Each year, Louann Goodwin’s radiology students hit the ground running.
Goodwin, Director of Imaging Sciences at Mid Michigan College, says that’s because by the time her class reaches their third semester of study they’ve already practiced their skills with functional, current radiology equipment and phantom patients - specially designed medical mannequins whose translucent skin allows aspiring radiology technicians to visualize what is happening inside the human body as they work on the outside of it.
X-rays from the anthropomorphic full body phantom is projected onto a screen for students to examine.
It’s a perk of the program outsiders might find a bit peculiar, but Goodwin says functioning, current equipment isn’t standard in radiology education. Mid Michigan College’s students are in high demand specifically because they’ve had the opportunity to use machines that work long before they make it to their clinical sites. Goodwin says some programs around the state have no functional equipment at all. Others may have some functional equipment, but it tends to be older and out-of-date compared to the fully digital versions most students will work with at even most rural clinical sites.
Sandra Harnick is the Clinical Instructor and Senior-Lead Mammographer at MidMichigan Health - Gratiot, one of fourteen clinical sites around the state where Mid Michigan College students complete their clinical education work outside the classroom. Harnick says the benefit of a well-outfitted classroom is evident in Mid Michigan College radiography students right away.
“The radiology students that come to Mid Michigan Health-Gratiot for their clinical rotation are highly educated and prepared to begin working with patients,” she says, “As soon as the student becomes acquainted with the clinical facility, within two weeks they are using critical thinking skills, interpersonal communication skills, and testing out clinical competencies.”
Both Harnick and Goodwin stress the importance of this preparedness in the health landscape today. Harnick says as baby boomers age medical needs and complications that often require radiology services such as pneumonia, diabetes and related complications, COPD, strokes, heart disease, and fall-induced fractures also become more common. In turn, she says, the need for professional, qualified healthcare radiographers increases.
It’s a demand that Goodwin takes seriously in the classroom as well. Radiology students at Mid Michigan College spend two of the program’s five full semesters solely in the classroom. There, they learn fundamentals and practice their skills before they ever see a real live patient. Goodwin says the changing demographics in the state and around the country are forefront in her mind as well. “There is a big geriatric focus right now,” she says, “as people age, there is more need for healthcare services and we want our students to be prepared to provide those.”
Mid Michigan College students Jessica Osentoski and Jessica Claffey pitch in to help move the anthropomorphic full body phantom onto the x-ray table during class.
The effort is paying off. Mid Michigan College radiology students have a 100% employment rate. Every single student has a job when they finish the program and many are able to stay on as employees with the very clinical site where they completed the final three semesters of their education. Goodwin says it’s not uncommon for her students to have job offers before they can technically accept them. In some cases those job offers come months in advance. When we spoke in January at least one class of 2019 radiology student had a job offer on the table that she couldn’t accept until March.
Students aren’t limited to the clinical rotation sites they’re assigned to though. Harnick says several of the past students she’s worked with have gone on to work as traveling radiographers, visiting places all over the United States. Wherever they end up, Harnick says the students she receives from Mid Michigan College go above and beyond just professional proficiency. “A true connection is made between the students and [their] technologist,” she says, “and lasting friendships have continued over the years.”
For aspiring radiographers Mid Michigan College’s program is a tough one to crack. The competition for entrance can be stiff. Only about half of students who apply are accepted. Goodwin says last year’s class had 41 applicants for only twenty seats. Students have to complete at least six prerequisite classes before they can be admitted to the radiology program. Goodwin says focusing on doing well in those classes and working directly with the staff at the college to ensure you’re on the right track can help students secure a spot in the program.