Excellence in Nursing Awards 2016

Guiding, counseling cancer patients all along the way

Unit/Departmental Nursing Leader Award

Sharon Cosgrove

Breast health nurse navigator
Sparrow Cancer Center
Lansing, Mich.
Sharon Cosgrove plays many roles in her position as breast health nurse navigator at the Sparrow Cancer Center in Lansing, Mich.

One day, Cosgrove is a case manager, ensuring her patients understand their detailed treatment plans and are getting all the appropriate tests.

Another day, she is an event planner, creating presentations and arranging for speakers or vendors in the community to attend bimonthly events on breast health.

But most days, Cosgrove is like a social worker. “I do a lot of counseling,” she says. “I always say I should go back and get my social work degree.” Cosgrove interacts with Sparrow's breast cancer patients when they receive their initial biopsy test, and as a result she often consoles patients and their families throughout treatment.

Cosgrove, 54, is Sparrow's first and currently only breast cancer navigator, a program she has managed for four years. As navigator, Cosgrove's main task is to ensure patients keep progressing through their treatment plans. For her achievements, Cosgrove is this year's winner of the Excellence in Nursing Award for unit or department-level nurse leaders with extensive patient contact.

When a new patient is admitted, she immediately undergoes a biopsy test. If the results are negative or benign, Cosgrove calls patients soon after with the good news. “It's sleepless nights anytime you're waiting for results.” Cosgrove was diagnosed with lymphoma 20 years ago when she was pregnant with her third child, so she can relate to the anxiety.

If the biopsy results show cancer, Cosgrove informs patients in-person when they return to the clinic for their mandatory follow-up appointment. Within days, Cosgrove and a team of physicians including a radiologist, pathologist and medical oncologist evaluate the patient's results and create a detailed treatment plan. The team, along with Cosgrove, discusses the plan with the patient and answers any questions. From that point forward, Cosgrove's main task is to make sure everything in the patient's plan happens in a timely manner.

Cosgrove's efforts have reduced patients' wait time from diagnosis to treatment, and increased the number of breast cancer patients now treated at the clinic. In 2012, the wait time from mammogram to surgery was 50 days. Patients are now undergoing surgery seven to 21 days after having a mammogram. Before Cosgrove arrived, the clinic saw 30 to 40 breast cancer patients a year. In 2015, more than 150 patients were treated.

“With this program, we're getting the patients to treatment earlier and we're cutting down on anxiety time.”

Her position has been so successful and embraced by patients that the program has since expanded. Sparrow now has a navigator for prostate, colorectal and lung cancers.

Dan Phillips, administrative director of the Sparrow Cancer Center, said a major part of the program's success is Cosgrove.

“She is so passionate, so detail-oriented and so concerned that the patients are well taken care of,” Phillips said. “She just puts herself in the patient's shoes.”

Read more about the 2016 Excellence in Nursing winners

Senior-Level Nursing Executive Award: David Marshall - Building teamwork through tough times

Lillian Carter Exemplary Acts in Nursing Award: Colleen LaBelle - An early evangelist for treating opioid addiction

Read more about the 2016 Excellence in Nursing Winners

"She is so passionate, so detail-oriented and so concerned that the patients are well taken care of."

Dan Phillips, administrative director of Sparrow Cancer Center