuable support and resources for your work.

Overall, a career as a patient advocate can be incredibly fulfilling for individuals who are passionate about making a difference in the lives of others and are committed to advocating for better healthcare outcomes.


What is Patient Navigator Certification?

Patient Navigator Certification is a professional designation that validates an individual’s competency in assisting patients through the complex healthcare system. Navigators help patients access care, understand treatment options, and overcome barriers to healthcare services.

Who can become a Certified Patient Navigator?

Individuals from various backgrounds including healthcare, social work, public health, and related fields can pursue certification as a Patient Navigator. There may be specific educational or experiential requirements depending on the certifying organization.

What are the benefits of Patient Navigator Certification?

Certification enhances credibility, demonstrates proficiency in patient advocacy, and may lead to better career opportunities and higher earning potential. It also ensures that navigators adhere to professional standards and ethical guidelines.

How do I become a Certified Patient Navigator?

The process varies depending on the certifying body but typically involves completing a training program, meeting eligibility criteria such as education or experience requirements, and passing an exam. Some organizations may require ongoing professional development to maintain certification.

Where can I get certified as a Patient Navigator?

Several organizations offer certification programs for Patient Navigators, including universities, healthcare institutions, and professional associations. It’s essential to research and choose a program that aligns with your career goals and meets industry standards.

What topics are covered in Patient Navigator training?

Training programs typically cover a range of topics including healthcare systems and resources, communication skills, cultural competency, ethics and confidentiality, patient advocacy, and navigation techniques. The curriculum aims to equip navigators with the knowledge and skills needed to support patients effectively.

How long does it take to become a Certified Patient Navigator?

The duration varies depending on the certification program and individual circumstances. Some programs may be completed in a few months, while others may take longer, especially if prerequisites need to be fulfilled. It’s important to consider the time commitment required for both training and exam preparation.







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