By K. Richard Douglas
Fort Sam Houston, in Texas, dates back to 1876 and was a supply depot for the Army originally. The fort expanded further after the Spanish-American War, with the addition of a Calvary post and a light artillery post. Further improvements in the 1920s preceded more expansion during World War II. The Army’s Medical Field Service School transferred to the post in 1946 and changed the mission to the home of Army medicine.
The Medical Training Center was activated during the Korean War to train enlisted medical personnel. It became known at the Army Medical Department Center and School in 1991.
The mission of training medical professionals in the military has included radiology specialists.
One of the training programs offered also happens to be the largest diagnostic imaging training program in the world. It is the Diagnostic Imaging Phase I Program at the Medical Education and Training Command (METC) at Fort Sam Houston. The program is under the direction of Ms. B. Stefania Green, program director of radiography for the Diagnostic Imaging Training Program Campus (METC).
Its beginnings go back nine years and staff members hail from various branches of the service and the civilian world. Before the current arrangement, the Air Force, Army and Navy each had schools at different locations. In 2010, they all moved into a consolidated service course at Fort Sam Houston.
“We are the largest diagnostic imaging training program in the world. We perform a 19 and a half-week Phase I program for joint service to include the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard,” says SSgt Natalie Zamudio, a radiology Instructor with the program.
“The phase II programs are broken up from each service as the Air Force’s is nine months long. The total instructors on hand are 46 joint-service to include Army, Navy, Air Force and civilian. The students are from all three service branches ranging from straight out of initial entry training, or retraining from other career fields, from across the services. The curriculum is accredited through the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) equaling what is provided in the civilian colleges,” she says.
The radiology education for students in the military is broken down into two programs.
“Phase I is where we teach them the basics of all the different aspects of being a radiology technologist. They learn radiation physics in a three-week period, they learn the radiation effects on biology, different anatomy ranging from the head to the toes along with all the muscle and internal organs related to those areas,” Zamudio explains.
She says that the students learn how to position fellow students in the different radiation exposure rooms in 76 different positions and have to do a final evaluation on all of them again at the end of training to ensure they know the positions.
Each branch of the Armed Forces has its own service-specific locations. The Army and Navy students conduct their evaluations in local military treatment facilities and hospitals. Those in the Air Force do their evaluations predominantly in military medical facilities and through agreements with civilian facilities.
Zamudio says that the students have a range of options upon graduation. She says these can include “entering military medical treatment facilities, from the continental United States to overseas facilities, and placement on Navy ships providing careers.”
“All students have the opportunity to complete their associate’s degree and challenge the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) Radiology registry just like their civilian counterparts. Depending on the location of assignment, post-training, they can branch off into learning different modalities to include mammography, computed tomography, interventional radiography, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine and ultrasound,” Zamudio says.
The program’s teaching staff stays current with the clinical and technological advances in imaging in different ways, depending on the branch.
“The Air Force instructors rotate time through Wilford Hall ambulatory surgical center to maintain the Air Force Readiness requirement while we stay current on the emerging technologies to include Anatomage tables and 360 videos. The Army and Navy do their skill sustainability in accordance with their service specific requirements,” Zamudio says.
The instructors have additional duties ranging from managing the radiation detection devices, resilience trainers, and equipment for 46 different exposure rooms and their maintenance. They manage service-specific administrative programs ranging from didactic hours taught to enlisted evaluation submissions, according to Zamudio.
The program’s facilities are state of the art and include 46 different exposure rooms that range from actual exposure rooms in a non-radiation exposure lab to live lab where the students perform the more internal exams such as upper GI and barium exam imaging which can’t be produced on actual students.
“We also have the exposure equipment in the different classrooms allowing the instructors to demonstrate the proper positioning on the areas of study before they will have to perform them in the two different labs. Outside the classroom, the students maintain their service-specific culture by being housed according to service branch, as well as marching together in service-specific formations and eating meals together,” Zamudio says.
She says that they then join up as one joint-service class when they arrive at the Medical Instructional Facility (MIF).
“The structure of the studies is modeled off of what is done in civilian college institutions where they could be learning about patient care on Wednesday P.M., but will be taking a test on radiation physics on the next day first thing in the A.M. The thought process behind this is that we all learn material different and we need to remember that when we become a radiology technologist, we need to know how everything behind is intertwined and relatable to the task at hand,” Zamudio adds.
The U.S. military takes on the big task of training radiology professionals and does it with precision and efficiency. Through the hard work of the multi-service instructor contingent, the ranks of qualified imaging technicians are expanded each year.