Defeating West Virginia House Bill 4781: The Enduring Importance of RT Professional Licensure

Licensure ensures medical imaging procedures are performed by technologists who are educationally prepared and clinically competent to do so.

Nancy Godby, Director of Radiology at Cabell Huntington Hospital and Board Chair of the WVSRT

If House Bill 4781 had passed the West Virginia Legislature, it would have repealed licensure for radiation therapists and medical imaging technologists in the state. That would have represented a dangerous loss of a critical safety mechanism for providers and patients. Luckily, the advocacy efforts of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) and the West Virginia Society of Radiologic Technologists (WVSRT) mobilized quickly to ensure that it did not happen. And to prevent future efforts to erode professional credentialing in the state, it’s important to understand what happened.

“Both the ASRT and WVSRT monitor legislative activity daily,” says Nancy Godby, MS-MHA, MA, RT(R)(M) ARRT, CHC, director of radiology at Cabell Huntington Hospital and board chair of the WVSRT. “Together, we designed a ‘call to action’ notification that was distributed through email by the ASRT to West Virginia technologists. Notifications were also posted on both the ASRT and WVSRT websites urging technologists to contact their legislative representatives to oppose this bill proposing to repeal medical imaging and radiation therapy licensure in West Virginia.”

Why is Radiation Therapy Licensing Being Threatened?

The ASRT and WVSRT are on constant alert because there have been continued efforts in West Virginia and other states to repeal licensure for radiation therapists and technologists.

Those attempts to repeal are part of a broader trend towards the deregulation of several forms of occupational licensing. Anti-licensure politicians take a ‘small government’ approach and argue that formal occupational requirements lower an individual’s chances of securing employment, thus creating a burdensome barrier to market entry. But this is a complex profession—and it needs licensure requirements to protect the people delivering, and receiving, radiologic treatment.

The Enduring Importance of Licensing for Radiation Therapy & Medical Imaging Professionals

For medical imaging professionals dealing with potentially harmful ionizing radiation, it’s paramount that quality and safety are prioritized. The average politician might not know what rules and regulations will keep radiologic therapists, and their patients, safe. But the ASRT and WVSRT—who advocate for licensure—do. For over 40 years, West Virginia’s licensing board has protected patients by ensuring radiation therapists and other medical imaging professionals meet rigorous standards.

“Licensure ensures medical imaging procedures are performed by technologists who are educationally prepared and clinically competent to do so,” Godby says.

House Bill 4781 wasn’t the only threat on the WVSRT’s radar this year. Senate Bill 558 would’ve created a study of the healthcare workforce, but it excluded radiologic technologists from the list of healthcare professionals. Senate Bill 218, if passed, would open the door to consumers being able to choose non-licensed individuals to perform medical imaging procedures. Altogether, the WVSRT watch list for the 2020 legislative session has led to monitoring or action on 15 different bills.

“We urge all medical imaging professionals to become knowledgeable about the hazards we face during each legislative session,” Godby says. “We continue to see efforts to eliminate licensure and need everyone to join our efforts to maintain regulations to protect the public from harm.”

The advocacy measures of the ASRT and WVSRT aren’t only defensive in nature. They are proactively promoting the profession, too. Each year in early November, to coincide with the birthday of x-ray pioneer Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, the ASRT hosts National Radiologic Technician Week, which calls attention to the important role medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals play in patient care and safety.

The ASRT also has a cutting-edge digital museum that recognizes the effect of the technology on popular culture, highlights the association’s accomplishments, and encourages young people to learn the “cool science” of radiologic technology. And the ASRT National Library Partnership put thousands of relevant book titles in nearly 300 libraries—some in every state—to bring attention to the importance of the profession to healthcare.

One of the biggest challenges to advocacy efforts by the ASRT and WVSRT is the patchwork regulations that govern professional licensure. Some rules deal with certain types of imaging machines, while others deal with certain types of facilities but not others. No top-down federal regulations exist, and thus regulations are governed on a state-by-state basis.

State affiliates are huge advocates for the profession in their own backyard, but they’re all volunteers with limited backgrounds in lobbying and grassroots advocacy. Fighting for the profession is a challenge, and it’s ongoing.

“Joining the ASRT and your state’s Medical Imaging Affiliate is the best first step,” Godby says, in her advice to those just beginning their careers in radiation therapy. “Get involved, volunteer to serve at both the state and national level, take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes your way, and be a lifelong learner through continuously improving your skills.”

The more radiation therapists who take Godby’s advice, the safer and more effective radiologic treatment will be.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging topics in medical technology, particularly the modernization of the medical laboratory and the network effects of both health data management and health IT. In consultation with professors, practitioners, and professional associations, his writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best. For, he’s interviewed leaders and subject matter experts at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).