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The Journey to Radiography

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The Journey to Radiology
I have never been one to be called “graceful.” In the first grade, I had dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, so I was enrolled in dance classes. As much as I tried to channel my inner grace, I could not hide my clumsy ways. On one particularly rainy day, my ballet slippers were wet, and I slipped and fell on my right arm, causing it to break. I was taken to the doctor, who put a bright orange cast going from my wrist up to my shoulder. The whole experience of that day is a foggy memory; however, I remember distinctly how fascinated I was by the x-rays taken of my arm, and the machine’s ability to look inside of me.
As I entered middle school, I developed a love for soccer. During a game, the ball was kicked high in the air, and an opponent and I collided trying to gain back its control. Unfortunately, the only thing I gained that day was my second broken arm. I was taken to the hospital and examined, again getting x-rays taken to determine the location of the break. As the doctor held up the x-ray to the light, a thousand questions came to my mind. “What bone is that?” “Where is the break?” “Why is the bone showing in the picture, but not the skin?” There were so many things I wanted to know; questions that I didn’t know how to ask at such a young age with my first broken arm. The doctors were all very nice, however, their answers might as well have been in French, because I had no idea what their anatomical lingo meant. At that time, I had no cares in the world and the last thing on my mind was a future career choice.
In 2004, I attended college at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, with high hopes of becoming a career woman; unfortunately, I could not seem to find a career that interested me. I probably changed my major five times in the two years of my attendance. The hopes of future job security were then put to the side when I fell in love, got married, and had my first daughter. I took some time off from school to raise her, and it was during that time that I became enamored by the human body. It must have been a combination of giving birth, and then watching (in slight paranoid horror) this tiny little being grow before my eyes, that led me to want to know everything I could about the body and the way it works.
I decided to return to school, this time at Cape Fear Community College, to pursue a career in the medical field. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure exactly which specific area that would be, so I began taking all of the basic preliminary courses for a majority of the medical degrees.
Anatomy and physiology was the class that led me to make the decision I was looking for. The first test was on the bones of the body. I remembered every single bone and every location, and jumped at every opportunity I had to impress my family with my new knowledge. This enthusiasm got me to think back to when I was so young and so intrigued by the broken bones. It seemed to be the one interest that had stayed with me to adulthood. So when the time came to select my major, I wanted nothing more than to be accepted into the Radiography program to pursue a degree as a radiology technician.
This semester marks the end of all necessary pre-requisites for the Radiography program. It is a very difficult program to get into, as they only accept 18 students a year; however, I have worked extremely hard in every class that I have taken, and attended extracurricular events such as the radiography program information sessions, and feel confident in my knowledge to apply this coming February. I have no doubt that when I mix my interests of the inner workings of the body and the intense clinical training of the program, I will have everything and more that I need to get the radiology technician career that I have been looking for.
Radiology technicians, also called radiographers, take pictures called x-rays of the inside of the human body to diagnose possible medical problems. The type of x-ray taken depends on the location of the possible injury. It is the radiographer’s job to educate the patient on the details of the procedure, take off all metal and jewelry (as x-rays cannot photograph through metal) and cover up any exposed areas with special protective shields to prevent an over exposure of radiation (Farr 218 America’s). Some radiographers may involve a process called fluoroscopy, where a special dye or chemical is ingested by the patient to highlight certain parts of the digestive tract, which otherwise could not been seen as easily on film. The radiographer then accurately angles the x-ray machine to achieve the best photograph, sets the controls, takes the film and places it under the specific body part to be viewed, and develops the picture to be passed on to the doctor (Wischnitzer 278).
There are particular areas in which a radiographer can specialize such as computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and mammography. During a CT scan, the patient is placed on a table surrounded by a tube like structure that rotates as it takes x-rays of the entire body. This is especially helpful in locating certain cancers that have spread to various parts of the body. MRIs involve the use of radio waves rather than radiation to create images. MRIs are exceptionally helpful in viewing the brain and spinal cord (Banerjee 4). Mammography is an x-ray taken of the breast used to screen for breast cancers and other pathologies. A breast is placed on a small table and then compressed for a short amount of time as the x-ray is taken (Banerjee 168). Whatever the specialized area of radiology may be, the radiographer is always under the instruction of the physician (Ferguson 166).
