Some radiologic technologists are more than happy to remain in their current position or some variant thereof. For others, working daily with patients can be a first rung on a career ladder to a position of leadership, whether as a business manager, radiology director, service-line VP or even within the C-suite.
What can today’s ambitious techs learn from—and how might they be inspired by—those who’ve aspired for more responsibility and, step by step, successfully ascended? What insights might be drawn from the ways today’s “tech to exec” leaders have dealt with setbacks and/or challenges? And what might all radiology stakeholders learn from their handling of some of radiology’s most pressing pain points in 2020?
To find out, RBJ spoke with five erstwhile technologists whose combined work records suggest an expert panel qualified to authoritatively answer all those questions and more.
Taking Initiative, Getting Mentored and Staying Put
Talk about staying power. Bill Algee has spent his entire 33-year radiology career at the same hospital, where he started as an interventional radiology technologist and worked his way up to diagnostic radiology coordinator, radiology department manager and, in 2016, director of imaging services.
“Sometimes I ask myself if I should have left [Columbus Regional Hospital], but I had the opportunity to grow here, so I didn’t leave,” he says.
Algee credits his career growth in large part to endeavors he proactively undertook as a young technologist. That, and the strong support he received in pursuing them from his then-supervisor. He recalls a time when he noticed repeated issues when preparing the radiology department’s call schedule. Algee offered to take on the project of making improvements, and the supervisor, Kent Johnson, gave him the greenlight. Johnson also allowed Algee to create budgets for the department, mentoring him along the way.
“Kent let me do things, so I never felt stagnant and I saw the appeal of being a leader,” Algee says. “If you want to be a leader, you need to be in an environment that fosters and supports growth. Any environment that doesn’t is not worth remaining in.”
At the same time, Algee suggests, it’s unwise to assume your boss knows your career goals.
“Start showing him or her by tooting your own horn,” he advises, and then build on your momentum by “coming up with and presenting your own ideas.”
Algee adds that other sources of support within the hospital—leadership development days, invitations to participate in various committees—also helped propel his growth into and as a radiology leader. As has networking: Algee has long been active in the AHRA, of which he is immediate past president.
“Leadership—most notably Chris Raaf, our [hospital’s] vice president of professional and support services—recognizes that the sharing of ideas that comes from networking is critical to growth,” Algee says. Accordingly, he asserts, radiology leadership hopefuls must see seeking internal support and attending networking events not as optional but as essential.
Algee now derives some of his greatest work-based satisfaction in his AHRA involvement. “I’m very respected within the organization, and people come to me with questions,” he tells RBJ. “I’ve built good relationships with other radiology directors even though I’ve only been in my current position for three years.”
Competing internally for capital to enhance the hospital’s radiology services currently comprises Algee’s most significant challenge. He cites as examples the institution’s need for a 128- or 256-slice CT machine and, on its wish list, a desire for a larger-bore MRI magnet.
“We want to offer transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), but in order to do TAVR, we need something other than the 64-slice CT unit we currently have,” he explains. “And the big-bore MRI would increase patient satisfaction. While the capital team is very open to listening to us, obtaining the capital is no longer a slam-dunk. It takes work and going back to the table again and again.”
Making a Good Gamble on Goals
Like most everyone, Courtney Funk has fears. But fear of taking chances probably isn’t one of them.
Funk had not yet graduated from college and was working as a radiologic technologist when she accepted an offer to train in MRI. Barely one year later, she received and accepted another offer: to manage an MRI center, starting with hiring a staff and implementing a billing system.
“I had studied the business side of radiology, because while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Boise State University, I was required to choose between business and education, and I picked business,” she recalls. “There was a lot I didn’t know, starting with how to make a budget. Still, I had a love of solving problems and being accountable, along with the courage to take a chance, so I signed on.”
More than three decades and two senior positions later—including 10 years as a director of radiology and regional radiology before assuming her current role—she believes she made the right decision.
Funk thinks several of her other strengths, in addition to her willingness to risk the unknown, made it easier for her to make the switch from technologist to leader, as well as to move from one leadership position to another over the years. Developing and perfecting such strengths, she says, will be a boon to any technologist who wants to pursue a similar path.
