Building a Career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography: Interview with Dr. Hamad Ghazle
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For Dr. Hamad Ghazle, becoming a certified sonographer, professor and director of a diagnostic medical sonography program at a venerated New York institution has led to a lengthy, enjoyable and interesting career. And that career is far from over, given Dr. Ghazle’s involvement in ever-expanding applications for diagnostic sonography, such as in orthopedics and rheumatology, as well as his desire to see his students succeed. Read more about Dr. Ghazle’s keys to career success, and see how his own career might serve as an example. By blending his genuine desire to immerse himself in the rapidly advancing field of sonography with his commitment to his students, and his love of research and teaching, Dr. Ghazle has built an enduring and successful career on the vanguard of ultrasound, and suggests there is room for his students to do the same.
Motivated by a Love for Sonography
“You have to have motivation and love for what you do,” said Dr. Ghazle, who oversees the diagnostic medical sonography program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and sometimes puts in 12 to 14 hour days. “I always tell people to make sure that they enjoy what they do. If they have the passion and are willing to go that extra mile, that is what will keep them going.”
Ghazle’s experience at RIT shows potential ultrasound students how one person can make a unique career out of diagnostic medical sonography. Of course, he found a love in research and teaching, which is what kept him on at RIT after he completed his own bachelor’s of science degree in ultrasound – with high honors – there in 1988. But many graduates become working sonographers, pursuing careers in hospitals, doctors’ offices or even medical or diagnostic labs.
Today, A Bachelor's Degree. Tomorrow, a Master's?
An associate degree in sonography is all that is typically needed to enter the sonography profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but RIT is one of the few schools offering a bachelor’s of science degree in the field.
At RIT, the bachelor’s degree program includes education in general ultrasound, as well as the abdomen and small parts, gynecology, obstetrics and an introduction to vascular ultrasound. In addition, the program also features an internship and is open to undergraduates who already have an associate degree in another allied health field. RIT also makes undergraduate certificates available in Diagnostic Medical Sonography and Echocardiography. (Anyone looking for more information on accredited sonography programs in New York or other states, can check out our full listing of accredited diagnostic medical sonography programs. As of April 2015, more than 200 programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation on Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP, were available nationwide.)
Today, the bachelor’s degree is considered the terminal degree for sonography, according to Dr. Ghazle, who pursued graduate level education in other fields since advanced sonography degrees were not available. As a result, he went on to complete a master’s of science degree in health professions education at the University of Rochester in 1991 and a doctoral degree, or EdD, in higher education there in 2008. “The terminal degree in sonography is the bachelor’s of science degree,” he said. “I hope during my lifetime that will become a master’s degree. It is the master’s degree practitioner that will make the profession more appealing.”
Of course, working professionals can take additional steps beyond their undergraduate education to validate their skills and specialties, including pursuing certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART), which certifies practitioners in specialty areas like gynecology, obstetrics and small parts (such as the thyroid and parathyroid glands, scrotum and testis, or the breasts). Professionals may also pursue general sonography certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).
How Ultrasound Has Advanced Over the Past 25 Years
What initially piqued Dr. Ghazle’s interest in the field of diagnostic sonography was not a presentation or a paper, but rather informal conversation he heard about the field. This conversation soon led to a forming interest in his mind about the “mystery” of the profession, including how it so astutely blended the science of medicine with that of engineering, computer technology, math, pathology and the human body.
“The profession embodies all of these different areas and that was really my driving force,” he said. “And to use [sonography] to diagnose disease. What else could I want?” Another intriguing aspect was that the field was truly in its infancy then, being used to do ultrasounds for the reasons many people are familiar with today – to check the fetal development of babies. It had also broader applications in OB/GYN and radiology, but in many areas new applications were just waiting to be discovered.
“I liked new things, I liked discoveries,” he said. “And I liked being involved in the early stages of development.”
Dr. Ghazle talks extensively about how diagnostic medical sonography has expanded in application over the years, branching into use in areas such as skin and muscle grafts, the musculoskeletal system, emergency medicine, intensive care, orthopedics, pain medicine, rheumatology and even sports medicine. It’s even found application in nerve blocks, Ghazle said, helping to guide doctors to the more precise originations of nerve pain. It has also been used to look at the function of the heart, and when done so, is called an echocardiogram.
