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Interview with Chandra Gerrard, Vice President of the New Mexico Society of Radiologic Technologists

Chandra Gerrard R.T. (R) (CT) (MR) (QM) is the current vice president of the New Mexico Society of Radiologic Technologists. Because of her deep commitment to advanced education in the field of radiologic technology, Gerrard has practiced in a wide array of specialties, ranging from forensic imaging to CT scan, MRI, and radiography.

What event or series of events led you to pursue the field of radiology as your professional choice? Please elaborate.

chandra-gerrardI chose the profession of Radiology because I discovered that in a relatively short amount of time, I would be able to have a rewarding career with many different opportunities. I learned of the many different modalities and found radiology to be exciting and a field in which I would not grow tired of a specific skill set and would be able to pursue other skills as my taste in imaging changed.

Name 1 or 2 guidelines you would offer the radiology professional just entering the field?

Guideline 1: Never burn your bridges at a clinical site.

It is easy to convince yourself, as a student, that you will never associate or deal with a specific clinic site again. What I have learned is that the field of radiology is relatively small. It may seem like that is not possible, but word travels quickly from hospital to hospital regarding the professionalism and behavior of students and new technologists. A lot of students and new technologists do not consider the fact that there are many PRN technologists who work at a variety of facilities. That PRN technologist is able to take information from one site to another site quickly. Management also relies on what their lead technologists think about rotating students. Often times a reputation, good or bad, supersedes the first impression of a facility toward an incoming technologist.

Guideline 2: Never say never.

Never say you will never do something as a technologist. I have been extremely surprised at how much has happened in my career. Things I never thought would happen. Things I never thought I would do. Things I never considered. I have been a diagnostic radiographer, CT technologist, CT Supervisor at a Trauma – 1 Hospital and am now the Supervisor of Forensic Imaging at a medical examiner’s office. I perform radiography, CT and MRI on decedents who are under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner’s office. This is done to aid in the diagnosis of cause of death. I always thought I would perform radiography and maybe get an opportunity in CT. I never considered that I would actually become registered in multiple modalities and be the Supervisor of an imaging department. Since becoming registered in radiography, I have also become registered in CT, MRI and Quality Management (QM). What I am trying to say is, keep your options open and think outside the box. I know it is a cliché term, but often times, people are looking to collaborate with the technologist who is willing to venture out of the norm; willing to go beyond being just a “button pusher.”

How would you advise an individual entering the radiology professions to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?

Going into radiology is certainly rewarding and allows for many opportunities to be had. I would advise focusing on a modality that really interests you as an individual. There are some technologists who love Mammography and that are where their heart is. Other technologists simply go into the field out of convenience rather than desire. You should desire the field you work in.

Challenges and obstacles: There are too many to count. There are these preconceived notions about modality technologists that can be intimidating to an incoming student. I recall thinking how the CT and MRI technologists were almost superhuman. Overcoming this is necessary to build confidence to apply for that position in a modality. To work with the modality Supervisor and possibly arrange observation in that modality. Be confident in your decisions and make sure that what you need from the Supervisor of the modality you wish to work is aware of your desires. Speaking of talking with the Supervisor, when this is done, is sure to have done your homework, schedule a meeting with the Supervisor and try to avoid hallway conversations about the issue. It is really challenging to be a Supervisor and time is extremely scarce, so setting up an appointment shows that Supervisor that you respect their position and ensures you will be guaranteed time to be heard.

Can you give us an example of an interesting case or project that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I am the lead imaging technologist in several nationally funded grants. The primary grant I have been a part of is a three-year funded project through the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). This grant is studying the utility of post mortem CT scans and whether the CT scans can compliment or replace autopsy for specific types of decedents. My role was to develop an imaging protocol that would allow for rapid full-body CT scans to occur each morning. We are required to perform full-body CT scans on any decedent scheduled for autopsy. I maintain image integrity for this grant, meaning I am responsible for ensuring every CT scan is performed per the protocol, completed in PACS and double-blinded to both the Radiologist and Forensic Pathologist for the cases that fit blinding criteria.

The project is nearing an end (December 2013) and we are now in the process of having consensus conferences to discuss how closely the modality of CT matches findings to what was seen at autopsy. As a team effort, this project has been successful and will yield important results that will be of great value to the field of medicolegal death investigation.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? Name 1 or 2 guidelines you would offer the radiology professional just entering the field?

Best career advice: Stay in school.

