Imaging workers choosing clinics

Outpatient radiology centers offer hours and conditions not available in hospitals

08:39 PM CDT on Sunday, September 10, 2006

By SUSAN KREIMER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

NATHAN HUNSINGER/DMN
NATHAN HUNSINGER/DMN
From left: Business manager Jo Giancotti, president Danny Tuinei and radiologic technologist Terry Tucker offer PET scans at Imaging Specialists Group.

There are many reasons Terry Tucker would rather work in an imaging center than a hospital.

As a radiologic technologist, she enjoys providing more personal service to patients. And she thrives in the familylike atmosphere she shares with colleagues.

"I also prefer an outpatient center to a hospital because we don't have to take call for emergencies nor work nights or holidays," said Ms. Tucker, chief technologist at Imaging Specialists Group Ltd., which operates facilities in Flower Mound, Denton and Plano.

Another difference: "You will not see the critical and seriously ill patients that you do in a hospital," she added. "Our patients are able to walk, have their exam done and walk out."

Reasonable hours, good pay, less heavy lifting and greater opportunities are drawing radiologic technologists to jobs at imaging centers that use cutting-edge diagnostic equipment such as MRI and CT scans.

"Technology in our profession is really exploding, but these two areas seem to be growing the fastest," said Joan Parsons, executive vice president at the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (www.asrt.org) in Albuquerque, N.M.

"More doctors are requesting examinations that use these two imaging techniques."

The demand is probably slightly higher in the freestanding clinics.

'A nice change'

Data are not available on the number of imaging centers. But techs appear to be welcoming this work setting.

"Since our launch in 1997, we have seen an increase in employment opportunities for freestanding imaging centers across the country and it's not limited to MRI, though that's the most popular," said Kenneth Gould, chief executive of RadWorking.com, a Denton-based online job board in the profession.

"For many technologists, an imaging center offers a nice change from the typical hospital environment. It's a trend that's certain to continue."

Average salaries at imaging centers were $74,054 for CT techs and $74,284 for their MRI counterparts, according to a 2004 society survey, the most recent available.

But newly minted techs may be better off launching their careers in another environment. Hospital techs typically perform functions in one or more departments.

Stand-alone imaging centers require a broader range of skills to meet unexpected needs.

"These types of facilities are looking to provide service and applications that differentiate themselves from their competitors. They look for techs with experience because they do not have the luxury of other techs to fill in," said Nancy Gillen, president of Siemens Medical Solutions' magnetic resonance division in the U.S.

Since the pool of technologists at imaging centers is typically smaller, it's often difficult for them to attend off-site training sessions. Health care technology manufacturers such as Siemens, based in Malvern, Pa., try to help with online instruction and other creative solutions.

And many stand-alone centers may not have the variety of imaging equipment that hospitals do.

"The technologist may be limited to only a couple of specialties within the facility, such as MRI and CT, thus missing out on exposure to the myriad of medical imaging studies or modalities," said DuVonne Campbell, vice president of member services at the New Mexico-based radiologic technologists' society.

More duties

On the positive side, she added, "There are more options for a technologist to follow the patient the minute they walk in the door. They may be asked to undertake additional duties when they are not busy performing medical imaging."

At Imaging Specialists Group, founded in 1999 by president and general partner Danny Tuinei, the three locations do not have the same equipment.

The Flower Mound facility is the most comprehensive, said business manager Jo Giancotti. It offers high-field MRI, open MRI, CT, PET, nuclear medicine, ultrasound and DEXA scans for osteoporosis screenings.

"The employment outlook is excellent due to continued technological advancements as well as MRI's popularity with the public," Ms. Giancotti said.

For Ms. Tucker, an employee since the group opened, "the most challenging situations come when you perform a test on a patient and find something such as cancer that will change their lives forever."

However, it is gratifying when a patient who has been diagnosed with cancer returns for a follow-up scan and receives disease-free results.

Radiology, specifically MRI and CT, "is one of the most rewarding fields I feel you can go into," said Ms. Tucker, who also has worked in hospitals, mobile MRI units and orthopedic offices.

"Not only do you get to help people, you are also able to work with technology that is truly amazing and rapidly changing."

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