To go from technologist to leader, “it’s essential to not only be unafraid to learn the business piece—by doing if necessary—but also to be unafraid of and willing to admit when you don’t know something. You have to own that you’ve made a mistake and admit your error to staff,” she says. “If you can’t do that when you’re a technologist, you won’t be able to do it when you’re a leader.”
Funk also counsels aspiring leaders to become as self-aware as possible, to minimize the negative impact some traits may have on others. “You don’t learn these things in school, but you do have to be willing to change and grow as a person,” she says. “For example, being judgmental of your co-workers is not a good leadership trait. It’s far better to be open-minded and open to embracing others’ strengths.”
Like many of her colleagues, Funk finds herself grappling with some of radiology’s economic pressures. Declining reimbursements and the need to work harder and faster impose burdens on radiologists and staff alike, she observes. The push to perform more procedures “for the same money,” along with the practice’s need to find better ways to collect fees owed, can weigh heavily as well.
“It’s an ongoing struggle,” Funk says. “When it comes to finances, we’re always adjusting to the next problem.”
For Funk, working successfully with individuals whose thinking may not mirror hers remains a challenge at this juncture in her career. “Sometimes it’s not easy to inspire people to do what we need them to do rather than to discipline them into it,” she says.
She is most gratified when she sees staff succeed and grow professionally. “It’s great to be able to help by clearing roadblocks and minimizing red tape.”
Living by Words From the Wise
The first member of his working-class family to attend college and become a credentialed professional, Dan DeMaio still hears his parents’ voices as they urge him to “put your head down and work as hard as you can every day, to be the best you can be at your job, no matter what the job is. That’s all that matters. Do this, and you can accomplish anything.”
That advice has guided DeMaio throughout his 30-year radiology career, from his first job as a CT technologist to a position as a radiology administrator and, now, as a university-level educator and program director.
So, too, has a strong commitment to a model that attracted him to radiology leadership in the first place and remains the source of his greatest professional reward. The model, he explains, calls for “working in the service of others, in a manner that also serves the greater good or mission and purpose of an entire enterprise,” even when doing so calls for sacrificing what might be in one’s own best short-term interests.
DeMaio believes consistent effort, commitment to excellence and humility—which he defines as understanding his limitations and how he must support and rely on his team members—also have contributed heavily to his success in becoming and remaining a successful leader.
“If I can offer any advice to those who are interested in developing their own leadership skills, it would be quite simple: Just get involved,” he says. “There are so many professionals who have the capabilities to lead if they would only take that first little step—volunteering to head up an initiative or assuming some responsibility that might venture beyond the confines of their job description.”
Availing oneself of a mentor—a step he deems “life-changing” for himself—can prove equally valuable, DeMaio observes.
“I was fortunate to find an excellent mentor in a radiography professor,” he says. “He recognized some abilities in me that I had failed to grasp hold of and apply in my studies. His confidence in me and his support helped me grow tremendously, as a student and as a healthcare professional. I think about the effects of this mentorship often and try to model it as I work to help others on their path to our profession.”
Meanwhile, at this stage of his career, DeMaio finds nothing more gratifying or motivating than witnessing the success of the radiography students and junior faculty with whom he works. That, and knowing that he may have afforded them some small measure of guidance or assistance. He considers his volunteer work with the ASRT equally important—“a source of tremendous pride and joy.” Volunteering, he adds, has allowed him to promote and develop the radiologic science profession on a larger scale than he had ever thought possible.
“My biggest challenge is time, of course,” he says. It’s hard finding time each day “to balance the demands of my job, professional commitments and family,” he says, adding that he’s also concerned about “not having enough time left in my career to truly make a positive impact on others. These first 30 years have gone by so fast. This challenge motivates me every day to not waste a single moment.”
Learning All Along the Way
The adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree applies to Blair Dick and his career. His father was a technologist turned radiology administrator, which piqued his interest in radiology leadership long before he entered the field. When he was offered the position of shift supervisor at the hospital where he’d been working as a diagnostic technologist, he quickly accepted it.
“I also wanted to contribute to the success of an organization,” he recalls. He’s been able to attain both objectives, first while moving up the hospital’s radiology ladder to the role of chief technologist and, subsequently, radiology department director. Continuing the mission led him to the outpatient imaging side, as director of a freestanding physician-owned facility and, later, to his current position.
