Some real advice for radiologists

November 27, 2013
By Kevin Powers

As the radiologic technology profession evolves, radiologic technology students are going to have to learn new skills and up-to-date techniques in order to be ready to enter the workforce. As a result, educators are adapting to meet the changing needs of students.

The current cohort of radiologic technology students represents different age groups, work experience and learning styles. Some students are fresh out of high school while others are experienced professionals starting new careers. Some learn best by listening to lectures while others thrive in a hands-on environment.

The challenge is figuring out how to make sure all students learn the same important concepts, regardless of background, age or learning preferences. It’s a new approach for educators, and it’s going to take time to develop the appropriate teaching techniques.

One trend that will affect how educators prepare students and how managers recruit for jobs is the current generational shift unfolding in the profession. According to research from the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, younger generations are quickly ascending the career ladder. By 2014, it’s estimated that Generation X will hold more managerial positions than Baby Boomers. In addition, by 2017, Generation Y will fill more staff positions than Baby Boomers as waves of boomers begin to retire.

That means today’s students will have leadership opportunities made available to them at a much earlier point in their careers than previous generations of radiologic technologists.

Consequently, educators must start thinking differently and adjust to changing student needs. In the past, educational programs prepared students specifically for entry-level radiologic technology positions in a hospital or imaging facility. However, gone are the days of following a “typical” career path in radiologic technology.

Instead, medical imaging and radiation therapy students are facing an increasingly competitive job market and rapidly advancing technology. While this has resulted in new positions in the radiologic sciences, it’s also created a knowledge gap between what students learn in school and what they’re expected to already know after graduation.

Closing the knowledge gap is the reason it’s so important for educators to transition from following formulaic lesson plans to serving as career coaches. In addition to teaching basic technical abilities, educators should be encouraging students to develop skills that will make them successful in any position. For example, becoming effective communicators, learning how to make independent decisions and being reliable employees are universal skills that will set students apart from their peers.

Also, it’s crucial for educators to expose students to new ideas and help them connect the dots between concepts and real-world application. Instead of teaching students straight from a textbook, educators should encourage students to look for opportunities to make a difference in a class project, within an organization or within their community. In addition, it’s important for students to learn how and where to find information when they need it.

Students tend to concentrate on short-term survival — passing tests and meeting day-to-day requirements to complete an educational program — instead of focusing on the big picture. However, educators and managers can help students and novice professionals develop diverse skill sets and stay focused on their long-term career goals. For example, educators can facilitate opportunities so students can learn from mentors and hear from people who have followed a number of different career paths.

There are resources to help educators and managers prepare students and entry-level R.T.s. Using these resources and tailoring education to the needs of the specific student will improve the experience for student and educator. The employment landscape is changing, but educators and managers encompass the necessary skills and experience to prepare the talented and passionate students who want to enter the radiologic technology profession. By empowering students to take more chances and play a proactive role in their education, educators can prepare them for future success.

About the author: Kevin J. Powers, Ed.D, R.T.(R)(M), is the director of education for the American Society of Radiologic Technologists. Kevin has more than 30 years of experience as an educator and has held program director positions for hospital, community college and university-based radiography programs.