According to Michelle Wackowski, a radiographer in Point Pleasant, NJ, no matter the level of difficulty, a radiologist must inhabit exceptional people skills, as in most cases, the patient is in pain or in fear of finding out something is wrong with them. It is up to the radiographer to perform all the necessary tasks to operate the equipment, as well as speak to a wide variety of people from all different backgrounds. She believes that “it is a trick of the trade to comfort the patients while also being very vague, as the physician is the only person who can deliver the good or bad news” (Wackowski).
My respectable people skills and extreme interests in the human anatomy will help me the most as I begin a career in this field. Talking to and caring for people have always come easy to me. I have never met a stranger that I struggled to carry a conversation with. I find that caring for others enriches my personal life tenfold. As I begin to care for these patients, I’m sure to be intrigued by what they are going through and what has brought them to need an x-ray. This interest will ensure my full attention, whereas, a repetitive, mundane job would lose my focus very fast.
I will definitely enjoy the fast pace and constant diversity in the radiology field most; however, there is one aspect of the career that is not so pleasing. As a radiographer, I will be required to work long hospital hours as well as be on call certain nights and weekends (Farr 218 America’s). I’m sure this will at some point interfere with my personal life; however, I have a great support system the form of my husband and extended families. My children will see my dedication to my job and hopefully acquire such enthusiasm about their future careers. In this profession, the pros certainly outweigh the cons.
Specific training is necessary to enter the radiological field. These programs are offered in college, and award a certificate, two year associates, or bachelor’s degree. The two year associates degree is the program most often taken by practicing radiographers. Once in the program, clinical training occurs usually on location of local hospitals and doctors’ offices. Once graduating from the program, students can then become certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Becoming certified is completely voluntary; however it is well received by hiring physicians. Students that have been certified must maintain a level of expertise in their field, as well as uphold a moral state to keep their certification (Ferguson 168-9). I am applying for the two year associates degree, and am eager to begin the program at CFCC which entails 8 hour days, 5 days a week; most of it being on the job clinical observance.
Ideally, I hope to find work in a private doctor’s office that specializes in specific pathologies. According to Michelle Wackowski, “working for one or two doctors rather than numerous doctors at the hospital will allow me to be taken under their wing in a sense, therefore I can form an understanding on how to perfect the craft the way they would like” (Wackowski). Unfortunately, I understand that 60% of recent radiological graduates find work at a hospital (Ferguson 170). I have no problem working at a hospital right out of school, because I know eventually I will be able to get my foot in the door to a smaller practice with an excellent referral.
As much as I am intrigued by the inner workings of the medical field, the salary and job availability of radiological technicians is quite impressive. With an annual job opening of 12,836, and a projected growth of 15.1%, there is somewhat of a high demand, especially compared to other job openings in the market today. The estimated beginning wage of radiographers starts out at $33,910, with annual earnings of $50,260 once established (Farr 576 Best). As a current stay at home mother and student, these numbers look tremendously satisfying to me as I have never earned an annual salary of that amount.
Going from a stay at home mom to a radiological technician will be quite a transition. My children will have to be put in day care, which will be new to all of us, and I will not be home all day to clean the house and prepare meals as easily as I can now. If there is any travel required, it would only be to the surrounding hospitals and doctors’ offices. I expect to have to travel a maximum of 40 miles from my home if a job closer is unavailable. Aside from a more hectic schedule, I do not see any major changes to my lifestyle, as I have always seen myself as working full time in the future.
Becoming a radiological technician is a career choice that I have unknowingly been interested in since my first broken bone in childhood. Now that I am on my way to earning a degree in the field, I could not see myself working under any other profession. Not only am I enamored by the x-ray machine’s versatile abilities to see inside the human body, but I also receive the opportunity to help people on a daily basis. Radiology will allow me a fast paced atmosphere where I can exercise my intelligence and utilize my people skills, and that to me, is the perfect life long career.…...

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