Faculty Spotlight: Gary Gruenewald
Gary Gruenewald is the Associate Professor and Clinical Coordinator for Northwestern College’s Radiologic Technology program. Gary has been working at Northwestern College for nine years, with a total of 27 years in higher education overall. Gary actually began his own education at the University of Illinois for pre-dentistry. Unfortunately, during that time his father passed away. Not only was this an emotionally painful experience in and of itself, but relating to his education, Gary’s father was his support system both emotionally and financially. Because of this devastating experience, Gary was no longer able to afford a degree in pre-dentistry. He had to start thinking of a different career. It was at this time that Gary’s friend told him about the radiologic technology program at Ravenswood Hospital Medical Center. Gary had never considered this before, but it seemed to be a perfect fit – it was a two-year program, close to his house and reasonably priced. He did some additional research and found it would be a great profession. Gary graduated from Ravenswood’s program with a certificate in radiologic technology. Just a few years later, he completed his bachelor’s degree in health arts from the University of St. Francis, where he also eventually completed his master’s degree in health administration.
Gary is incredibly grateful for being accepted into Ravenswood’s program all those years ago. “It’s gotten me where I am today. I thoroughly enjoy the field.” Ravenswood is where Gary started his education but also where he began his career. He started working there as a Staff Technologist for a few years before moving up the ranks. He was promoted to Special Procedures Technologist and then to a didactic and clinical instructor. He later went on to become a program director in downstate Illinois for two years before returning to the Chicago area. The radiography program transferred from Ravenswood to Advocate Illinois Masonic School of Radiologic Technology and then to Northwestern College, which is how Gary ended up here as the Associate Professor and Clinical Coordinator.
Gary teaches a great amount of the curriculum in the radiography program, such as radiation physics, anatomy, radiation biology, law and ethics, and patient care. He went on to describe that the main goal of the program is to train students to be radiologic technologists. At the end of the two years, students will be properly prepared to pass their boards and become a Registered Technologist. Student success is incredibly important to Gary. “What we do in the program is didactic work in the classroom, and that didactic work is transferred to clinical skills.” The program at Northwestern College is incredibly hands-on. Students will be able to apply the knowledge they have learned in the classroom to real-life practice with supervision, such as taking patient X-rays.
Something Gary explained is that students really need commitment when starting the program He went further to say that the program requires time and dedication, as it is full time. In the first year, students go to the college for classes two days a week and then go to clinical two days a week. In the second year, students go to classes two days a week and clinical three days a week. Also, as a student, you have to learn as much as you can and do the work that is required of you. “I think it’s a transition from being a student, where you’re very closely supervised and someone is there to catch you if you make a mistake, and the next day you get registered and you’re on your own.” Gary described this process as a big leap into the field. You have to know that you can do it, knowing you are not going to be supervised. However, as Gary stated, “I think our school really prepares our students very well. They’ve gone through so much clinical education in our program. I’ve seen some really good transitions from the classroom to the working world. So our curriculum trains them very well.”
Specifically, there is currently a very large transition in the field, going from film to digital. “Just like photography, now it is all digital. The same thing is happening in the tech world. For so many years, I was teaching film and film processing, and now that’s been taken away from the curriculum. So teaching students digital radiology goes along with it.” Gary continued to say that Northwestern College is always big on introducing new concepts, especially in terms of imaging modalities. Many students can go on to get certified in specialized procedures, such as Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. “There are different career paths. We give them a taste of each of those to see which way they want to go.”
Gary is incredibly knowledgeable in the field. His education and work history is expansive. He also attends a number of seminars to keep up-to-date on best practices and is an active member of the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists and the Association of Educators in Imaging and Radiologic Sciences. So how does he get this information across to students in the program? He explained the traditional challenges with teaching – students learn differently and understand things at different paces. Successful teachers have to find that happy medium to keep the entire class involved. He continued on to say, “I use a very Socratic method in the classroom. I’m constantly asking questions, making sure they understand the concepts. I want students to feel engaged. I don’t want to leave anyone behind.”
Aside from Gary’s innate ability to connect with his students, there is something else he is incredibly proud of – the advancements he has made. He went from staff technologist to special procedures and now professor. “Having made those changes and kept going forward is really what I am very proud of.” His hard work has paid off because he is truly at a happy place in his career and life. “I just really, thoroughly enjoy working at Northwestern College. I love the diversity of the students that we have, the faculty is great, and the administration is great too. So, I’m just in a happy spot, a happy place.” All the while, he has continued to maintain his other passions of traveling and being with his family. “I do like to travel when I get the opportunity. I am very family oriented. I enjoy being out in nature. I do like to read as well.”
At the end of the day, what Gary has learned throughout his years in the field, and what he wants to advise students on most, is that “if this is something you really, really want to do, you have to make sure you are a compassionate person. You’re dealing with patients; you have to make sure you’re dedicated.” Specific to completing the program, Gary also stressed how important it is to be dedicated to the full curriculum and to be organized, since there is a great deal to take into account. Finally, if there is anything you take away to set yourself up for success, let it be Gary’s final words: “Just be genuine. Be an honest person because integrity is very, very important in our field as well.”