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Congratulations to JFK Family Medicine Center: Center for Pregnancy for being selected as a 2015 Community Leader of Distinction!

Meet Our Breast Nurse Navigator

MELISSA_SCHOLZ_2.5x3.5Going for a mammogram can be stressful, whether you’re there for a routine screening or diagnostic testing. That’s why JFK’s Breast Center has Breast Nurse Navigator Melissa Scholz, RN, BHN, whose goal is to guide women through the process, especially those facing breast cancer. Melissa knows that excellent medical care is only one aspect of healing and travelling the road to recovery. Sometimes it’s just as important to have someone holding your hand along the way.

In this issue of Spotlight, Melissa shares her thoughts about this unique role and her dedication to helping women overcome their greatest life challenges.

What makes the JFK Breast Center different from other breast care centers?

There are many places to go for a mammogram, an MRI or biopsy, but few that offer a complete and seamless continuum of care. Here at JFK’s Breast Center, we provide a lot more than imaging services; we also provide education, counseling and the full resources of JFK Medical Center when they’re needed, such as access to leading breast specialists and the latest cancer treatments. We’re also the region’s first and only community hospital to offer a Breast Health Navigation program.


What exactly is a Breast Nurse Navigator?

My role basically combines nursing with case management, helping women and their families navigate the health care system and the disease. I’m here to answer their questions immediately, to share information, to direct them through further testing or treatment, to coordinate their care and offer support. I make sure that each patient’s needs are met on a holistic level – medically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually – because all must be satisfied to achieve optimal health.

When did JFK introduce this program, and what made you a good fit for the role?

It actually started as a pilot program back in 2005. Once successful, the hospital searched for a permanent Breast Nurse Navigator, which brought me over from Raritan Bay Medical Center. I knew this was the perfect job for me, bringing together my interests in nursing, oncology and women’s health. In addition to being an RN, I’m a certified breast health navigator and working toward a Master’s in Nursing degree. On a more personal level, I have friends who’ve experienced cancer at young ages… I saw what they went through, what was missing, and where I could help.

What do the Breast Center staff and physicians think about the service?

They’re very happy with it. The technologists were assuming these responsibilities on top of their own jobs. Now they can focus on procedures while I focus on providing personalized support. The doctors have also embraced the role because it frees up their time for clinical care and brings referrals to surgeons, medical oncologists and other specialists.

How about patients? Why is a Breast Nurse Navigator so valuable to them?

Women tend to take care of everyone else only to neglect themselves, so it is important to help them become educated and empowered. Breast cancer can make a woman feel overwhelmed, frightened, even lost. I do everything possible to assure her that these feelings are temporary, and to make her experience just a little bit easier.

Do you find that patients are more knowledgeable and proactive about breast health?

Definitely. Thanks to more community education and easier access to medical information, more women are going for their mammograms and more breast cancers are caught in early stages – when they’re easier to treat and there’s less chance of recurrence. However, while the internet is a great tool for some things, it can also create more anxiety. I guide patients to trusted web sites and emphasize that what they’re reading may not apply to their personal circumstances.

How do you calm a patient before a procedure?

The anxiety usually stems from fear of the unknown, so I give them the facts. For example, many don’t realize that we offer mammography pads to reduce discomfort during breast compression, or that 80 percent of biopsies reveal a benign condition.

How do you support women who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

I reach out right away to explain the next steps, connect them with community resources and offer physician referrals. I encourage each of my patients to get second opinions so she can gather the information she needs to make decisions that are right for her. And my support doesn’t end with diagnosis; I follow my patients through treatment, recovery and survivorship.

How important are support groups?

Support groups offer a safe and intimate forum for sharing feelings, networking and connecting with people who are going through the same experience. Some participants are newly diagnosed while others have been coming for years – showing there is light at the end of the tunnel. Haven Hospice also runs support groups for spouses and caregivers as well as special camps for children, because cancer is a disease that affects the whole family.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Everything. I love my patients, my co-workers and the whole continuum of care. But there’s nothing I treasure more than reaching out to someone who is scared and going through a traumatic time, and helping her get to the other side.