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Faculty Spotlight: Raj Patel – You CAN Go Home Again

Raj Patel, 2012 graduate of Northwestern College’s Radiologic Technology Program, spent nearly four years working at a major Chicago hospital. He was well into a successful career when the director of the radiography program called and asked if he would like to teach. “I’d never thought about teaching,” Patel says. “I’d thought about doing something instructional like maybe a C.I., an instructor on-site at the hospital.”

He had always stayed in touch with the college, occasionally meeting with new classes to talk to them about the opportunities a Northwestern College associate’s degree would give them. When he was asked to teach, he jumped at the chance to shadow his former instructor and mentor, Gary Gruenewald, for a couple of weeks to see what he thought about joining the faculty. “[Gary’s] been teaching for more years than I’ve been alive and has so much industry knowledge,” Patel says. “He’s been everywhere. He was a program director at one point. He worked in interventional radiology. He was a clinical coordinator; he’s done everything.” After following Gruenewald for two weeks, he says, “I really thought I could do it. It seemed like something that would fit me well, and here I am … two years later!”

When Patel speaks of his experience — as a student and an instructor — at Northwestern College, his enthusiasm and praise for the school are obvious. “I did my research when I was looking for schools, and Northwestern College popped up on my search feed. The program itself was well established; it came over from a pre-existing hospital program.” He says the faculty are what makes a Northwestern College education so worthwhile. “The instructors all love what they do. It shows. You can see the passion that they feel about their field,” he says.

That’s a good thing because the field of radiologic technology is growing faster than average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When instructors, like those at Northwestern College, are so passionate about their work, students are more eager to learn. Patel says the faculty’s passion for the field “helped me propel myself to want to do better in the program.” As a student, he maintained a 4.0-grade point average and was a student speaker at his graduation. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, and in between his work as an instructor, he is also studying for his master’s degree.

In addition to his teaching duties, Patel is a clinical coordinator. When students are sent out to their clinical sites, he keeps track of where and when they’re going and makes sure that everything they need — evaluations, immunizations, etc. — is up to date. “I follow a class for two years to make sure they’re on track from day one to the end of the program.”

At the end of the program, graduates go on to take the National Certification Exam. Patel and his colleagues are “on the edge of our seats, hoping our students pass. We know what they’ve invested in this program. It’s why I’m here.” He says because of the school’s “exceptional” program, students are well prepared to enter the workforce and can choose from among a variety of positions. “You can do entry-level radiography if you want,” he says. “You could decide to go into forensic radiology or specialize in mammography, interventional radiology, cardiac cath lab. Having the base in radiography is kind of a springboard.”

In lieu of hospital work, radiologic technologists can branch into other areas, Patel says. “You can go from here and work straight into a sales position, where you’re selling radiologic equipment to hospitals, or you can work applications, where — if somebody sells the machine — now you have to teach the employees at the hospital how to use that machine.” Another path is education, as he has chosen, or administration. “You can go almost anywhere.”

Patel says it takes a special type of person to go into radiography. “It’s for someone who’s very inquisitive, somebody who wants to know what’s inside the body. Being an x-ray tech is not only [taking the x-rays].” He says it’s necessary to have compassion and understand that patients might be afraid of having a procedure. “You also have to make sure that you minimize the amount of radiation that the patient will receive. You want to position the patient perfectly every time you take the x-ray.” To do that, he says a tech needs to visualize what’s inside the body. When students are practicing their positioning skills in the lab, they will often close their eyes and turn their bodies to picture themselves in different positions and sort of “look” into the body.

It’s only been five years since Patel was a Northwestern College student, but the industry is ever changing. “When I was in school, we worked more with our computed radiography, which is known as CR technology,” he says. “Now, almost all the hospitals at least have one room that is fully digital.” That has greatly reduced the time it takes to complete a procedure — as well as the number of radiation patients are subjected to. “[Radiography] is moving by leaps and bounds. As fast as somebody can think of it, it’s being made,” he says.

With such an exciting field, Patel is eager to share his enthusiasm with his students. “I try to bring my own examples and my personal experiences into the classroom so they know it’s not just something they’re learning, but it’s a lifelong thing they will experience.”

What advice does Patel have for anyone considering radiologic technology program at NorthWestern? “If you’re looking for a program out there where the instructors love what they do, come here [to Northwestern College]. Take classes, work on your GPA, do whatever you need to pursue your dream.”

As for Patel’s dream, he says, “I’m hoping eventually I’ll move up and be a director of a program someday.” He’s well on his way.