It seems to be odd for career advice but it is simply a fact that staying involved in academia will promote you further as a technologist. Upon graduating radiologic technology, the common tendency is to avoid any sort of schooling in the future.

Personally, I never considered how having more degrees behind my name would be of any benefit. I was already a registered technologist. The advice I was given was from a few Radiologists. I was told to continue pursuing education and work toward Medical School. I have not hit that mark yet…What happened in my career is that as I transitioned from staff radiographer into CT, I knew I needed to become registered. On-the-job training was certainly a viable option, but I chose to enroll in a 1 – year certificate program in Computed Tomography Physics. I did this to ensure myself a better chance at gaining the necessary competencies and passing the registry. As a bonus, I was now re-enrolled at a University and working toward completing a bachelor’s degree. As I was a student once again, more opportunities arose. I completed my CT registry and my career shifted from CT Technologist to CT Supervisor. I learned that as I climbed through the ranks in the hospital setting, I had to get a more “respectable” degree. I continued to take classes with the prospect of an MBA in mind. My role changed yet again, from CT Supervisor to Supervisor of Forensic Imaging. Immediately, I felt the struggle of not having a bachelor’s degree. The position I hold is very research driven. There is a lot of writing, data collection, meetings, conferences and presentations I participate in. I would also be performing MRI. Due to this, I enrolled in another 1 – year certificate program in Magnetic Resonance Imaging Physics, to again, ensure I gain enough competencies and pass the registry. I also needed to gain as much knowledge in MRI as possible, as my role was not just an imaging technologist, but a collaborator on several nationally funded grants that use MRI as the imaging modality of choice. The advice I received was extremely valuable and completely true. I have to stay in school and gain education in areas I would not have considered. This is how a technologist stays relevant in the field and is considered extremely marketable and valuable.

Guideline: Become registered in multiple modalities

Having multiple modalities as your specialty is extremely important in your marketability as a technologist. I discussed previously the importance in continuing your education. That is relevant for gaining a bachelor’s, master’s, PhD etc. For day-in-day-out imagers, technologists who thrive in patient care, having another modality behind your name is imperative. As a Supervisor, I am more inclined to select a candidate who has one, if not two, additional modalities. This shows the Supervisor that you have adequate experience, took time to pass the registry, and are more inclined to be able to troubleshoot issues with protocol and physician orders. Having knowledge of many different disciples allows you to know when an order is correct for the given modality. It’s not to say that because a technologist is only registered in radiography, they will not be chosen, there is a lot of weight that rides on having someone with previous training.

As an experienced professional in the radiology profession what role do you feel advanced technology is playing and what other advances do you foresee?

Advanced technology is the field. Radiography will always be present; however, advanced technology will be used to diagnose complex disease processes and pathology. As a technologist, it is imperative to be familiar with what imaging modalities can actually do for patient outcome and how effective the modalities are at aiding in diagnosis. A technologist must stay relevant in the field and be willing to adapt to the change in imaging. Reviewing the history of the CT scanner alone illustrates the advancement of technology and how that technology has transformed the practice of medicine.

As the Supervisor of Forensic Imaging, I see the field of forensic radiology as being extremely transformative for the disciple of forensic pathology. The ability to look at the body in situ and understand the mechanism of death for a decedent is really quite astonishing. The ability to perform complex research protocols, protocols that can one day be used in the clinical setting, is so valuable and absolutely a benefit of advanced imaging in a forensic setting.

What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise radiology professionals to mine their own strengths to further their careers.

Key strengths…those are always hard to define. That is the question in an interview most people do not like. I am one of those people. A key strength I have is to never allow myself to feel intellectually stunted. What I mean by this is that I am always working at learning as much as possible about the situation I am engaged in. I research, study, ask questions and immerse myself in my chosen discipline. I attempt to learn as much about my ambient environment. If I am a staff radiographer, I learn about the duties of the front desk, how to perform quality management on the PACS system. If I work in forensics, I learn about cause and manner of death, pathologic diagnoses; post mortem variations in imaging. I learn about the areas that surround me but may not be my primary job description. This philosophy has helped me immensely. If you know your business, if you know how the pieces fit together in your discipline, what makes it work; you are the integral element among your patients, colleagues and management team. Continue to ask questions, volunteer for additional assignments and really attempt to understand what you can do to influence the outcome of your career.

We greatly appreciate Chandra Gerrard for sharing her experiences, insights, and advice with our readers. You can learn more about Chandra at the New Mexico Society of Radiologic Technologists website.