Dick wears two hats. One belongs to the practice administrator of a 20-physician radiology group and the other to the executive director of five joint-venture imaging facilities. As such, he faces some hefty challenges, including grappling with a snowballing spate of regulations such as HOPPS, MIPS and the mandate to implement clinical decision support solutions per PAMA. Other challenges include recruiting new radiologists and managing the financial side of the practice, whose patient population largely comprises Medicare beneficiaries.
“Physician and technical staff recruitment will continue to be an issue, as will the evolution of MIPS and clinical decision support implementation,” Dick observes.
The rewards of the work, however, help to mitigate any pain. “My greatest satisfaction comes from being in an environment where we can provide our patients with a good experience whenever they are in need of diagnostic or interventional radiology,” Dick tells RBJ. “Working with skilled radiologists and technologists, as well as implementing and utilizing technology to improve the way we provide care to our patients, has been key to this satisfaction.”
Dick pursued a business degree after transitioning from radiologic technologist to radiology leader. He urges aspiring leaders to do the same—or at least to take some business classes—before attempting to follow such a path.
“Opportunities to move into business management without a degree are still there,” he says. “But eventually, the formal business training will be a must as ongoing and new challenges make the business of radiology increasingly complex.”
Dick says remaining proactive about learning was instrumental in supporting his career trajectory. Hence, some additional advice for those wishing to rise through the ranks to leadership positions: “First and foremost, continue to look for opportunities to learn more about what interests you—by attending conferences, reading journals and talking to leaders in your organization, like radiologists and hospital administrators. And if you are in a facility with X-ray students, take a role in training the next generation of techs.”
Bringing Out the Best In Others
Paula Gonyea has never shied away from pursuing new directions in her career. In fact it’s a path she endorses for technologists who one day want to walk in leaders’ shoes.
While working as a diagnostic X-ray technologist, she was offered an opportunity to cross-train in CT. She jumped at the chance. The experience in CT—“seeing how computers and information technology could make our lives so much easier”—sparked Gonyea’s interest in clinical informatics, in which she earned a bachelor of science degree. She then transferred to her hospital’s IT department, where she worked as a clinical informatics specialist and project manager, primarily on the radiology side.
Several years later, Gonyea realized she missed “being around the action of everyday patient care” and embarked on another route. She first became a manager of imaging with duties in multiple modalities. Her next step was director of radiology, and this soon led to her current job.
Along the way, she earned an MBA in organizational leadership. And she did it all while raising three children.
“I believe in embracing change, as well as in initiating it,” Gonyea says. “Leaders don’t become leaders any other way. Learn all you can about something that inspires you and take on departmental projects that incorporate that interest. Everyone contributes their own interests and talents, be it policy, patient experience, finance or information technology. Build your knowledge around that inspiration to an expert level and use it to improve your department.”
Recently Gonyea faced one of the biggest challenges of her career—and enjoyed one of her most satisfying work experiences—with a project involving more than 400 people. All had to work together to plan for, train on and implement a new RIS across six hospitals.
The effort was very complex and at times stressful, but Gonyea was delighted to see so many people cooperating and pitching in to attain a common goal.
“Empowerment—recognizing each person’s strength and allowing them to leverage it—made things so much easier,” she says.
Gonyea anticipates facing additional challenges that aren’t specific to her institution but shared by all imaging service providers. “The biggest challenge I see going forward is managing imaging as it relates to population health,” she tells RBJ. “It’s a big transition from a fee-for-service model to a capitated system, which Vermont is moving to. Our patient volumes and acuity continue to rise while we work to balance expenses. Tight coordination of care within our healthcare network is more essential than ever.”
The list also includes technologist and radiologist staffing obstacles. “We’ll need to get creative in recruitment and retention strategies, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” Gonyea says. “Each generation has different priorities. Sometimes that means balancing different incentives. Millennials don’t place the same importance on fulltime status as baby boomers or Gen Xers. They seem to be looking for a better work/life balance. We need to recognize that the priorities aren’t the same; therefore, we need to find a way to adapt to the various models.”