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Interview with David Poon, President of the California Society of Radiologic Technologists

Recently, we had the opportunity to discuss the career and journey of the field of radiology with David Poon. David Poon is the senior radiologic technologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California San Francisco Children’s Hospital.

Poon also sits on the board of directors at the President-Elect of the California Society of Radiologic Technologists. David’s journey to find his place as a radiologic technologist blends insight with real world experience. He is an active proponent of continuing education and is available to those who are entering the field of radiology and are considering this option. Poon offers helpful guidelines for the demands of radiology school. He also offers tips on how to be successful during the arduous curriculum and during a career in radiology.

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

david-poonI worked in medical education for over 6 years and my primary job was to assist hospitals provide continuing medical education (CME) for physicians. As a result, I often interacted with physicians and one in particular; a radiologist suggested that I had a lot of characteristics of a radiologic technologist. I first wasn’t interested, however, after learning more about the profession, I decided to research more about the profession.

What I really like about the profession is that it uses the technical aspect of the profession with the clinical aspect. The one cannot work without the other. The technical aspect includes the patient positioning and using proper technique so that one does not over-radiate the patient. The clinical aspect includes patient care and ensuring the physicians get the exam they ordered. I like that we are the “eyes” of medicine. Physicians and patients need the images we take to ensure the patients get treated for whatever they are coming in for.

Name 1 or 2 specific challenges you have faced in the radiology field and the steps you took to meet these challenges.

Having been accepted in the radiology program is demanding. The challenge I faced in the radiology field was time management, specifically in the courses I took. I also faced fears of not doing well on exams. I decided that in order to be successful in this field, I had to take this course seriously! I decided to work as little as possible and devote much of my time to succeeding. For example, I gave up my television (I was addicted to cable television). I knew that in order to get my time management in order I had to study away from my house. I also teamed up with a study buddy to ensure I understood the material. We would go to a coffee shop and study at least 4 hours a day. We would test each other on the materials we were studying for that week. It was important to me to take this studying seriously. The program I attended required a passing grade of 75% or better.

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

I highly suggested asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you like dealing with people? You will encounter people of all sorts, from all nationalities, from all colors of the rainbow. You need to be professional in dealing with all of them and their families. You must put your individual feelings aside, your politics aside; this is not the place for it. You have to be professional in dealing with different kinds of people.
  • Do you like working in a high stress environment? We often work in stressful environments. We are often in the operating room, operating a machine known as the C-arm. Surgeons use this for back surgery, hip surgery and other surgeries. Due to the complexity of the procedures, we are often required to work in a very precise manner. Failure to do so would require the patient to be under anesthesia for a longer period of time.
  • Do you like public speaking? We often need to speak to the patients, their providers (doctors and nurses) and their family members. If you are shy about speaking, this career maybe challenging for you. You will be required to explain the exam to the patient. Often times, the patient doesn’t know an exam has been ordered for them. You will need to explain the exam to them in a concise manner, but use the terms that they understand.
  • Can you think outside of the box? Often times, you will need to think outside the box in order to get the image the physician ordered. For example, if a patient can’t move to get x-ray the doctor ordered, you need to think outside of the box in order to get that image.
  • Can you work in a team environment? This position requires you to work well with others. You will need to get along with everyone. Remember, you are there for the patient. Working together is imperative –

If you answered no to some of these, you will have a very challenging time in this career. You need to possess all the above characteristics and more in order to be successful.

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 applied for scholarship with I didn’t end up getting. As a result of this failed scholarship, I decided to form a support group for Radiology Technology students on Facebook. The support group is called, “The California Society of Mentors and Students in Radiologic Technology.” This support group is for students who and mentors who are interested in working together. As a result, there are now over 700 members.

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?

As a student, I recall that my clinical education was at times challenging. Performing and mastering clinical competencies involved having the right attitude and working with the right radiologic technologist. At times it was difficult, as I witnessed how some of the technologists I worked with treated patients. It was frustrating, as a student, getting the support I needed to succeed in a clinical environment. Being a clinical instructor and now a Sr. Radiologic Technologists, I see not only the challenges that working technologists face, but also understand the difficulties students can face without the proper guidance and advice from your professors and clinical site.

While the professors in my program provided valuable advice before entering the clinical part of my education, I had no idea how demanding some days where going to be for me. The tips given to me by my professors and the staff technologists were invaluable.

