By K. Richard Douglas
Along the historic Oregon Trail is the Scotts Bluff National Monument. The monument is run by the National Park Service. Imagining the hundreds of thousands of pioneers who used the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s, to emigrate west, visitors to the Scotts Bluff National Monument can get a feel for a portion of the journey.
Scottsbluff is a city in the western part of Nebraska with a population of just over 15,000. The city is home to the Regional West Medical Center.
Wendy Stirnkorb, CRA, RT (R) (MR), MRSO, MRSCTM, is the center’s director of imaging services. Originally, Stirnkorb was studying to be among the ranks of those ordering diagnostic images when life happened.
“I was a non-traditional student, returning to a pre-med program following having my son. I quickly realized that I really did not want to spend the next 10-plus years of his life in school,” she says.
“As I was trying to decide where to go from that decision, one of my classmates invited me to attend one of her radiology courses with her to see if I was interested. I fell in love with imaging. Where else can I combine my love of science and physics with the art of photography? I applied to the radiology program at the University of South Alabama and was accepted, beginning my imaging career,” Stirnkorb adds.
Her radiography education and training came from a challenging combination of coursework and, later, a prestigious medical hospital.
“I learned radiography through the radiologic sciences program at the University of South Alabama (USA); a stringent and selective program. Approximately 63 hours of prerequisites in English, biology, physics, history and several humanities are required before you are even accepted into the program, and this is followed by 24 consecutive months of the professional component of the program, for another 70-84 semester hours, depending on one’s course of study. Maintenance of a high GPA and adherence to a professional code of ethics is also required,” Stirnkorb says.
She says that clinic hours, and hands-on patient care hours, are included in this.
“I am fortunate in that USA provided students, through agreements with local hospitals, several different clinic rotation experiences,” she adds. Her work experience in imaging started while still in college as a weekend staff technologist at an outpatient clinic that was part of a mobile infirmary in Mobile, Alabama. Closer to graduating, she worked at Thomas Hospital and picked up a lot of knowledge from colleagues there.
“I worked there for three years as a staff technologist, growing the volumes due to extended hours and relationship building with the emergency department physicians. I was seeking advancement opportunities and I found the opportunity to grow with a position in Wisconsin with Mayo Clinic,” Stirnkorb says.
“I was interviewed and offered the position of MRI supervisor for a Mayo Clinic hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I worked there for nearly eight years, growing the business line, enhancing MRI patient safety and learning from good leaders while working with amazing technologists,” she adds.
“This experience gave me the opportunity to move to my next position in academia at the University of Chicago Medicine. I served a fantastic team of MRI technologists and radiologists there as the MRI imaging manager. Managing multiple facilities, with different patient populations with some of the most cutting-edge research and technology in the world was an amazing experience,” Stirnkorb says.
After about two years, she was approached to come to Washington, D.C., to be the assistant director of imaging services at Sibley Memorial Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“This experience was amazing,” she says “I expanded my knowledge base and my skill set outside of diagnostic imaging and MRI to include interventional radiology, cardiac cath lab, CT, nuclear medicine and PET/ CT, as well as leading the imaging RNs and assisting the director with departmental leadership in sleep, non-invasive vascular lab and breast health,” she says.
Today, Stirnkorb is a registered radiologic technologist, a registered MRI technologist, a board certified MR safety officer, a certified radiology administrator and a project management professional. She is also pursuing a doctorate in leadership and development.
Pastimes and Honors
When not working at the medical center, imaging is one of Stirnkorb’s pastimes as well.
“I shoot pictures, playing with light and exposure times to create art,” Stirnkorb says.
She also writes technical articles and plays the saxophone. She also enjoys learning about others through culinary experiences.
“I am fascinated by different cultures and how sharing a meal can bridge those differences. We all have to eat, so exploring culture through food is a great way to understand a culture and a people,” she says.
“I am married to my husband, Fritz. We have one son, Kendall, and our granddaughter. My granddaughter is five and wants to be a ninja ballerina cardiologist when she grows up,” Stirnkorb jokes.
Recognition for all of the training and experience has not passed Stirnkorb by. She recounts the personal gratification of working in the teaching environment and an honor from her alma mater.
“Part of the pleasure of working in academia is the opportunity to be a part of an innovative team. As a member of the MRI team at the University of Chicago Medicine, I was fortunate to work with our musculoskeletal division chief, Dr. Scott Stacey, to develop, practice and implement a protocol for visualizing minor tears to the cartilage of the wrist, often very difficult to visualize and diagnose,” she says.
This year, her alma mater, the University of South Alabama, inducted her into the Hall of Fame for the Pat Capps Covey College of Allied Health Professions.
“This honor is my proudest award,” Stirnkorb says.
What drives Stirnkorb as an imaging professional?
“My sole professional purpose is to make a positive difference in the lives of patients and my team. I attempt to achieve that purpose by modeling safe patient care behaviors and by being the kind of leader I needed/wanted when I was a newbie,” she says.
It sounds like that purpose has been fulfilled.