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I have been fortunate to work with and mentor some great techs that have become even better executives. One of my former mentees shared their thoughts with me on diversity in radiology. She is an African American radiology executive at Integrated Delivery System in the Southeast.

How do you feel about diversity in radiology?

Her answer: There are a lot of areas for opportunity, just like any other service line. If we continue without a lack of focus on diversity in radiology then operations, staffing and the patient experience will worsen over time. For example, I once managed a mammography location where we did not pay attention to the cultural differences in our market area. There was a population of Middle Eastern women living in our community that lead to a change in how we delivered care. We had a male radiologist performing breast ultrasounds. I had to point out to the male radiologist that we needed to start asking women if they were “OK” with a male examining their breasts. Of course, the radiologists asked why? Therefore, the cultural differences had to be explained, and we realized it was a smart to-do for all of our female patients that our male radiologist examined.

How can radiology tech school help?

Her: Radiology does not have the political capital and recognition that a service line like nursing has. Therefore, we need to consistently recruit at the high school level. Schools and the ASRT should consider bridge programs to accept students with GEDs that just want to learn a trade and earn a living wage. This is where you can find a lot of the diverse intellectual capital in our country because of the socioeconomic structural racism causes.

Do you think we need to recruit high school kids?

Her: Yes, we need diverse radiology leaders to go into highly populated minority high schools for career day and let them know about a career in radiology. We need to speak to the kids about our backgrounds and let them know how we evolved and achieved through education. They need to see us to visualize that they can do it, too.

What was your motivation to go into radiology as a rad tech knowing you would face disparities amongst your peers?

Her: First, I did not know the disparities existed to this extent. I originally wanted to be a physician, but I was convinced by a physician at a summer program that it was going to be difficult to be a woman physician and have a family simultaneously. Also, I knew I wanted to be in health care, but I also knew I did not want to be a nurse. A counselor then convinced me to consider becoming a radiology technologist. In summary, I stumbled upon this career. There was no recruitment process that I encountered.

What are some things that pushed you into the world that you are in now as a radiology executive?

Her: The excitement of learning and the thirst to learn more. In radiology, you had to learn how to service different cohorts and populations of people. I imaged people with gunshot wounds, was a part a cancer care plan and helped solve internal mysteries of the body. Eventually, I had the opportunity to become a supervisor, manager, director and more. What ultimately pushed me here, was that I wanted to be a person that opened more doors for people (women and minorities) to make other lives better.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Her: Stop underestimating yourself. Stop second guessing yourself. You are, in fact, capable! You are, in fact, worthy!

What are some of the things you felt you had to do to excel?

Her: I knew I had to get buy in from everyone before I made changes. I knew we needed to better our patient experiences. So, I would ask different stakeholders (techs, supervisors, radiologists, and referring physicians) three questions. As for as our current processes and procedures – What do you like? Dislike? Feel is unsafe? After presenting these findings in a presentation, I resolved the top five issues within my first 90 days.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Her: To be more honest with asking for help and to be more courageous when opportunity knocks. I had opportunities in the past that I passed up. Others had more faith in my abilities and were proposing opportunities that they thought were good for me.

The conversation ended with her telling me of an initiative they have implemented at her facility to recruit more rad techs. They are sending recruiters to career days at local high schools to recruit students as tech aids. Then, if an individual chooses to go to rad tech school they can get tuition reimbursement and a retention bonus. She has insured that minority high schools are a part of the pool, now.

Verlon E. Salley is Vice President of Community Health Equity at UAB Health System.

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