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Growing x-ray technologists in DHMC's backyard

DHMC recently teamed up with a local educational institution to tackle a problem plaguing hospitals nationwide—a shortage of health-care workers, especially radiographic technologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the U.S. will need 55,000 more radiographers by 2008.

Alleviate: Donald Wenz, Ph.D., the president of Lebanon (N.H.) College, figured his institution— which offers associate's degrees in several fields—might help alleviate that shortage. So he approached human resources executives in the region, including June Fisher at DHMC, who introduced him to Monte Clinton, the administrative director of radiology at DHMC.

Bruce Van Houten, right, is the director of a new x-ray technology training program that DHMC helped get going.
Photo: Mark Austin-Washburn

It turns out that Clinton was already worried about finding enough technologists to staff a new imaging facility now under construction at DHMC. "I was doing the plan for the expansion and realized that in 2004, I was going to need 24 more techs," says Clinton. He was delighted to learn about Wenz's plan and was eager to help.

"We got one of our suppliers to give him an x-ray room," says Clinton. In fact, Lebanon College's program is the only one in northern New England with a live x-ray lab—a fully functioning facility where students can learn how to position patients and can take real x-rays.

"That means our students go to area hospitals with the ability to take and process x-rays," says Wenz. In many other programs, students aren't able to use real equipment until they get on-thejob training.

Lebanon College's program is also remarkable in that it was up and running so quickly. Once Wenz knew area hospitals were interested, it took him only a few months to secure funding, equipment, space, and faculty.

Bruce Van Houten, a radiographic technician who has worked at DHMC and Mt. Ascutney Hospital, was hired as the program's director. There are two full-time faculty members, including Van Houten, and two part-timers. About 80 potential students expressed interest in the program, 30 completed the application process, 18 were accepted for the fall of 2002, and 16 enrolled. So far, only one has dropped out, leaving 15 students currently in the program.

"We couldn't have done this without DHMC," says Wenz. In addition to helping the program acquire the equipment, radiology staff at Dartmouth have provided advice to the program, and DHMC will be one of eight sites for students' clinical rotations.

The full-time program takes two years—including summers —to complete. It consists of three terms of classroom training alternating with three clinical rotations. Once students have completed the program, they are eligible to take the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists' certification exam.

Of course, Clinton hopes that some of the program's graduates, six of whom are DHMC employees, will become technologists in his department—at starting salaries of at least $19.10 an hour. Tuition for the program is about $8,500 a year.

For some students, the decision to become an x-ray tech is a real career change. "We have laid-off machine-shop workers, carpenters, office workers," says Wenz, "as well as individuals [already] working at some level of the medical profession."

Medical: "It's a wonderful program for those people interested in health care, but . . . unable to go to medical school or nursing school," says Clinton. What's more, he adds, "radiology is a growing profession."

The first students begin their clinical rotations in January—six at DHMC. And the next crop— about 18 students, estimates Wenz—will start in the fall of 2003. Clinton doesn't expect Lebanon College to be able to provide all the techs he'll need by 2004, but he's happy that the program is in place. "They are our salvation," he says.

Laura Stephenson Carter

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