Person of the Week
Meet a woman you might know. She is an x-ray technologist who specialized in diagnostic mammograms and radiation therapy to detect and treat cancer. As Judy says, “It requires the ‘help factor’ and I found I’m very good at that.”
1. What led you to the mission of being a radiological technologist?
My parents and grandparents were not in the medical profession, so I didn’t have a background in medicine. However, I do have an older sister who went into nursing and I decided I wanted to do something in the medical field. When I enrolled in college, I enrolled to be a physical therapist. After one year of college, I realized my brain was not formatted for all the courses in that field. After one year, I decided that I wasn’t going to make it in this field, so I went to my college adviser and asked him what I could do. We started talking about x-ray technology. I said, “That’s wonderful! It sounds really good.” The school that I wanted to enroll in was the same school my sister went to for nurses’ training, St. John’s Mercy Medical, in St. Louis, Missouri.
People usually call me an x-ray tech, but the term on my certificate is radiological technologist. I have my certificate in mammography and took my board certification exams so I could do mammograms. I also took board certified exams to be qualified to do radiation therapy to treat patients with cancer.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
I’m a people oriented person. In fact, I love that feeling of helping people. As an RT I can do for others and have that wonderful feeing of helping. I’m able to help diagnose and treat. RT is a wonderful field where you have the opportunity to make things right. It requires the “help factor” and I found I’m very good at that.
3. What was your best day as a radiological technologist?
I’ve had lots of good days. One day I was doing mammography and going from place to place in a van. A young lady came in and had very large breasts. I got ready to do her mammogram and found she was a special person who needed my expertise to get beautiful films so we could make sure she was OK. We talked and chatted and she said, “You know you are the first person I’ve ever talked to or met who hasn’t made me feel really bad about how large breasted I am.” To me she was just another wonderful person.
Another good day was when I was doing regular diagnostic work and I was called to go to the emergency room. The call came out, “Send a technologist to the emergency room!” I grabbed the portable x-ray machine and took off to the emergency room. When I got there we had two of our own students lying on stretchers and badly hurt from an accident. I went about my job doing what I needed to do to get the x-rays for the ER doctors so that they could find out what was wrong and help them. When I got done and went back over to my department, the chief of the doctors said, “Judy, I knew there was a reason I kept you around here. You’re just good!” That experience made me feel really good! I didn’t have to repeat one film. They got everything they needed. That brings tears to my eyes thinking about that day. That was a good day.
4. What was your worst day as a radiological technologist?
The worst day was always finding something badly wrong or having one of my patients die. In the diagnostic field or in mammography I might see something that I know is not good. When you’ve been in this field for a long time, there are things that you know are bad and you just can’t not see them. When I saw something really bad or found out that even after treatment one of my patients died, that was always a bad day. We might say, “There was Mr. Jones and he was doing so well.” But then something might happen to turn that around and that would be a bad day and put a little sorrow into the profession. There were times we laughed and times we cried.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
I am personally a very upbeat and optimistic person. The group of people I was working with always talked about what was happening. We all supported each other whatever we were in technology, mammography, therapy, or diagnostic work. You just don’t forget something that happened as if it never happened. Those bad days did happen and that’s one of the realities. Talking about it helps. If the family is there, you grab them, you hug them, you cry, and then you laugh. A lot of times doing radiation therapy, the family does come with the patients. Sometimes they will come back afterwards. We just hug, laugh, and talk as a group. We talked together and helped each other move right along. We knew we did everything we could to help. This was the big thing – I knew that whatever we were doing was all we could do and all we could do was give it our best.
If we were diagnosing a person with a broken leg, we treated the person with respect. We tried to not to hurt him too bad when holding the leg still. The same was true for every problem – like brain cancer. Patients are to be treated with respect. We had nothing to feel bad about, except when a person wasn’t with us any more. Both family and technologists worked it out by talking together.
6. What would you say to a person thinking about doing this mission?
To go into this field, you would need to be a people person. You need to be able to communicate. You cannot go about working with these patients and not talk. You’ve got to reassure them, talk and say, “Hi, I’m Judy. This is what we’re going to do.” You can’t be a machine. You have to be able to work together with other professional people as well as with your patient. Most important, the patient comes first. I have to take care of my patient first, so I’ve had to have doctors second in line. Also, to work in this field you have to be a sympathetic or empathetic person and have an upbeat personality. If somebody is hurting, you don’t need a depressed working with the patient. You need to be positive and open to talking and communicating. Everyone needs this attitude and does not need to be treated like a lump — “Get up on the table. Sit down. Shut up. Whatever!” People going into this field have to ask, “Can I do that? Can I be positive? Can I talk to the patients or coworkers in a sympathetic way?” If they answer yes, they should think about becoming a radiological technologist.