Scaling the Future of Medical Imaging

Vol. 19 •Issue 17 • Page 16
Scaling the Future of Medical Imaging

Three major radiology groups blaze a trail of ‘lifelong learning’ during the organizations’ joint conference in Denver

DENVER–More than 1,000 medical imaging professionals gathered at the foot of the majestic Rocky Mountains for a summit geared toward preparing them to scale that exciting, diverse and even dangerous terrain known as the future of radiologic science.

The 14th World Congress of the International Society of Radiographers and Radiological Technologists was held conjointly with the Annual Conference of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists and the Association of Educators in Imaging and Radiologic Sciences in the Mile High City in mid-June.

Together the groups delivered a unified message that “lifelong learning” is the radiologic technologist’s key to successfully negotiating the changes that promise to impact medical imaging around the world in the years ahead.

“The next 10 years will produce great changes, placing great demands on our profession to leave behind the last vestiges of vocational education in favor of lifelong learning,” said Lynn May, CEO of the ASRT, during one of the group’s open forums. “Technology will expand rapidly. Demand for services will increase exponentially. The age of our patients will rise. Retirement will increase. The RT replacement pool will drop. Reliance on teamwork will go up. The shortage of RTs will increase. Regulatory scrutiny will go up. Reimbursement will drop. The globalization of medical imaging will increase.

“What’s it all mean?” May asked rhetorically. “Change is difficult, but it’s inevitable. Defending the status quo is a losing strategy. RTs will have to expand their skills and education” to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

It was a theme reflected many times throughout the five-day event, from the opening ceremony to the dozens of courses offered by the largest groups representing radiologic technologists and educators.

World class opening

The official opening ceremony began with the “Parade of Countries.” As music played and each country’s flag was displayed on large screens at the front of the ballroom, a member of every country represented at the World Congress walked down the central aisle of the ballroom. May welcomed the crowd in several different languages, concluding in English with, “Howdy, folks! It is a great pleasure to welcome y’all to the 14th World Congress!”

Welcoming remarks were then delivered by the presidents of the ASRT and AEIRS (formerly the AERS), as well as the American College of Radiology, before ISRRT President Tyrone Goh, of Singapore, delivered the President’s Speech.

The ISRRT comprises 82 medical imaging and radiation therapy societies in 68 countries, which together represent more than 300,000 individual radiologic technologists. This year’s World Congress marked the first time since 1991 that the ISRRT met in the United States.

Goh touched upon the need for the world’s wealthier countries to help less able nations to improve their radiographic capabilities.

“Many of our member countries around the world cannot afford advanced imaging systems and modalities,” he said. “Those are the ones ISRRT needs to focus on, to assist radiographically developing nations. To do so, we need the support and cooperation of countries like the U.S. and Canada, European countries like the U.K. and the Netherlands, and countries in Asia like Japan. They can provide resources and expertise.”

Between speeches, attendees watched as artist Michael Ostaski painted portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and John Lennon. Each portrait took shape to a 10-minute medley of songs that reflected each figure’s contributions to the world. The ceremony was capped by a performance of Native American music and dance by the Grupo Tlaloc Aztec Dancers.

Courses reflect global changes

The 60-plus courses offered by the ASRT and the AEIRS reflected the global tone of the opening ceremony. According to the ASRT, more than 20 of the sessions were led by international speakers. The thread linking them together was the concept that technologists everywhere must embrace “lifelong learning” to keep up with all the changes that promise to impact medical imaging and radiation therapy in the years ahead.

Bettye G. Wilson, MEd, RT(R) (CT)(RDMS), FASRT, for example, delivered a session on the increasing challenges to healthcare delivery posed by growing linguistic diversity in the United States and abroad.

“I learned in mammography that in some cultures, if a woman bares her breast, the belief is that she will get cancer. Why don’t we know that? Because we don’t study cultures the way we should,” said Wilson, who called for increased emphasis on cultural education in imaging curriculums.

“Unless we learn to communicate with those who have limited language proficiency, we’re going to face a threat to the understanding of what we’re going to do. This is going to remain a problem. This is not going to go away,” she said, illustrating her talk with statistics.

Other courses that reflected international perspectives on medical imaging were delivered by presenters from India, Africa, Australia and the U.K.

Meanwhile, the AEIRS Honors Lecture, delivered by James B. Temme, MPA, RT(R)(QM), reflected a growing realization that imaging professionals around the world need to be prepared for the worst in an era of global terrorism.

Speaking before some 150 educators, Temme called on technologists to be prepared for dirty bomb attacks, which experts believe would likely involve cobalt-60, cesium-137 and other materials readily available from medical facilities. Besides imaging the wounded, technologists are likely to be called upon to decontaminate victims and to help measure the extent of environmental contamination, said Temme, associate director of the division of radiation sciences technology education at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The future is in the molecules

Not all of the changes being wrought on medical imaging are coming from the outside. Some are coming from within the field, with exciting possibilities.

Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, MD, PhD, director of the molecular imaging program at Stanford University, struck an optimistic note in his keynote address to the 14th World Congress.

In his talk, “Medicine’s Incredible Future,” Dr. Gambhir employed slides and vivid analogies to describe the exciting potential posed by molecular imaging to detect, diagnose and help treat disease earlier than ever before.

“Imagine an alien race and trying to understand a complicated planet such as Earth. The first thing the aliens might do is send a satellite. With the satellite pictures, they would see the oceans and the continents. If they zoomed in, they would see more detail—the freeways and buildings and so on. But they still wouldn’t understand how the planet really works,” he said.

