The information found in this article is excerpted from a discussion conducted during part three of our three-part Web conference series on career opportunities in healthcare IT imaging.
A conversation between J. Anthony Siebert, Ph.D., professor of radiology at the University of California, Davis, and OTech president Herman Oosterwijk, about the current employment opportunities for RIS and PACS professionals in the healthcare market space.
Can you provide some examples of what skill sets a PACS administrator needs at an academic institution?
You need to have a very good knowledge of the issues related to the technical aspects of PACS and electronic networks and IT, as well as an understanding of the clinical issues that are involved in diagnostic imaging.
You'll have to interact with the technical and the clinical side—and sometimes deal with people that really do not understand some of the technical issues that are involved. You need to be fairly savvy at being able to understand the needs of the radiologists; who can sometimes be unreasonable in their demands.
So you have to have a thick skin, you have to have an ability to work with the individuals that might not understand what you do. You also have to work pretty diligently at solving problems. Everybody expects you to have an answer right at the tip of your tongue and sometimes you just don’t have that.
What type of communication skills does a PACS administrator need?
In terms of communication, there are different levels. Certainly from a perspective of somebody who is out in the field and trying to understand the needs of a professional like a radiologists, you have to understand their perspective and their language. Sometimes they can’t explain what they are really complaining about, or how they want a problem solved. So, you have to be able to understand their language and be able to be an interpreter.
You also have to listen very well. Listening and being able to interact are key aspects in problem solving—and you have to have a lot of patience. You also need to be able to predict what types of things the radiologists and others are looking for, and then be able to provide a more efficient platform for electronic imaging. A big part of your job as a PACS administrator is to be able to communicate, and to be able to interact.
What steps could someone from either a clinical or technical background take to become a PACS administrator?
Well certainly you have to have an interest in wanting to work in a technical and clinical field combined. You need to demonstrate an interest—by coming to open PACS meetings and asking questions—about electronic imaging networks. You also have to have an ability to gain more educational experience, both on the job experience as well as educational experience. There are various opportunities that are available through a large number of third-party education groups as well as many of the professional societies.
Are there other areas in which PACS administrators should be knowledgeable?
I think knowledge of physics is important. I think a knowledge of how equipment functions is also a really important aspect of a PACS administrators role. There are a lot of institutions that don’t have physicists on site and it’s up to the PACS administrator to look at the situation and try to solve it based upon a basic understanding of physics knowledge of the imaging equipment.
It’s really important to have an understanding, at least at a basic level, of how all the imaging equipment works, not only x-ray imaging but also ultrasound, MRI and CT—all the different modalities. I know we’ve seen a lot of issues with respect to implementing digital mammography and that’s important for a PACS administrator to understand that area, too. The PACS administrator is a key player in being able to make sure all those things are functioning and are being implemented properly; they’re not the only player, but certainly a key player.
It’s important to remember that when you’re talking about a PACS that it is not only about the acquisition and the transfer of images—it’s the entire work process from scheduling to final diagnosis.
What significance do you place on professional PACS administration certification?
Well certification that demonstrates a minimum level of competency is extremely important. I think one of the things I would look for is somebody that does have the experience and that does have the knowledge and does have the wear-with-all not only from the technical know how, but from the ability to communicate, from the ability to demonstrate that minimum level of competency through knowledge and through tests and through certification programs.
Do you believe that professional certification will continue to evolve?
Absolutely; it’s a living and expanding and changing field. It’s just changing along with technology which changes at a rapid rate. And if you are static or think that just because you have a certification that it is going to be good enough for the long term, I think that that is an incorrect assumption in the thought process.
I think it is important for individuals that have met a minimum level of competency to grow beyond that level, because minimum is just an initial step. I think what you need to do is grow and make things more efficient and better and with that hopefully your career will grow as well. And that can provide upward mobility.
What career paths are available for a PACS administrator at an academic facility?
As a PACS administrator you’re already at a reasonably high level. You can go from that position further up in the administration chain. I think you can have an opportunity to demonstrate your worth with respect to enhancements and being able to interact with a larger number of people and develop more responsibilities and an authority to make more decisions. If you tire of the academic scenario you certainly have an opportunity to go in other areas, such as with a vendor or to other healthcare institutions.