Renew Your Commitment to Professionalism
Kelli Haynes, MS, RT(R)
It is truly an honor to serve as the president of AEIRS; I thank you for entrusting me with this honor and responsibility. I do not take this privilege lightly. When I was a student, approximately 25 years ago, I never envisioned such an honor. I truly love this profession and have been blessed with so many wonderful and amazing opportunities.
As I begin my presidential term, I feel we must all be aware of the battle we are facing. As radiologic technologists, the public gives us the privilege of educating, certifying, and maintaining ourselves as a profession. We have the freedom to determine our own destiny and must forge a course that will ensure this privilege. If we sit back and relax, we are at risk of losing it. Strengthening our stewardship and protecting radiology’s privilege are the focus of this address. A renewed commitment to professionalism is a tool that can help us accomplish our goals.
I hope to enlighten you on the following points. First, it is our professional duty to be aware of challenges facing our profession. Changes are brewing in medicine that threaten our professional fabric. They are very real, and we need to pay attention. Second, each of us, as Francis Bacon put it, is a “debtor to his profession.” The practice of radiology has provided many fruits, and we owe it something in return. In paying this debt, our profession, and we as individuals, become richer. Third, we cannot strengthen professionalism until we better understand it. For me, that means first acknowledging that professionalism is at the very core of what we do. It also means recognizing that professionalism arises from the compassion of our hearts as much as it does from ethical, informed decision-making and intellect.
Professional attributes such as altruism, duty, honor, and honesty are human virtues. Professionalism is guided by human virtues just as much as it is by the robust and carefully peer reviewed articles that help shape our daily decisions. And professionalism grows from the shared sensibility of groups, not solely from individual actions. In short, professionalism is multifaceted, just as we humans are.
Why Explore Professionalism?
Now let us return to our first question: What’s going on in radiology that causes us to explore professionalism? Powerful forces are pulling at the fabric of our practice. Other healthcare providers, such as nurse practitioners, seek to encroach on our practice. Bills were introduced in Oregon, Massachusetts, and Kansas that would grant nurse practitioners the ability to perform a variety of medical procedures. As Sal Martino, CEO of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) recently stated, “Although those bills were defeated, it is almost guaranteed that we will see these types of bills again in future legislative sessions.” Unfortunately, it appears that many states are open to the idea of expanding the scope of practice for healthcare professions outside of radiologic technology. It’s a dangerous prospect that could have far-reaching effects on patients and the profession. Now, more than ever, we need to band together and oppose these measures. We’re highly skilled professionals who are educated in radiation physics and protection, patient positioning, and much more. It’s our job to let lawmakers know we won’t allow patients to receive substandard care.” Challenges are headed our way, but if we face them together, we’ll cement our status as a powerful force for patient safety.
There is pressure on all sides. Increasingly, we find ourselves on the defensive. As pressures increase and radiologic technologists feel squeezed out and underappreciated, it becomes easier to move our attention to professionalism to the back burner. However, if ever there was a time to look deep within ourselves, to renew our commitment to doing what’s right for patients, this is that time.
The second of my three themes focuses on the debt we owe our profession. This is a key factor because I believe that the real challenge of renewed professionalism isn’t only becoming better professionals ourselves, but also influencing those around us, especially our students, to do the same.
As some of the most well-educated, highly respected, and influential individuals within our profession, we are very privileged. With this privilege comes a responsibility to give back: our time, involvement, and commitment. As long as we remember and act on our commitment to serve, we will be judged as professionals.
Our service to a humanistic ideal, above all else, is what makes radiology unique among the professions. The humanistic ideal does not stand on its own. It relies on the strength of all of us, who renew the ideal, day in and day out, and strengthen each other in the process. That’s the debt of the educator, and, more important, of the education community. We share this debt together.
What Is Professionalism?
If we can accept that we are debtors, bound to serve, then we can move on to the third idea: We pay our debt by strengthening professionalism. But that means we must better understand what professionalism is. There is no single definition of “professionalism”; we know it when we see it. And it can only be sought out and absorbed, not coerced or forced.
After more than 20 years as a radiologic technologist and 15 as an educator, I’ve come to the conclusion that professionalism is at the core of the art, as well as the science, of radiology. It is an exercise of scholarship and character—a two-sided coin.
Let’s start with side one: scholarship. If we truly want to renew our professionalism, the first step for all of us should be getting reacquainted with our ethical codes. Radiologic science is grounded in the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists’ Ethics Standards and the ASRT’s Practice Standards. The standards lay out the basic principles that define our moral identity as radiologic technologists. It is not a glib and empty promise to oneself but an enduring framework for each day.
Professionalism is defined in both of these documents. The Standards of Ethics #1 statement is that “the radiologic technologist acts in a professional manner, responds to patient needs, and supports colleagues and associates in providing quality patient care.” The performance standards list commitments that each of us can make, ranging from quality patient care to sharing knowledge and expertise. These commitments provide a great cornerstone for professional conduct.
That’s the scholarly side of professionalism. The art of professionalism is the flip side of our ethical codes and it comes from the heart. It is essentially the development of character. We have learned the art, and we have an obligation to pass it on to the generations who follow.
I have consulted with many colleagues, who offered their input in defining professionalism. I was struck by how often certain traits came up in their descriptions, such as doing the right thing, being trustworthy, understanding the seriousness and responsibility of the radiologic technologists’ role, commitment to protecting patients, and the list goes on and on. Notice anything in these descriptions? They are grounded in basic human respect and a set of values we all learned when we were in kindergarten. Indeed, professional standards come down to a single principle: Professionalism means never, ever doing anything you would not do in front of your mother!
What Actions Can We Take?
It seems to me that one of the great problems with professionalism is that it seems to dwell in the margins of our day-to-day lives; to be assumed, rather than understood and practiced. What can we do to keep it front and center in our practice? Let me leave you with four steps that each of us can take.
1. Take professionalism seriously. Become reacquainted with the professional standards
and make sure our students’ understand them. Focus as much as you can on instilling
the highest professional standards.
2. All of us should remain focused on not only teaching, but also mentoring the next generation of radiologic science technologists and educators. Because, after all, someone has to teach once we retire!
3. We recognize that we must encourage professional behavior, but do we have the courage to call out unprofessional behavior? Professionalism will thrive in an environment in which we influence one another. But just how influential are we? Not enough, it seems, when problem behaviors are present, and colleagues—including leaders—rationalize, or minimize them. In my years as a radiologic technologist, administrator, and educator, I always knew we had a problem when I heard the phrase “…yes, but he’s a good technologist.” We must have the fortitude to identify unprofessional conduct and act. It’s that simple.
4. Finally, let’s take this conversation about professionalism to the classroom and the PACS workstation. That’s where we make connections as professionals. That’s where the mentoring, teaching, and learning moments occur. The more professionalism becomes a group responsibility, not just an individual one, the more successful we will be.
I have only scratched the surface of professionalism in this column. The next steps are up to each of us. By acknowledging our professional debt and acting upon it, each of us can help strengthen radiology’s heritage of high ideals and shape the destiny of our profession. Thank you.
AEIRS President, MSRS, R.T.(R)