Interview with Diane Garcia, Vice President of the California Society of Radiologic Technologists
Diane Garcia, M.S., R.T. (R) (CT), ARRT, CRT is the vice-president of the California Society of Radiologic Technologists. As a radiologic technologist for over thirty-five years, Garcia combines her clinical practice with a career as an educator, as well. Because of this unique career path, Garcia has a clear perspective when it comes to the obstacles that the student of radiology technology may encounter. This interview is filled with common sense advice from a seasoned professional.
What event or series of events led you to pursue the field of radiology as your professional choice? Please elaborate.
I was originally pursuing a degree in nursing at San Francisco State University. While doing my prerequisites I realized that there was a four year waiting list to get into nursing. This was very daunting. I had a friend that was in the Radiologic Technology program at City College of San Francisco. She suggested that I look into radiology since the prerequisites were similar. I did and after applying, I was selected to begin the radiology program and I have never looked back. Radiologic Technology has been a wonderful career which I have enjoyed for the past 35 years.
Name 1 or 2 guidelines you would offer the radiology professional just entering the field?
I would have anyone looking into radiologic technology to research this field prior to doing all of the prerequisites. I am currently an educator in the very program I graduated from and one of the problems we have with students applying to our program is they do not even know the proper title of the profession they are applying to and they have no idea what we actually do during the course of our day. They assume that all we do is x-ray bones. They do not realize that this profession is so much more than bones. As a matter of fact, x-raying bones is one of the smallest things I do in the hospital.
Secondly, I would encourage students to take their studies seriously. Many radiologic technology programs are in community colleges. Due to this, potential students feel as if it cannot be very difficult. I explain to anyone interested in pursuing a degree in radiologic technology that this field of study is as intense as an RN program. More so because in California a radiologic technology student must complete minimally 1850 hours in a hospital setting as well as their didactic course work to graduate. Just like an associate degree RN program, whether you complete a two year RN program or a 4 year RN program, when you are done, the two year and four year students all sit for the same board exam. The same is in radiologic technology, whether you complete a two year or four year RT program, all students sit for the same board exam. This means that a community college must teach the same information that a university does but they must teach four years of study in two years…..very intense!
How would you advise an individual entering the radiology professions to proceed? What are the challenges, or obstacles that may be faced?
I would first encourage them to take the math and English placements exams and start there. Although we only need elementary algebra and English 1A, many students are very unprepared for even these basic courses. Then after they take all of the prerequisites, I would explain to them that they must remember the information they learned so that the RT program can move them forward. Many students take a course and then when it is done, purge the information as if it was not important for their new career. That the course they took was just a “hoop” to jump through. When a student begins our program, even after receiving high scores in the prerequisites, we find that we must spend countless hours remediating students to the information they say they have learned. It is very frustrating for an educator who is trying to teach continuing material to have to go backwards and remediate everyone.
One of the obstacles the student will face is the ability to think critically about the examination they will perform on a patient. Students want the information to be “black and white” meaning that they want the book way to be the only way to approach an examination in the hospital. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the hospital the book only gives us a guideline but the situations and circumstances of illness or injury cause the technologist to think critically when approaching an examination. They must understand the basic information from the book and then think “outside the box,” so to speak, when applying that information to the given situation they face at the moment. Many students are unable to do this. They want the patient to fit the book example instead of thinking critically about what to do when the patient does not fit the basic information the book explains.
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?
The most important project that I have been involved in over the past 16 years is in education. Though I have worked on many interesting cases in the hospitals, I feel that my biggest contribution to the field of radiology has come through teaching.
I have the opportunity to educate the next generation of radiologic technologists. My graduates fill all major hospitals in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. You can rest assured that if you are radiographed in the City by the Bay, that you are in good hands because they are of the highest quality technologist you will find anywhere.
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?
The best advice I received is to become involved with the profession outside of simply taking x-rays in the hospital. I followed that advice and I have reaped the benefits of expanding my career further than I had ever dreamed.
I joined the California Society of Radiologic Technologists (CSRT.org) early on in my career and due to my involvement, I have met many people though networking, who have advanced my career. I would never be where I am if I had kept my head down and only worked in the hospital. I would probably still be a “floor” tech….which is not a bad thing, but I wanted so much more in my life. I wanted to make a difference with my life and now I can say that I really have by being involved and giving of myself by way of volunteering for the CSRT.
As an experienced professional in the radiology profession what role do you feel advanced technology is playing and what other advances do you foresee?
When I entered into the radiology field, Computed Tomography (CT) was just being introduced. Ultrasound (US) was new and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was not developed yet. In today’s modern radiology departments, CT, MRI and US are all vital tools that are utilized constantly. A physician would not be able to make the quick and accurate diagnosis without these important tools. When I began my career, I was privileged to work in the only Kaiser hospital in northern California that had a CT scanner. The year was 1979 and I learned to operate this very important machine. At the time the CT scanner was just a head scanner. It could not do the entire body. Very shortly afterward, it was replaced with a single slice body scanner. It took over 20 minutes for each image to appear. We thought that was fast! Now the CT scanners can do an entire chest, abdomen and pelvic exam in less than 20 seconds generating hundreds of images in that time. We have come a long way since 1979.
This advanced technology continues to develop and though most hospitals have 64 slice CT scanners, there are now 256 slice and 320 slice scanners which are available. The technology is advancing quicker than the hospitals and the educational field can keep up.
The future is wide open. Advancement in digital radiography will allow radiographers to do examinations with more accuracy and lower radiation doses. The problems are if the radiologists don’t demand perfection from the technologists, the radiation doses can actually go up instead of down. I find that many equipment manufacturers have not standardized the way the equipment reports over exposures. This is causing a huge problem with over exposing patients and no one even realizes it is happening.
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.
My strengths come from my vast experience in many areas of radiology. I bring experience working in many different hospitals. I have been an expert witness in radiology cases and an application specialist for CT scanners. I currently am the Vice President of the California Society of Radiologic Technologists and I have been appointed to the Radiologiic Technology Certification Committee for the California Dept. of Public Health-Radiation Heath Branch. I also sit on the Health Workforce Initiative board for the State Chancellor’s office as the radiology consultant for health programs in community colleges in California. I am also a tenured professor in the Diagnostic Medical Imaging program at City College of San Francisco, adjunct faculty for the Radiology program at Santa Rosa Junior College and I am also employed at San Francisco General Hospital where I write policy for their radiology department.
I would advise other radiology professionals to branch out and offer their talents to others by getting involved with their professional organizations. This was the gateway for me to expand my networking capabilities which in turn granted me the wonderful opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of throughout my career.
We thank Diane Garcia for being so generous with her time to share her insights and advice with our audience. You can learn more about Diane at the California Society of Radiologic Technologists website.