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Q&A: How to Improve Breast Health (And Catch Cancers Early!) According to Local Breast Care Coordinator

When breast cancer strikes, patients are often surprised by the amount of coordination necessary to manage their diagnoses. It involves assembling a topnotch team of health professionals, navigating insurance policies, and becoming fluent in tricky medical jargon. However, healthcare professionals are easing these burdens and providing patients peace of mind with specialized positions called “breast care coordinators.” Rita Battaglini RN, BSN has combined her past experiences as a case manager and care coordinator for a breast surgeon as Jefferson Hospital’s breast care coordinator. She helps patients access the best possible care, liaises with physicians, and provides community members information about preventative measures and overall wellness.

Today, this local healthcare hero is sharing her best tips for catching breast cancers early and why purchasing her Subaru was a no-brainer.

Explain your day-to-day work as the breast care coordinator well as how long you’ve been working at Jefferson Hospital.

Some places call my job a breast care navigator and that’s newer terminology. My job here at Jefferson [Hospital] — and I’ve been doing it for 8 years — is connecting patients to care when it is related to breast health. So, lots of the patients that I will talk to will be patients who come to Jefferson and have an abnormal mammogram and maybe they need to have a biopsy whether it’s in imaging or by a surgeon. I will help get those people to biopsy, help them get to a surgeon, answer questions, and then follow-up with them following their biopsies. And if any of those patients turn out to have cancer, I will help them to the next step.

Another aspect of my job is [responding to] email queries [from patients] and I will follow-up with those patients. I will also get calls from primary care doctors and gynecologists for patients who need to access services.

What kind of specialized training or experience does it take to become a breast care coordinator?

This year, I’m entering my 30th year as a registered nurse, and for a good 25 of those years, I’ve been in some form of cancer care. I’ve worked in other roles where I’ve worked in gynecology, caring for women with other types of GYN cancers. I’ve previously worked in medical oncology, and I’ve worked as a case manager and as a breast surgeon care coordinator. [I’ve been involved in] all of those different facets. They all play into this job. I’ve seen patients at different points in their care. It’s a great background to have to reassure patients, guide them through complex health issues, help them assemble a team and answer questions.

What kind of community initiatives does Jefferson Hospital have to raise awareness about breast health?

We do a ton. Here at Jefferson there are a lot of thing we do in the community. Most of the members that work as part of the breast care team do something to educate the community. A lot of us have gone out to sister organizations — whether it is through the Philadelphia senior centers, Planned Parenthood, or the church groups — we’ve gone out to educate about the importance of either very specific topics or very general topics like getting patients access to care.

Another big element is access to care. At Jefferson, we have a grant to help women who do not have health insurance or can’t afford to get to care. I work with a social worker who coordinates several of those different grants to be able to allow patients access to care.

What’s the most exciting change you’ve noticed during your career in the medical field?

For me, what’s interesting is looking at how much easier it is for patients to have access to information. Research has come about to improve lives, extend survival and have more improved technology in regard to imaging. For me as a nurse, what has been some of the best is having all of that information available to patients.

When I first started, a lot of the information available was dated and old. So, you were always trying to create more good information and helping patients get access to new information. To me, that has been the most exciting thing, seeing patients come in having read a lot and having good information.

What’s the most challenging part of your job and how do you manage it?

The things that make my job challenging are the reasons why I like it. In healthcare, we want to use our brains and make a difference for patients. What some people might call a challenge, I view as a part of the job. One thing I see is that could help is that not everyone has good healthcare literacy. While some patients understand it very much, there are some that don’t and need a little more time to get to the that level of understanding.

Another thing that is very exciting about being in the city is that it’s a very multicultural city. Another great thing we offer at Jefferson is access to certified interpreters — whether that’s in-person or over the phone. We get patients from all over.

What model Subaru do you drive?

[I drive a] 2010 Subaru Legacy. I went to Cherry Hill Subaru. They’re amazing! Subaru does really interesting events for their owners. They did one at the Franklin Institute where it was open to only Subaru owners. It was a really good time.

How has your Subaru made your life easier?

I’ve had my car for 5 years. The car is so reliable. They’re great vehicles. Over this past winter, during the snow storm, while everyone was pulling off the road and swerving and sliding, I felt really rock-steady. I have to say that the car is very safe. My car is five years old and still looks new.

Has there been a moment where your career in healthcare and being an owner of a Subaru has intersected?

I would really just say that when we’re looking at healthcare, we’re always talking about keeping people well. It makes sense that a lot of healthcare workers own Subaru vehicles because then we’re not worried about being injured.

We were in my car about 3 years ago travelling on 295; my husband was driving and I was in the passenger seat. Somebody hit us while they were crossing lanes, and so we pulled off the side of the road. We were fine and we had a tiny damage on the bumper that Subaru replaced, but nothing else and we were driving 65 miles/hour. And I thought “Wow, we’re really okay.” They have a lifelong owner here.

Fill in the blank: _______is the next big thing in breast cancer care. Why?

The big buzz is looking at treatments that are actually targeted treatment. Work is being done where they’re actually looking at the genes of a person’s cancer and figuring out very specific treatments for that specific cancer. That’s exciting to see how that’s changing care and treatment.

For patients concerned, worried, or not sure, just ask! A lot of calls I get are patients who may never come to Jefferson, but I do a lot of information giving. And that’s key. If something doesn’t feel right, and you’re having a problem that’s persisting, get a second opinion.

What is one thing people can do today to help prevent breast cancer or catch it early?

For women, talk about it and get more information. For women who are young, that can be talking to their nurse practitioners or physicians about each stage of their life for their breast care. For women, if we are able to keep our weight down, we know that helps patients in terms of prevention. For women who are 40 and over and average risk, getting yearly mammograms (it’s painless!) are really important. It’s not going to prevent breast cancer, but it’s going to help find things at the earliest stage.

For more information about finding the right ride for you, visit Subaru, here.