By John Wallace
An altruistic outlook is an ideal trait for health care professionals. Ernesto “Ernie” A. Cerdena is the corporate director of radiology services for AtlantiCare, a member of Geisinger Health. He is transitioning to senior vice president, Medical Technology Management Institute (MTMI). He is among those with a gift for caring about others.
His unselfishness is no doubt a part of his DNA, as well as a personality trait obtained via life experiences, especially those instances when his parents modeled the golden rule. When asked about his decision to work in diagnostic imaging, his answer seems to explain his overall outlook on life.
“I have been in the medical imaging field for nearly 34 years. I started as an imaging technologist in 1986 performing plain X-ray, CT and interventional radiology for 13 years prior to moving my way up as a medical imaging leader,” Cerdena says. “Growing up from the Philippines, my father worked at a maternity hospital as an attendant, helping the midwives to prepare patients delivering babies. He instilled in me the value of kindness and helping people in need. I remember my dad helped a homeless woman find a space in our own home with her newly born baby until she was strong enough to find a place of her own. The mom and the baby stayed for a few days. This inspired me greatly to get into the medical field.”
Cerdena’s entire family was impacted by his father’s role, career choice and altruism.
“Further, my older brother is a radiologic technologist in Texas, my younger sister is a pediatric registered nurse in Abu Dhabi and my wife is a cardiac step-down registered nurse,” he explains. “I believe the medical field is our calling. However, what genuinely inspired me is the notion of helping the people who are sick to get better. Working in medical imaging is very special, the feeling that you can make a difference to the patient’s healing process and recovery is truly a rewarding experience.”
His outlook is further realized when asked about his greatest work accomplishment.
“The absolute measurable accomplishment in my medical imaging career is being able to contribute to medicine and the health care needs of our community. Whether by achieving the customer service goals, maintaining top quality metrics, exceeding financial margins, investing in advanced technology or enhancing employee engagement, each of these important elements serve as the true drivers toward success,” Cerdena says. “In addition, volunteerism is a huge part of my commitment with the medical imaging industry and leading to advance our professional association (AHRA) gave me a great sense of accomplishment.”
The former AHRA president explains that he truly enjoys what he does for a living.
“I love my job because this is what I was born to do,” Cerdena says. “I feel that I am executing my life’s mission by leading the people I work with to do the right thing for our patients. As a lifelong learner, I am also passionate in learning and mentoring students or less experienced imaging leaders to fulfill their full potential.”
His desire to help people extends to his leadership style and how he sees himself as a director of radiology services.
“Leading health care has been a roller coaster ride. The changing landscape brought by the disruptions from many aspects of regulatory, technological advancement, reimbursement methodologies, appropriate staffing model, employee resiliency and burnout require a leadership filled with creativity, innovation, taking risk and lots of visibility,” Cerdena says. “I am particularly akin to transformational and transactional leadership styles and behaviors.”
“Transformational because we need to sustain the basics of leadership by motivating and engaging our employees to perform well by doing more with less,” he explains. “As leaders, we need to maintain a culture of transparency and open communication. We need to instill within our team a desire to challenge the status quo and support transformation and change. With the quality mandates and cost cutting measures, a transactional approach to leadership is equally important. Leaders must recognize the efforts of employees working together to achieve zero quality failures and reduce cost. Rewarding the team with a pizza luncheon or an individual $5 gift card goes a long way and validates their contributions to the success of the team. Both leadership styles are interdependent and serve me well with achieving our organizational excellence.”
Mentoring others is another aspect of his leadership.
“I have mentored a few imaging professionals. The first one was a mammo tech that I hired in 2002. She did not have any experience but demonstrated a high initiative to lead and willingness to learn. She took on our first generation PACS project and eventually was promoted to radiology manager. I encouraged her to complete her MBA. Currently, she works as a director of radiology in a hospital in New York. I have also mentored a few up-and-coming leaders from all over the country through the AHRA Partners in Learning mentorship program,” Cerdena shares.
Giving back to the profession is actually a way that Cerdena pays it forward. He says he had mentors help him along the way and now he aims to help others. One way he is helping is by continuing to teach others.
“As a lifelong learner, completing my doctoral degree is a dream I realized in 2016. I always had a passion to teach and mentor students and imaging professionals. Immediately after graduation, I had the opportunity to teach strategic management and healthcare policy courses for the radiologic sciences graduate program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston Texas,” he said. “Currently, I am teaching 18 medical imaging students to help them complete their master’s degrees. Furthermore, I recently accepted a senior vice president role at the Medical Technology Management Institute (MTMI) with an overarching goal of improving health care delivery in medical imaging through advancing the organization’s focus on providing top quality training and continuing education for medical imaging technologists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, physicists and radiologists. I firmly believe that having a medical imaging degree is not enough; continuous training and education have an immense positive impact on quality patient outcomes.”
Cerdena grew up in a large family and was impacted a great deal by his father’s health care career. His two sons may soon continue the family tradition of helping others.
“As mentioned earlier, I grew up in a big family in the Philippines. I am the second youngest of a family of eight. Both of my parents are deceased. I am married to my lovely wife who is a telemetry RN,” he says. “We have two boys; our oldest son graduated from Stony Brook University and is currently working to obtain his clinical hours to pursue a physician assistant program. The youngest one is a senior in high school and recently received admission to Fordham University to pursue a psychology major.”