INDIANA — In September, the St. Vincent College of Health Professions announced the hospital system’s radiography program had received accreditation from the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, making it the only hospital system in the state capable of offering academic degrees.
The development comes during a stretch of time the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a nearly 12 percent growth nationwide in demand for radiologic and MRI technicians between 2016 and 2026.
“As the baby-boom population grows older, there may be an increase in medical conditions, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, which require imaging as a tool for making diagnoses. Radiologic and MRI technologists will be needed to take the images,” states the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website, providing some context to the estimated jump.
A radiologist is described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as someone who operates medical imagining equipment on patients, and is a field that most commonly requires an associate’s degree.
Despite predicted surges in demand, a director from one major hub of radiography in northern Indiana, Community Howard Regional Health, said the hospital has no problem keeping its staff filled nor is the staff overly concerned about an influx in the near future, citing the highly competitive nature of the job.
Mark Adkins, program director for St. Vincent’s radiography program, said while the expected bump in job demand is motivation to keep the program active, it wasn’t the sole reason nor the motivator to pursue this new level of accreditation.
The college’s certifying agency required all students earn a degree before taking a licensing exam, said Adkins, giving hospital officials the notion to “establish some type of college structure within St. Vincent.”
The college structure would give the hospital control to accept applicants on its own, rather than have them be funneled through a college’s residency program. Previously, St. Vincent had partnered with Ivy Tech Community College to give students the needed mixture of clinical, hands-on hours, and classroom time.
To help St. Vincent gain full control on all aspects of the radiography program, the representatives began to build one. St. Vincent officials spent five years ensuring it met all the necessary requirements to offer an academic degree – something that isn’t overly simple for an institution devoted to medicine rather than academics. Adkins said it brought an all new level of scrutiny from accrediting authorities.
In September, St. Vincent announced it would start accepting applicants on Nov. 1 and through Jan. 31, 2018. Previously, it had seen around three applicants for each available spot. Now, Adkins estimated, it expects to see an average of five candidates per spot. I taccepts 16 students per year.
Now, the two-year program requires students to work heavily on the clinical side of things, earning more than 2,000 clinical contact hours, and attending classes taught entirely by full-time St. Vincent employees.
Additionally, Adkins said students will travel to different critical access hospitals across the state, giving them a taste of the variety of working conditions one might experience. That might mean working in a hospital with 15 beds or a hospital with 700 beds.
“Because those are very unique settings. It’s a very different culture, really just a different way to practice medicine,” Adkins added.
In the past, Adkins said St. Vincent has retained around two-thirds of its graduates from the training program, with its main hubs being in St. Vincent hospitals in Kokomo, Anderson and Indianapolis. Ten hospitals within the system will be involved in some form, according to a St. Vincent press release.
Looking at the future demand for the field, Adkins said he believes that makes the program all the more important as a means to continually fill the large system’s need for radiographers.
Lori Baynes, director of imaging for Community Howard Regional Health, said radiography is a competitive field and that students typically can have a hard time finding a job. For that reason, Baynes said the hospital’s officials aren’t too concerned about a spike in demand.
Situated in Kokomo and drawing in patients from surrounding communities, Baynes said the hospital has seen increasing numbers of patients seeking any type of medical imaging. She attributed that increase to the network’s quality of care, increases in physician coverage and imaging’s proficiency in finding and identifying an ailment or injury.
Radiography is a good paying job, Baynes said, and one that requires the employee to be very familiar with anatomy and be able to think outside the box.
“You learn the basics on how to position, but if someone is really hurt, then you’re going to have to think, ‘OK, how am I going to get the same view, the same picture, based on … maybe their arm is not in the right position,” she said.