Here is the advice I have for you:

1. Show initiative-

a. To be successful in a clinical setting, you have to show effort. Show enthusiasm when doing exams.
b. Practice, practice, practice! It will make you better. Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do the exam. Show them that you not only are interested in doing the exam, but WANT to do the exam.
c. Don’t shy away from doing challenging patients, or exams that are rare. If you don’t know what to do, get a technologist involved.
d. By showing initiative and interest, you are telling the technologists you are working with that you are a hard worker willing to do the work. Remember, we all know who the good students are and who the bad ones are. Show them that you are a good student and excel at the exams you perform!

2. Don’t hide in the corner-

a. Hiding, being on your cell phone and/or saying things like, “I’ve seen that exam already.” Won’t get you far. You are at the hospital to learn, not sleep, not rest, and certainly not to socialize. Just because you see them relaxing and chit chatting does not mean you have to- remember, you’re not a radiographer yet! You are still a student, trying to learn good habits! Consider stocking rooms, cleaning cassettes, learning more about the machines you are using. You are there to become an expert radiographer so get on your feet and don’t be lazy!

3. Don’t be shy-

a. This job requires you not be shy. If you are the shy, timid type you need to realize that your future job will require you to talk to patients, physicians, nurses and other important people in their care. Being an introvert will make your job very challenging and ultimately make you an ineffective radiologic technologist.

4. Develop a routine-

a. Developing an ongoing routine that you can stick with will ensure success every time. Whether the routine is how to greet a patient; how to set up for a specific exam, etc. Building a routine will help you to remember important steps that are crucial in making the exam/procedure a successful one.

5. It isn’t about you-

a. The career didn’t choose you! You have decided to choose a career that is not about you. It is about the patient. Patients will always come first. It is the reason why we are there and the reason why we get a paycheck in the end! As a result, it is imperative you put yourself in the patient’s shoes. For example, geriatric patients generally feel cold when entering a radiology department. If you witness them shivering a little and/or comment about how cold it is, go ahead and grab them a warm blanket. Don’t wait for them to ask.
b. The patient is who is important so if you receive a little “constructive criticism,” listen! Everyone is trying to teach you the correct way to do things. Sometimes it feels like you are being yelled at, but in reality it is because the patient or exam was suffering not you.

6. There is more than one way-

a. There is more than one way to do an exam. You will learn from good technologists and bad technologists. Bad technologist will always take bad short-cuts. Remember to learn from the good ones and remember what NOT to do from the bad technologists. This includes how to care for patients, how to speak to other technologists, supervisors, and physicians/nurses.

7. Clean after every exam-

a. This probably gets overlooked most of the time, but it is important you clean with sanitizer after every exam. This includes washing your hands. I often tell my students, would you want to put your face on that dirty cassette? What makes you think the next patient would want to?
b. Remember, we are patient advocates; patients rely on us to be professional and develop sanitary practices.

8. Ask questions-

a. If you don’t know, that is okay! You are there to learn! But do not pretend you know an answer. Be sure to get clarification on questions you need answered. This is your education. Be your own educational advocate.
b. Be humble! Listening more than you speak can be very powerful and if you use this you can learn many things about others and practice humility in how you respond. It gives you time to think and provides time for others to share their own opinions. Listening more can be very respectful to others, and you can learn a lot more by listening to others than you can by speaking.

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

Medical Imaging has come along way from running cassettes into the dark film room. Most of the technology is filmless and wireless. I feel that as technology grows, it will affect medical imaging in positive ways. Just look at the recent discovery of ways we can use MRI, CT and Ultrasound.

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.

Being a patient advocate is a key strength I bring to my career. For example, I serve on the California Society of Radiologic Technologists. As a technologist, I also serve as a patient advocate by ensuring that the right exam is ordered on the right patient. For example, if I see a left foot x-ray ordered on a patient and the patient has right foot pain instead of left. I would call the ordering provider and ask them if that is the correct order. This not only protects the patient from unnecessary ionizing radiation, it also ensures that I am doing my job. My advice for students is to get involved with the profession. Join their local state professional society. Don’t just be a member, everyone can pay a membership due, run for office, volunteer for a committee, stand up for your patients and be a strong patient advocate.

We thank David Poon for being so generous with his time to share his experiences and advice with our readers. To learn more about David, visit the California Society of Radiologic Technologists website.