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Interview with Joel Hicks, Dean at Northwestern State University

As a young man, Joel Hicks was surrounded by a family of health care professionals, primarily nurses. He knew he had a passion for health care, but nursing was not the career he envisioned. He found the perfect blending of health care and technology as a radiologic technologist.

Joel Hicks, MSRS, RT (R) Holder, Carolyn Cole Saunders Endowed Professorship, is the Dean of the College of Nursing and School of Allied Health at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He has also served on the board of directors of the Louisiana Society of Radiologic Technologists. He has taken a spectacular journey in the field of radiology. We were pleased to have the opportunity to learn more about him.

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

joel-hicksI had always been interested in health care, but I wasn’t sure what aspect of health care would fit me best. Many members of my family are nurses, and after watching and listening to them, I decided that I did not want to be a nurse. When I first began college, I stumbled across a brochure for a local radiologic technology certificate program. After seeing this, and exploring the field of radiology, I quickly realized that I would be able to combine two of my passions: health care and technology.

After graduating from the certificate program, I decided that I wanted to continue my education. I attended Northwestern State University, which had a program that awarded me credits for my radiologic technology license while working on my bachelor’s degree. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I continued on to graduate with a master’s degree in radiology. Because of my desire to work in health care, and by going back to school, I am now able to give back to the field I love- teaching students like me who want to go back to school and earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in radiologic sciences.

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

Radiologic technology is one of those unique professions that require the employee to simultaneously produce both tangible and intangible products. The tangible product is of course are the finished radiographs, CT’s, MRIs, etc.; all of which have to be done in the most efficient manner possible. The intangible product is the care and concern the technologist must show the patient while producing the finished radiograph, CT, MRI, etc. The radiologic technologist entering the field, then, must be open to critiques, criticisms, and advice, from other technologists, medical staff, physicians, and patients; using these to constantly improve his/her production of radiographs, while always maintaining the utmost care and concern for the patient.

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

I think that one of the greatest challenges facing new radiologic technologists is also one of the greatest opportunities. A trend that I see quickly gaining ground is requiring many radiology procedures to only be performed by certified individuals. While at one time, a newly graduated radiologic technologist was able to perform CT’s and MRIs, I believe the time is quickly coming when only those technologists who have advanced certification will be able to perform CT’s and MRIs. While this may be seen as an obstacle, this is also an opportunity for technologists to continue with their education, becoming specialized in as many modalities as possible.

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 worked in a vascular imaging lab for many years in my career. I am very proud of this time, as I was able to help participate in many clinical trials that have led to the development of products that have helped many patients. Without working in the field of radiology, I would have never been able to contribute to society in this way.

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 that I have ever been given, and the advice that I give to all recently graduated radiologic technologists of our program, is that your education is the one thing that can never be taken from you. In other words, never stop learning.

Most employers offer some type of continuing education; I always encourage new radiologic technologists to take advantage of these continuing education opportunities. It doesn’t matter if it is EKG courses, advanced CPR courses, or a class on how to properly transfer a patient…each of these courses will help to build the radiologic technologist’s knowledge base.

Another part of this advice is to continue your education if you are able. If you have graduated with an associate’s degree, quickly find a four-year program, like the one at Northwestern State University, and begin taking courses. If you have graduated with a bachelor’s, find a master’s program, again like the one at Northwestern State University and begin taking courses. Even if it is one course a semester, it is a positive step towards reaching another milestone. It is always easier to look back and think, “I’m glad that I’ve taken these classes” than to look back and say “I wish I would have started taking classes several years ago.”

An added benefit of continuing education is that it demonstrates to the employer the technologist’s willingness to learn, grow, and be a team player. Employers often value these traits and are more likely to promote the technologist who has them.

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

Clearly, technology plays an important part in radiologic technology. When I first began working in radiology, the fastest CT scanner was an 8-slice, and would take an average of a couple of minutes to complete most exams. Today, there is a 640-slice CT scanner that can complete most exams in seconds and even milliseconds. The speeds of imaging devices is the probably the area where we will see the most advances in radiologic technology. One of the positive ways that these new technologies will affect the field of radiology is an overall decrease in radiation dose to both the patient and the technologist.

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.

The main strength I have and the strength that new radiology professional need is an openness to change. Whether it is learning a new procedure or a better way to perform an old procedure, our technology is constantly evolving. Technologists who embrace these changes and learn from them are the technologists who are the most successful and find the most reward in their career.

We thank Joel Hicks for sharing his insights and advice with our readers. You can learn more about Joel on his faculty page and LinkedIn.