Written by: Millie Castellanos, B.S.R.T. (R)(M), Mammography Educators Trainer

“Is this what you do all day long?”

I can guarantee that every mammographer has been asked this question by their patients at least once a week, if not more. As a proud mammographer, I always kindly respond with a smile and a big enthusiastic “YES!” and explain to my patients that I chose this profession because I love helping women and doing work that is meaningful to me. However, with all jobs come many stressors, along with a myriad of rewards. Below are just a few examples of what I experience at work on a daily basis. This is a day in the life of a mammographer. . . .

Let It Go

Today is a good day to have a good day!If time allows in the morning, I am sometimes able to straighten my hair and make myself look nice for my patients. Most days though, you can find me with a bun high up on my head with a headband to keep my unruly hair back and in control. You will also always find me with a large thermos filled with coffee in my hand, as this is my energy of choice for the day. My morning routine of getting my kids ready for school, preparing their lunches, and getting myself ready for work, usually has me in a tailspin until about five minutes before I start my shift. I take a deep breath and let it out, all while I start to clear my mind for the day. This moment is the most important part of my day. The moment I shift my focus from my personal life to the reason that I am here today, my patients. I try to leave all my worries at the door and most importantly, let it go. 

Teamwork 

The day usually begins with checking my daily schedule and noting any double bookings or patients that are scheduled during my lunch or break slots. Readjusting my schedule and working with co-workers to help accommodate patients is key to planning a successful day. I communicate with the front desk staff of any necessary schedule changes, in order to keep the day moving productively. Having a team that communicates clearly and effectively with one another is very important, especially while working in a high-volume modality. I realize that I am lucky to work in a positive environment and that not everyone has this experience. This is why it is extremely important to follow the above ‘let it go’ philosophy and to also choose to be a positive role model.

Compressing with Compassion

A Day in the Life of a MammographerAlmost every mammography patient is anxious when coming in for their exam. Most commonly, the reason for anxiety is due to the compression. 

Please don’t hurt me.” 

Please be gentle.” 

“I am about to get my period and my breasts are extremely sensitive.” 

These are just a few examples of what I hear most from my patients prior to even beginning the exam. These are the moments the patients need us the most. This is the moment of compassion we need to provide to each patient as we explain in terminology so that the patient can clearly understand why compression is so important. Patients respond well to compression when we speak to them in a gentle and compassionate tone and when we listen to their concerns. 

When Life Hands You…

Add-ons! Let’s be honest. Add-ons are never something a mammographer wants to hear. Especially when you are already running 15-20 minutes behind. “I’ll be right with you!”, I say to my next add-on patient who is well, patiently (or maybe not so patiently!) waiting to be seen. I don’t like to rush through exams as I don’t want my patients to feel like they are just another number. Add-ons can be stressful. But all we can do as mammographers is take each patient one at a time. I usually walk and talk with my patients to make things run more efficiently. I try to distract them and make them feel at ease while I am already knee deep in their MLOs. Learning how to move efficiently without sacrificing empathy towards our patients is key to getting through add-ons. So, when life hands you… add-ons… well, then you literally squeeze them in.

Being My Own Biggest Cheerleader

“I’m so sorry, I need to repeat that last image because your other breast was in the picture.” 

Shaking my head… I forgot to tell her to pull her other breast back more during her right MLO. I apologize for having to repeat the image. I tell her that she’s doing a great job and that I am almost finished with her exam. I double check her repeated MLO image and no opposite breast is in the picutre. Phew. I thank her for coming in and again tell her that she did a great job and that we look forward to seeing her next year.

As I walk back to the exam room, I can’t help but feel… ugh. I could have avoided that repeat. I quickly remind myself that I am human. I make mistakes. Sometimes we take beautiful images. And sometimes our hardest days are the ones that involve trying to position someone with a difficult body habitus, or those implants that just don’t want to move for the implant displaced views, or the Radiologist that is having us call back a patient due to motion. But, it’s OK. You correct what you need to, apologize to the patient if you have to, and then apologize to yourself for beating yourself up. Sometimes as a mammographer we don’t always get the images we envision, but we do our best. And sometimes we need to be our own biggest cheerleaders to keep the day going. Don’t forget, we are all human and we are all doing our best!

Love What You Do

At the end of the day, I look back at my full schedule and think to myself, wow, I survived! My feet hurt from standing all day and my hands are dry from being washed so many times. I take a moment to give myself a little pat on the back for the hard work I accomplished and for all the patients I have helped today. But before I clock out, I take another deep breath and try to let it all go, as I step back into my “other” life.

Add-on after add-on, patients complaining of pain during compression, the same meticulous Radiologist having you call back your patients due to a small skin fold; whatever the case may be, these are small moments in your day that can add to stress that is on your already full plate.

So whether you work at a small clinic and take on your hectic schedule alone or work in a busy diagnostic breast center with several mammographers and radiologists, please remember to be kind to yourself. Remember that we are all human and that we are all here for the same purpose: helping others and potentially helping save another person’s life. We are mammographers and we should be proud of the hard work we do each and every day! 

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