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Nurse navigators of the Henrietta Banting Breast Centre

October 20, 2014

From the moment a new patient enters the Henrietta Banting Breast Centre, she is never alone on her journey.

Patients at the Breast Centre at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) are guided by one of the program’s knowledgeable nurse navigators – Helen Mark, Claudia D’Amico and Angela Ekeanyanwu – throughout all stages of their treatment. These nurse navigators coordinate all care and appointments related to breast health, right from the outset, so the patient’s care experience is seamless.

“Our role, as navigators, is to guide the patient, through initial imaging, through the biopsy process, through surgery and beyond,” said nurse Helen Mark.

When Mark joined the Breast Centre in 1995, she was the first nurse on the team. The centre – which is backed by a strong interprofessional team that includes general and plastic surgeons, family physicians, a dietitian, a social worker, an occupational therapist and a physiotherapist –  was looking to make all of the program’s services more accessible and cohesive for the patient. From there, the idea of introducing nurse navigators to WCH’s Breast Centre was born.

“When I first meet a patient, I always reassure her she’s in the right place,” said Mark. “We have great doctors, nurses and clinical team. We’ll take care of her.”

Support is a phone call away

For the Breast Centre’s nurse navigators, an important part of the job involves picking up the phone. While other members of the care team have certain fixed days that they are at the clinic, there is always at least one nurse navigator present during the program’s operating hours. This means that a patient can always count on a nurse navigator to be at the centre, that day, when she calls about an issue.

“When a patient is first diagnosed with breast cancer, she’ll have a lot of questions and need a lot of information. That’s where the nurse navigator comes in,” said Claudia D’Amico. “It’s important that she knows that someone is a phone call away – and that we are here to take care of her.” 

Typical calls range from reviewing what to expect with breast cancer to issues related to post-surgery pain and wound healing. Because each nurse manages specific patients, the information shared is often personalized for the patient.

“A lot of what we do is about teaching and education,” said D’Amico. “Phone calls go a long way in terms of preventing unnecessary doctor’s visits and easing anxiety. It gives her one less thing to worry about.” 

Giving patients a voice

A typical patient will be in contact with her nurse navigator for about five years – from referral to post-treatment checkups. In some cases, women might call the centre years after their last appointment, should any questions arise.

“As nurse navigators, we develop strong therapeutic relationships with our patients,” said Angela Ekeanyanwu. “We support our patients in their care process and decision-making, recovery and return to wellness.”

Ekeanyanwu – who has previously worked in cardiology, orthopedic and oncology/hematology units – said she felt like she found a home at the Breast Centre when she joined in 2001. She values the program’s strong respect for nurses and patients. In clinical discussions, nurse navigators provide their input and communicate their patient’s issues and concerns.

“I tell every new patient that the nurse navigators here will be her advocate,” said Ekeanyanwu. “Most importantly, we’ll be here for her – she will not be alone.”

Nurse navigators of the Henrietta Banting Breast Centre
Claudia D’Amico, Helen Mark, and Angela Ekeanyanwu
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