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Q&A With Julie Pitts, Program Manager at the Heart Valve Center at Chester County Hospital

Julie Pitts, MSN, CRNP
Program Manager
The resources of a world-renowned medical center combined with a community-based feel — that's one of the many draws of Chester County Hospital. It is also one of the primary reasons that Julie Pitts, MSN, CRNP, Program Manager at the Heart Valve Center at Chester County Hospital, loves her job.

After previously caring for patients at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania both in the heart valve center and cardiology department, as of February 2020, Ms. Pitts now dedicates her time to Chester County Hospital. She has experience on her side with more than 20 years in nursing and a passion for supporting the community of Chester County.

At the Heart Valve Center, patients with heart valve disease have access to treatments such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) — a minimally-invasive procedure to insert a new heart valve without needing to remove the old, damaged one. This heart procedure, along with additional aortic and mitral valve repair and replacement options, are performed by the region's most experienced medical team right here in Chester County, PA.

It's no secret that heart valve surgery is a complex process. Fortunately, Ms. Pitts has the expertise to support her patients from beginning to end. From scheduling tests to reviewing results to coordinating with other clinicians, Ms. Pitts is the hub of the Heart Valve Center in many ways.

 


"A heart valve surgery workup can be somewhat involved. However, our goal is to provide the patient with a streamlined approach from start to finish," she explains.

Ms. Pitts wears many hats at the Heart Valve Center — all of which she puts her entire, well, heart into. Here, she answers questions about her experience working at Chester County Hospital.

Explain your role as the Heart Valve Center Program Manager — what exactly does that look like?


Heart_Valve Ms. Pitts: The workup can seem very involved for the patient in terms of all the testing that needs to be completed. I start off by getting the consult from the referring provider, looking over the patient's past medical history, their records, and both past and present testing. Then, I decide what additional testing needs to be completed prior to them coming in for a visit.

My goal is to make things run more efficiently for patients by minimizing trips back and forth to the hospital. I want to make sure when patients come in for their visit, they have a comprehensive evaluation so that we can decide what needs to get done and how to get them to surgery in the most timely way.

A lot of communication with the patient and family is key — this can be a day-to-day or week-to-week follow-up based upon each individual patient. Often, communication involves family because they are providing care to the person who is having the surgery.

I am fortunate to have nurse navigators that work with me. Their part in the workup process is one that is supportive to both myself as well as the patient and family. Often, patients who need heart valve replacement surgery are scared. Some of our patients have known about their valve disease, and with others, it has been discovered abruptly. The nurse navigators are very helpful when it comes to patient contact and keeping them up to date on what's going on, providing education and reassurance.

The process is really a multidisciplinary team effort among the surgeon, interventional cardiologist, referring providers, nurse navigator team, administrative staff, family, and myself. There's a lot involved.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

 
Ms. Pitts: Changing someone's life. I had a patient who came in, was very active and healthy, in his late 60s, and he reported that he was having difficulty with breathing. He was an avid hiker and walker, and he noted that he could no longer keep up with his grandkids like he once did. All of a sudden, he couldn't breathe or lead the pack so to speak.
 
We sent him for a CT scan, or computed tomography, which is a diagnostic medical imaging tool to produce images of the inside of a patient's body, as a part of the TAVR workup. This tool helps us review the patient's valve and vessel anatomy prior to surgery.

With his scan, we incidentally found a primary malignancy (a cancerous tumor) in the lung. So, I said to him, "I have a plan for you. I'm going to hook you up with the best doctors at Penn Medicine to get this looked at and taken care of." We had him seen within a week in Philadelphia. He had the TAVR then a lung resection done at Penn all within 2 months.
 
About a month later, he sent me this long text. He said, "Thank you again for your leadership, coordination, and medical expertise to assure the very best TAVR heart repair and thoracic lung section removal. Today, I achieved a 1-mile hike in the mountains with my best friend! I am better now than before surgery, and more progress is going to be achieved. Thank you for making it all possible."

Meet_the_Chester_County_Heart_Valve_Center_Program_Manager

Why did you originally decide to enter the medical field?


Ms. Pitts: Since I was little, I always wanted to be a doctor. I watched all the doctor-type shows as a kid — like "Trauma in the ER" and "ER" — and I was intrigued by watching surgeries. But, I realized medical school was not only very extensive but costly. My parents couldn't afford it, so I looked into different fields under medicine. I was also inspired by my sister, who is 8 years older than me. I saw her go into nursing school and come out in 3 years. She really loved her job.
 
I went to nursing school right from high school, finished at 21 years old, and started working in an intensive care unit (ICU) at a level 1 trauma center. There, I had my first experience with an open heart surgery patient. I learned and saw so much.

Within 3 years, I got my first job within the cardiology specialty. So, all of the 20-some years I've been a nurse, it's all been in cardiology. That's where I found my passion.

What is the biggest lesson about medicine that you've learned since the beginning of your career?


Ms. Pitts: There are nonstop opportunities for learning. With every doctor and surgeon that I've worked with, even though you may think you have a good grasp of concepts and how to treat patients, how to diagnose things, or how to get answers – there's always an opportunity to learn something.
 
With medicine, it's evolving constantly, and there are constantly opportunities for growth and further education.
 
Being a nurse — now a nurse practitioner — I'll always remain a nurse at heart. And the biggest thing that I value in my practice is advocating for the patient to make sure that they're taken care of and their needs are met. Just knowing that that extra 5 minutes on the phone or reassuring them or answering questions that they may feel are silly to feel better about a decision — that's the most important thing to me.

In your opinion, what sets the Heart Valve Center at Chester County Hospital apart?


Ms. Pitts: Even though Chester County Hospital falls under the Penn Medicine umbrella, we still maintain a service that a community hospital can provide to patients — a more personable patient-centered approach, a smaller scale, and a home-like feel versus feeling among many in a large city hospital environment.

When patients come to the Heart Valve Center, we have Penn-trained surgeons and cardiologists able to give them the Penn level of medicine in the comfort of their own suburb or backyard.
 
Our program prides itself on frequently communicating with patients, providing them with nurse navigators who can be a daily point person, and streamlining the process for them.
 
Also, we do our best to make everything extremely patient-focused and make sure that all lines of communication between the patient and their referring provider, the doctors they see, and our team here are full circle.

We just want to make patients feel that they're supported from start to finish.

Outside of work, what do you love to do?


Ms. Pitts: I spend a lot of time with my 15-year-old daughter, Juliana, and 12-year-old son, Ryan. I'm a single parent, and they are my motivation every day to do the best that I can. The journey to go back to graduate school and become a nurse practitioner was challenging, but I had their full support. And on the side, I'm a competitive bodybuilder.
 
So, it's really: work, kids, gym – that's my life.

If you have questions or want to make an appointment visit Heart Valve Center at Chester County Hospital or call 610-738-2660.  

 

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Chester County Hospital's Health e-Living Blog offers a regular serving of useful health and lifestyle information for the residents of Chester County, PA and the surrounding region.

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