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Interview With An Unsung Hero: Administrative Director Of The Pancreas Center

Francine Johanna Castillo, MS

Francine Johanna Castillo, MS

Administrative Director, The Pancreas Center
Administrator, Division of GI/Endocrine Surgery
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center

Patients usually seek treatment at centers such as NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia because of the expert care they know they will receive from the hospital’s physicians and surgeons. Patients may be less aware that a vast network of dedicated, highly trained staff is quietly working behind the scenes, tending to every detail of their office visits, testing, procedures, and follow-up care. The contributions of such personnel in ensuring the quality of patients’ and families’ experiences at the hospital can not be overstated.

In this brief interview, we highlight one such person: Francine Castillo, MS, Administrative Director of the Pancreas Center. As John A. Chabot, MD, Executive Director of the Pancreas Center explains, Francine is “the heart and soul” of the Pancreas Center. She bears central responsibility for ensuring that all aspects of the center run well: financial operations, patient care, community outreach, and fund-raising events. In addition, she is the administrator of the Division of Endocrine Surgery/NY Thyroid Center. Francine’s commitment to providing patients and staff with the best services possible has earned her tremendous respect among both patients and colleagues, who rely heavily on her administrative expertise.

What are your responsibilities at the Pancreas Center?

I was hired to run a multi-disciplinary program which, at the time, was a center only in theory. Working with physicians and staff across various departments and divisions, all of whom had different objectives and goals, was a big challenge. My first tasks were to identify and implement consistent standards of care and to create an outpatient practice space where all Pancreas Center patients would be seen.

Since then, I still work to continually improve patient access and care, facilitate clinical trials and research projects, and take part in development and fund-raising initiatives, all while meeting financial metrics to make sure our program remains financially solvent. I make sure the Pancreas staff (including over 50 clinicians, administrative and billing support staff, and researchers) stay motivated and committed to our patients.

You have been the Director of the Pancreas Center for four years. What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of our staff. From the doctors and nurses to the administrative support and research team, every one here CARES. Sure, we have stressful days like everyone else, and there is always room for improvement. I always remind the administrative staff to try and “smile” on the phone because it makes a difference. Every day the staff commits themselves to providing a compassionate environment for our patients and it makes me proud to be part of such a dedicated group.

What makes The Pancreas Center unique?

The Pancreas Center is a fully comprehensive program. From staying on the cutting edge of surgical techniques, to new research initiatives such as the Muzzi Mirza Program Stool Study, which would be a cost effective way of screening for pancreatic cancer, we do our best to attack this disease on all fronts. We take part in community events with our friends at the Lustgarten and PANCAN organizations to spread awareness about pancreatic cancer. But I think what makes us really unique are the relationships we cultivate with our patients and their loved ones. The Pancreas Center team aims to go above and beyond simply being a doctor’s office by serving the patient on all aspects of the disease. Providing emotional support is key. We make referrals to important ancillary groups such as social work or nutrition, and if we don’t have what the patient needs, we refer them to other groups in our network.

Can you give me an example of how you might help a new patient at the Pancreas Center?

Navigating through the insurance world can be a confusing and frustrating experience both for the patient and the staff. Here at the Pancreas Center we make sure that patients know this is a secondary concern to their care. Each of our physicians are enrolled in the major insurance companies so that there is a provider who participates in the patient’s plan. If a patient chooses to go with an out-of-network physician, we work with them to establish a financial plan. Bottom line is this: patient care first.

The Pancreas Center seems to have a lot of followers on Facebook and Twitter. What are your thoughts about social media and healthcare?

I think it’s great! It is a way to spread awareness of pancreatic cancer, and it gives an opportunity for people who have come to The Pancreas Center to share their experiences. It helps us reach a broader audience and allows us to post updates about our program instantly. We have found that a lot of our new patients find us through their own searches on the internet.

The encouragement and support we receive through social media has been overwhelming . People who check out our page may tell a loved one about risk factors for pancreatic cancer, or they may start their own local event to spread awareness about this disease. Sometimes when I get a little stressed I’ll check out The Pancreas Center “fans” on Facebook and it keeps me motivated and focused on the task at hand – to assure people who are battling disease that there is hope and that our commitment will never waver until we find the cure for pancreatic cancer.

Is there anything you would especially like readers to know?

I am wary sometimes of the information that is out there (on the internet), specifically the grim statistics regarding pancreatic cancer. While it is important to note that pancreatic cancer is often tricky to diagnose due to the location of the tumor and very nonspecific GI symptoms, improvements in screening techniques and continual education of local primary care physicians can result in prevention or early treatment. The surgeons at The Pancreas Center have experience doing the Whipple procedure with portal vein reconstruction, which is not commonly performed at other institutions. Additionally, our medical oncology team has first, second and third-line chemotherapy regimens to treat those with metastatic disease. Just last week, two patients whose tumors shrunk due to chemotherapy treatments were able to undergo surgery to remove their tumors completely.

Learn more about the Pancreas Center and treatment for pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, and other diseases of the pancreas:


*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*

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