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A day in the life of a Breast screener

Rebecca Duarte
Senior Radiographer,  Breast Test Wales

Describe a typical day?

I am a member of a team that consists of Assistant Practitioners and Radiographers dedicated to travelling vast distances to reach the female screening population of south west Wales.
Although travelling can sometimes be tedious, we always feel welcomed with open arms into the communities.  Over the years we have been able to build up a good rapport with local businesses and members of the public alike.
Depending on each location our screening start time varies slightly, this is primarily due to warming up the x-ray machines and carrying out daily tests to ensure that the x-ray machine is operating to the strict guidelines provided by our medical physics team.
Our base is located in Swansea, which houses 3 x-ray rooms, these rooms screen clients who live in the surrounding area and is also used for clients who require further imaging in our assessment clinics.
On our mobile units we have one x-ray machine, 3 cubicles, a large waiting area and reception area. Unfortunately we have no loo’s onboard. Hence the fact we are most commonly found in a supermarket car park! We can be often seen darting into the shop to use their facilities, which we are very grateful for. In both sites we aim for a light, relaxed and friendly environment, which we have found helps put our clients at ease. 
Although the x-ray machine is cleaned after each client, at the end of the day the x-ray rooms are cleaned and tidied ready for the next day.  Depending on the location of the mobile unit we may stay in a local hotel overnight, screen the next day and travel home that evening or if the mobile unit is within one hour of Swansea we will travel home.

How are the women typically when they arrive at the clinic?

Everyone deals with their situation differently. Some clients are very talkative and upbeat while others seem quiet and anxious.  I have found more often or not that these clients are worried about the mammogram being painful or has a relative/friend who has had or suffering from cancer.  Clients who attend for the first time tend to be little more nervous, this may be due to the fact they haven’t had a mammogram before and are unsure what to expect. Many clients worry about the results and how long it will take to receive them. 

How do you put them at ease?

From the very first moment I call their name, I try to make eye contact and smile.  From the experience I have gained over the years, is in fact true, first impressions do count! The amount of time I have with a client is very short, so to try gain their trust and have a good rapport is really important.  By introducing myself is a big ice breaker.  I explain before hand what is going to happen and I ask if they have any questions, so any concerns are addressed immediately.  Depending on how engaging the client is I will chat throughout the procedure, it is more often or not about myself or the weather, but I find it does help the client take their mind off the mammogram.

How long does the screening take?

On average 6 minutes!  However, every client is seen as an individual and if more time is required to complete the mammogram extra time is given.  We do provide an ‘easy access clinic’ on the mobile units, in which case the steps at the front transform into a lift, therefore, it can be used by wheelchair users or clients who are unable to use the steps.  Appointment slots are much longer in these clinics, so more time can be taken with the client.  We do advise all clients if they have any mobility issues to contact us prior to their appointment to given them the appropriate appointment slot.

How are the women when you have completed their screening appointment?

Relieved! Everyone’s tolerance to the compression during a mammogram is different.  Some clients are very sensitive, others don’t batter an eyelid! But one thing is for sure they are happy to have completed the examination and many clients say it wasn’t as bad as they thought or remembered. At the end of the examination I explain how they will receive their results and thank the client for coming.

What interests you most about the role of a breast screener?

Before becoming a Mammographer I was previously working as a trauma Radiographer.  My interest in mammography developed during my student years, watching highly skilled Radiographers help detect the smallest of cancers in the breast.  As a Radiographer I have always enjoyed producing x-rays and for me it’s the challenge to produce a diagnostic image.  Cancer effects us all, one way or another and knowing that my role within the breast screening team is helping to save lives, gives me the greatest job satisfaction I could ever ask for.