“Until recently, that’s what imaging has been like. As fancy as our pictures have gotten, they are still at a level that’s not appropriate for really understanding what’s going on in the human body. We can see the structure of bones and organs, and some physiology such as the beating heart, but that’s not really getting to the root of how the body functions.”

Conventional imaging, Dr. Gambhir noted, provides anatomical information but lacks specificity. “Mammography is like shooting bullets into a room full of hundreds of people and seeing what comes out the other side. Molecular imaging is like walking into the room and interviewing every single person who is there.”

This does not mean that conventional imaging is not needed, Dr. Gambhir said, “because even if you find cancer, you need to know where it’s at. You still need the spatial information.”

Indeed, he noted that molecular imaging has applications in magnetic resonance, ultrasound, optical imaging and other areas.

Dr. Gambhir’s address was a hit with many attendees.

“I was sitting in there thinking, ‘This all sounds so futuristic,’ but then you think about the people sitting there 20, 30 years ago listening to lectures about MRI, and look where that is now,” said Cathy Funovits, RT(R), an instructor at the Mitchell Technical Institute in Mitchell, S.D., as she waited for the AEIRS business luncheon to begin.

“Students are getting into this field at the most exciting time since Roentgen,” said Dawn Fucillo, MA, RT(R)(T)(QM), chairman of the board of the ASRT. “I saw my first CT scan in my second job. MRI was a concept in some guy’s garage. I worked on a 1940s Picker machine. I’ve treated people with cobalt. Now we’re doing IMRT, IGRT. Do I think I’ll see it? Absolutely.”

“I loved the way he made it so accessible to people,” said Mistie Critchfield, RT(R), a technologist at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. “I was thinking [of working in] MRI for a while, but didn’t think it would be all that exciting. He piqued my interest in that field again.”

“I thought it was very good. I actually got his card,” said Sherri Eggers, a student in the ultrasound program at Moorepark College in Moorepark, Calif. Eggers explained that her sister is fighting her fourth recurrence of breast cancer and might be eligible for a study being led by Dr. Gambhir.

Blazing a trail through diverse terrain

While their members attended courses, the leadership of the ASRT, AEIRS and the ISRRT gathered to formulate plans for responding to the coming new world order.

About 50 officials of all three groups, for example, participated in a day-long consensus conference aimed at finalizing an action plan in response to the ASRT’s massive Future Scan effort. One important conclusion reached by the group was that changes in imaging education itself are key to helping prepare professionals for the future.

“Education is the issue,” said Nadia Bugg, PhD, RT(R); graduate coordinator of radiologic sciences at Midwestern State University. “Educating the educators. We’re the gatekeepers to the profession, and we need to be kept up to speed. We can’t keep doing this in a two-year period of time,” she said, referring to a growing call for making the bachelor’s degree the minimum standard for entry into the imaging profession. (For more on the consensus conference and FutureScan, see page 19)

The ASRT also hosted its annual House of Delegates meeting. The meeting held the potential for controversy, as proposals calling for recertification of technologists every 10 years and for recognition of the Radiologic Physician Assistant went up for a vote. As it turned out, both proposals were replaced by alternative, less volatile measures. (For details on the House of Delegates meeting, visit our website at

AEIRS: A new name for new times

Among the more significant events to take place for the AEIRS was the changing of the organization’s name from the Association of Educators in Radiologic Science (AERS) to the Association of Educators in Imaging and Radiologic Sciences. The change was adopted unanimously at the group’s business meeting and luncheon.

“We believe [the name change] will impact membership,” said outgoing president Carole South-Winter, MEd, CNMT, RT(R), explaining that the goal of name change is to increase membership among instructors in sonography and magnetic resonance imaging. Shortly after the vote was taken, the old banner was replaced with one featuring the group’s new acronym and logo.

Jeff Killion, PhD, RT(R)(QM), assistant professor of radiologic sciences in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, succeeded South-Winter as president of the newly named organization. South-Winter became chairman of the board of the AEIRS and was also elevated to the status of Fellow.

International success

By all accounts, this year’s three-group conference was an across-the-board success.

Jack Retzlaff, director of radiology services at Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins, Colo., said the facility’s booth in the exhibit hall “got a lot of Colorado folks.”

“Our goal here was recruitment. We’re opening a new hospital in February and we’re recruiting every modality: CT, MR, virtually everything. We’re looking for techs, but probably the single largest group we met are program directors, which is positive in terms of networking,” Retzlaff said. More than 100 exhibitors were on hand for this year’s conference, peddling everything from jobs to radiation protection devices.

Amy Carson Vonkadich, MEd, RT(T), director of the radiation therapy program at the New Hampshire Technical Institute, in Concord, said she was “extremely pleased” with the conference offerings.

“It’s a really good conference for networking. I made a lot of contacts in Canada,” Vonkadich said, explaining that some of her students are from Canada.

“I made a lot of contacts for them to go back to for jobs and for membership with associations.”

Standing outside her hotel, waiting for the Super Shuttle bus to pick her up for her flight home, Vonkadich said she thought the courses she took would help her improve her program, which currently has 12 students.

“I come back and I’m full of ideas for the program, and the JRCERT likes to see new ideas in programs,” said Vonkadich, who is in her fourth year as director.

Goh, the president of the ISRRT, said he was pleased with how the conference went. Besides learning about new imaging technology, Goh said, he hoped participants had “a chance to network with professionals from the U.S.A. and the world.

“With digital imaging and ease of travel, the world is getting much closer. Telemedicine is coming of age, and teleradiology is leading the way. It is important for the radiographic profession to understand the way other professionals are moving ahead,” he added.

Joseph F. Jalkiewicz is the editor of ADVANCE. He can be reached at [email protected].