Radiography – Keeping Pace with Technology

One who is contemplating entering the field of radiography today can look forward to an ever changing technological environment. The number of advances in technology over the past few years is truly mind-boggling! When I started as a technologist 30 years ago, things were much different. Radiographic examinations that were once performed as “common-place” (i.e. IVPs – kidney exams, UGI – stomach exams, and LGI-colon exams), have been replaced by much quicker and more efficient examinations, which yield even greater diagnostic value. The scarcity of these exams today, is due in large part to equipment improvements and the use of more sophisticated imaging modalities. Even the physical environment of a radiology department has changed. Working darkrooms for processing radiographic films have become obsolete. Gone too are the light boxes that once hung near the processor and were used for viewing films. Today, high tech computer screens display images that can be manipulated in so many different ways, yielding greater diagnostic information without additional irradiation of the patient.

Digital imaging is the wave of the future for diagnostic imaging. Today, the radiographer uses terms which relate directly to computer terminology. Pixel, matrix, spatial resolution, a reader, and windowing are the new lingo of the trade. Even imaging cassettes themselves are being replaced by built-in detectors that almost instantaneously produce an image on a screen as soon as the x-rays pass through the patient.

A challenge today for radiography curriculums is keeping pace with technology. Because film is still used at some locations on a very limited basis, students today must learn the ins and outs of both film and digital imaging. For the “older” instructors such as myself, learning and teaching digital imaging is challenging, to say the least. It certainly is “back to the books” for this instructor. Luckily, some radiography programs, such as Northwestern College’s radiography program, have been able to acquire modern digital equipment for training the new wave of tech savvy students. Students in these programs are able to take the information learned in the classroom and easily apply it in their various clinical rotations.

With all of the technical changes occurring in radiography today, however, one area of the field that has not changed is the dedication and compassion the radiographer has for his/her patients. Adhering to a strong ethical code, the radiographer treats all patients equally. He/she also protects the patient from excessive radiation exposure, assesses situations, and uses critical thinking to obtain the best diagnostic images possible. Acting as a patient advocate, the radiographer educates, answers questions, and makes the patient as comfortable as possible during the procedure. Seemingly, technology cannot replace the “human element” necessary in the field. A compassionate radiographer and sophisticated equipment together, yield a highly satisfied patient provided with superb diagnostic quality images.