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The eyes of medicine

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Granting sight where physicians of the past were rendered blind, diagnostic imaging technologists are revered as the eyes of medicine.

Technologists assist physicians by taking comprehensive X-rays of afflicted body parts in settings ranging from surgery centers to imaging rooms. These professionals utilize highly sophisticated equipment and an intimate knowledge of human anatomy to help generate reliable imagery and treat their patients.

“Our training is 15 months long,” said Senior Airman Efren Armenta Herrera, 27th Special Operations Medical Support Squadron diagnostic imaging technologist. “It is split into two phases: The first, which is 6 months long and foundational, is conducted at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. During the second phase, learning is hands-on, and trainees can be assigned to any major military medical center for that 9-month duration.”

Once phase two is underway, X-ray technicians learn about the disciplines that fall under the vast umbrella of their Air Force Specialty Code either through basic skillsets, or specializations further along in their careers.

“A major medical center has all the modalities,” said Tech. Sgt. Anissa Knight, 27th SOMSS NCO-in charge of diagnostic imaging. “While there, we learn to perform Computer Tomography scans, preparing us to work in whatever medical setting we’re assigned to after completion of phase 2 training.”

“Specializations are also available to X-ray technicians throughout our careers,” Knight continued. “Some of those include mammography, ultrasound, radiation therapy, nuclear medicine, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging.”

Knowledge and proficiency requirements do not end with graduation from technical school, however. X-ray technicians are required to complete continuing education units every two years to retain current certifications.

“The units are challenging,” Knight said. “They consist of patient care, patient radiation protection, physics, anatomy and positioning. They go over everything we learned in phases one and two to ensure skills we don’t necessarily utilize on the job everyday don’t diminish.”

The type of radiology services a technologist will perform on a regular basis following training is entirely dependent upon the sort of medical center, or clinic to which they are assigned. At the 27th Special Operations Medical Group, Knight and Herrera typically perform X-ray and ultrasound services in support of approximately 5,000 Air Commandos who live and work at the wing.

“On an average day we see roughly 20 patients,” Knight said. “Large medical centers see many more patients than we do, but our steady operations tempo allows us to run a close-knit, family oriented section.”

Herrera views the switch from full-scale medical center to smaller clinic as an opportunity to shift gears from skill cultivation to skill perfection and truly focus on providing exceptional patient care.

“In this job you’re not working with boxes; you’re not working with materials; you’re dealing with people who are hurting,” the senior airman said. “When you transition from a fast-paced Operating Room or Emergency Room setting to a calm clinic, it can challenge your perception of this career field. I have overcome that by realizing it’s not about me; it’s about providing the best care possible for people who are trusting me to do exactly that.”

Despite his positive outlook, even Herrera comes up against the occasional bad day, for which his solution is simple:

“Focus on the good things,” he said, “and coffee always helps.”