National Radiologic Technology Week - An Interview with ASRT President Stephanie Johnston

The technology that is yet to come will, no doubt, be more powerful, more precise, safer, faster, and smaller. I’m confident that the profession will see virtual reality, artificial intelligence, multi-disciplinary hybrid imaging, and other advances in the future.
Stephanie Johnson, President of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT)

Radiologic technology has come a long way since the discovery of the x-ray by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen on November 8, 1895. That discovery, hailed as a medical miracle, led to a chain of innovations that have changed the face of modern medicine: from mobile chest x-rays to CT scans to MRIs and 3D mammograms.

To celebrate all that progress and to call attention to the important role that medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals play in patient care and healthcare safety, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) hosts an annual National Radiologic Technology Week, centered around the date of November 8. This year’s theme is “Waves of the Future” and that’s fitting for a profession that’s continually evolving.

Radiologic technology stands to benefit handily from advances in other forms of tech like AI and virtual reality. As it stands, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the need for radiologic technologists will continue to grow faster than the national average for all professions in the coming decade. Radiologic technology is a forward-thinking profession that’s always been on the cusp of what’s possible, and it’s set to remain that way far into the future.

Read on to learn what the president of the ASRT thinks that future looks like and how you can get involved.

An Interview with ASRT President Stephanie Johnston

Stephanie Johnston is the current president of the ASRT. But that’s only part of her dedication to (and passion for) the radiologic technology profession. She’s a working mammographer in Wichita Falls, Texas, and when you count up all her degrees, certifications, and titles, she has as many letters after her name as in her name: 17. Stephanie Johnston, MSRS, RT(R)(M)(BD)(BS), FASRT. Try saying that three times fast.

“I wish more people knew about the field,” Johnston says. “It’s been a great career choice for me, for my husband and for many of my dearest friends and colleagues. I encourage anyone who is interested in helping patients, while mastering some of the most technologically complex tools in healthcare, to explore the profession.”

As president of the ASRT, she’s traveled across the world, sharing her passion for the profession, listening to the concerns and ideas of her fellow RTs, and keeping an eye on the future.

What Can We Expect in the Future of Radiologic Technology?

“Radiologic technology is one of healthcare’s oldest diagnostic imaging tools as well as one of the most rapidly advancing,” Johnston says. “The technology that is yet to come will, no doubt, be more powerful, more precise, safer, faster, and smaller. I’m confident that the profession will see virtual reality, artificial intelligence, multi-disciplinary hybrid imaging, and other advances in the future.”

While technology continues to change, some things will remain the same. RTs often see patients who aren’t having their best day—patients who can be frightened, confused, or in pain. Whether an RT needs to produce a quality diagnostic image or administer targeted doses of radiation to a cancer patient, they need to do it with compassion. Johnston calls this the “high tech, high touch” approach, where complex technology is employed with a gentle, caring hand.

“No matter how advanced the technology becomes, radiologic technologists will be trained and ready to provide the highest quality care,” Johnston says. “RTs are vital to every healthcare team, and while they’re masters of highly complex technology, their focus is always on patient safety and care. Regardless of what type of technology is used, the images they create will continue to help physicians make more accurate and reliable diagnoses, now and in the future.”

How Do Radiologic Techs Mitigate the Risks of Working With Radiation?

This is a profession committed to the safety and care of its patients, but working with radiation means there are some unique factors to consider.

“To minimize radiation exposure for patients, RTs follow the ALARA principle: As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” Johnston says. “We constantly look to protect our patients by using the lowest dose possible that will still create a quality diagnostic image.”

The profession is so committed to addressing concerns about public exposure to ionizing radiation from medical imaging that a consortium of key medical imaging and radiation therapy organizations came together to create Image Wisely. The group asks imaging professionals and others to make an annual pledge to ensure that the least radiation necessary to acquire a diagnostic-quality image is used for each examination.

Protection from exposure to ionizing radiation is also important for RTs, who work around it every day. But while it might have been a major cause for concern before the 1950s, radiologic technology has come a long way since then. Research from the National Cancer Institute shows no correlation between this line of work and increased risks of harmful effects. Radiologic technology is getting safer as it gets more advanced.

“All RTs keep in mind three guidelines for controlling their exposure: time, distance and shielding,” Johnston says. “In short this means minimizing exposure time, maximizing distance from the radiation source and employing shielding from radiation. RTs also wear a radiation monitoring device called a dosimeter to measure cumulative doses of radiation over time.”

Advice on Becoming a Radiologic Technologist

Education is a critical part of an RT’s journey, furnishing them with safety procedures, methods of care, and an understanding of complex technology. It can also determine which aspect of the field an RT will work in.

“Radiologic technologists can choose two broad paths of study,” Johnston says. “They can work on the medical imaging team where they perform diagnostic images to be interpreted by a radiologist to diagnose disease and injury, or they can choose the radiation oncology team where they work with a variety of physicians to treat many types of cancer. In all, there are a dozen or more areas of clinical specialization for radiologic technologists.”

So how does one choose which area to specialize in? Beyond personal interest, there are some tools to help. The ASRT’s Career Center is geared towards older students, while the ASRT’s Radcademy® is meant as a starting point for high school students.

“If you’re a nontraditional student who’s juggling a complicated life with a family and other job commitments, or if you just feel drawn to making a difference in healthcare, this could be the career for you,” Johnston says. “I was all of those things when I began, and today I’ve found a measure of success and real fulfillment. I’m so very grateful for the place I’ve found in this profession. So, my advice? Go for it! With some work and dedication, I believe you’ll find there’s a place for you here.”

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.