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Elizabeth talks to a patient
October 1, 2019

Introducing a nurse navigator in the Breast Assessment Centre

Cancer diagnoses aren’t always black and white. Many people go through several steps to confirm they do, in fact have cancer. During that process, there may be additional tests to complete, appointments to attend, and decisions to make. Elizabeth Vandesompele is a welcome support along the way at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre’s (JHCC) Breast Assessment Centre (BAC).

Helping patients navigate breast assessment

She is one of the BAC’s two nurse navigators. She supports patients who require breast assessment—the next step after breast screening—and those who have genetic risk factors and are part of the High Risk Ontario Breast Screening program.

“It’s gratifying for me to work one on one with a patient and to collaborate with them through the different stages of their journey,” she says.

Elizabeth is part of a diverse healthcare team that includes radiologists, pathologists, surgeons, mammogram and ultrasound technologists, genetic counselors, and administrative staff. She ensures patients are navigated smoothly from breast screening to diagnosis to initial surgical consult and then on to medical treatment, and/or surgery. Some of the patients she assists have non-cancerous masses in their breasts, but many discover they have breast cancer while under her care.

“It’s a difficult situation once they have been told they have a breast cancer diagnosis, but I am there to support and navigate them through this process.”

A long career in nursing

Elizabeth has been working as a registered nurse at Hamilton Health Sciences for 32 years and knows how to navigate the healthcare system. She often acts as a liaison between patients, their primary care providers, and their surgical teams.

“Every person requires support and teaching”

“I work very closely with primary care providers and Juravinski Cancer Centre staff to expedite the transition of care, and make sure it’s smooth,” she says. “I coordinate patient care, which involves reviewing pathology reports, setting up clinics for our surgeons, and working alongside them at the Breast Assessment Centre. I also provide education, health teaching, and emotional support to patients and families.”

Always evolving to better support patients

The BAC has evolved its nurse navigator role since opening at JHCC in 2014. They are seeing improved patient outcomes as a result of expedited assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Elizabeth is proud of the part she has played in this progress, and is continually inspired to improve by the patients she works with.

“I see patients of all ages; from 20-year olds to those in their senior years,” she says. “Every person requires support and teaching and I am here to provide that to them.”

portrait of Elizabeth

After three decades in nursing, Elizabeth is still finding opportunities to learn new skills and evolve her role. It’s one of her favorite parts about the field, and one of the main reasons she went into nursing. Though she hopes most people will never have to meet her, she wants those who do to feel comforted by the fact that they aren’t alone on their journey.

Visit the BAC website for more information about breast screening or to book a mammogram.