“The change has been phenomenal,” Ghazle said. “Ultrasound has evolved tremendously over the years.”
As it has, so has ultrasound resolution. In fact, is has so significantly improved that doctors now have better images to use for their work and, as a result, better guides for the procedures that they need to carry out to help patients.
Motivation is the Key to Ultrasound Success
Ghazle said that the future of the field depends on how well the needs of the medical community match with those in the marketplace. According to the BLS, this demand is strong: job opportunities for diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to grow by 46 percent from 2012 to 2022, must faster than average for all occupations. Potentially, job demand could lead to 27,000 new positions becoming available during this time, shows the BLS.
Ghazle said that one of the top characteristics needed by people entering the field is motivation. While learning the various technical standards for carrying out ultrasound exams is also important, it is a student’s willingness to learn that may best determine their success.
“Motivation is the number one key,” he said. “If someone is motivated to learn, nothing should be in their way. But, ultrasound is not for everyone. You ought to have that passion for it. That includes the motivation and the excitement about learning about new things. To be successful, you have to be continually doing it, and researching, and keeping abreast of what’s out there.”
Building a Career in Diagnostic Sonography
One of the aspects he has found so wonderful about ultrasound is that it is entirely non-invasive in nature, meaning that all tissues are viewed from the outside. In addition, it has very little prep time, making it easy for healthcare practitioners to provide. But because there were few ultrasound programs available in the country when he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree, Ghazle moved from Washington, D.C. to New York to enroll in RIT’s program. He felt completely embraced there, and became involved in all manner of learning. This included building relationships with professors and well as studying and researching as much as he could.
“I knew at the time that I was at [RIT] that this was a field I could be in for the rest of my life,” he said. “It was a very positive, very rewarding program. There has not been one day since the day that I chose the profession that I wish I did something else.”
After obtaining his bachelor’s, Dr. Ghazle gained professional experience by doing ultrasound exams on patients in a variety of areas, including the abdomen as well as the bladder, gall bladder, spleen, liver, prostate, spleen, prostrate and urinary tract. However, he eventually began teaching in RIT’s medical sonography program while pursuing his advanced education. This gave him the opportunity to explore new applications of ultrasound while also participating in research with other physicians. In fact, when it came to techniques or new areas of use for sonography, there was no area he said ‘no’ to, he explained.
“Ultrasound is never dull. It’s always challenging,” he said. “You are dealing with a human being. You are providing patient care.”
Now, as director of the diagnostic medical sonography program at RIT, he remains deeply involved with teaching. From small parts to gynecology to abdominal ultrasounds, he remains involved in hands-on instruction at the school’s teaching hospital.
“I cannot sit down without teaching,” he said. “My students are never a number to me. Their happiness is my happiness. Their failures are my failures. Their successes are my successes.”
He oversees the school’s Sonography Scanning Suite, a high-tech ultrasound lab that provides students and medical professionals with practical, hands-on experiences as well as simulation opportunities. Additionally, he serves on the Government Relations Committee for the National Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) and received the 2015 SDMS distinguished educator award. He is also president of the Rochester Ultrasound Society, advisor for the school’s ultrasound student association, and chair of the Ultrasound Program Advisory Board.
In fact, his credentials are too numerous too count on one hand, but he still finds sonography taking him in new directions.
Dr. Ghazle has recently taken charge of RIT’s Journal of Clinical Ultrasound Technology & Education (JCUTE), becoming its developer, designer and editor-in-chief. The idea is to create an open-access, free of charge periodical to allow students to present their work and become published. The journal should launch this summer.
“You have the professionals already in the field who have been doing it for many years,” he said. “This [publication] will provide a voice for sonography students or new people in the field.”
He also makes it a point to stay in touch with RIT’s program graduates, some of whom may come back as adjunct faculty while others may give a lecture or become part of the school’s advisory board. Education, he said, is more than providing specific job skills to students.
“Sure, I want [my students to have the] skills to be able to go out and get a job,” he said. “But, really what we are trying to do is teach these individuals about life. I really want them to become leaders in their community. Being in this field, they are at the forefront, interacting with humans every single day.”