Shown above, Stephanie Johnston on the left and Donna Newman, President of the International Society of Radiographers & Radiological Technologists, on the right at the RSNA Conference.

How a Solis Mammography technologist guided her fellow radiology techs through the uncharted waters of a global pandemic and helped them find their voice.

As the president of the ASRT, Solis mammographer Stephanie Johnston led the world’s largest radiologic science association through the early chaotic days of Covid-19. Now in her new role as Chair of the Board of Directors, she looks back at what it took to lead during challenging times, and the opportunities she sees ahead for the medical imaging industry and her chosen field of mammography technology. 

Tell us about your experiences during the early days of Covid-19.

“My term as president of ASRT wasn’t up until the end of June, and Covid-19 hit in March. It was a very chaotic time. A lot of technologists had lost their jobs as non-essential exams and surgeries were canceled. And, a lot of technologists who were getting ready to graduate in May couldn’t finish their education programs. 

I realized that the most important thing to do was to stay in touch with our members – they literally had nowhere to go for information or support. We built a Covid-19 page on our website that gave them the resources they need – for students and technologists. We continually hosted information sessions. And we created a scholarship relief fund to assist anyone who’d either been diagnosed with Covid and couldn’t work or who had lost a job. We did all of this in a record amount of time, because the need was so great.”

Why is it important that radiology technologists be seen as essential healthcare providers?

“Our role in the medical imaging community has never been more important than it is today. I think Covid-19 emphasized the importance of radiology techs across the healthcare industry. You heard in the media about frontline workers, but they only talked about nurses and doctors. They didn’t understand that the technologists who are doing the x-rays and the CTs are also on the frontline of care. That’s what medical imaging is – it’s preventive screening. Or it’s to help diagnose a condition so treatment can be planned. Or it’s to help patients safely continue their radiation and cancer treatment – even during a pandemic. It’s all of those things.

As technologists, we want patients to get back to care. We have a voice. ASRT is now part of a coalition to get patients back to screening. We’re going to see an increase in health issues in a year or a couple of years because everyone has had an interruption in care. It really hits home because that’s what I do – I do breast cancer screening.”

You’ve been a mammographer for more than 20 years. What would you say to someone who is interested in mammography technology as a career path?

“First of all, you can learn so many other aspects of mammography, in addition to taking images. If you are well rounded, you can do the certifications, the accreditations, quality control, as well as doing stereotactic biopsy, diagnostic exams, ultrasound. 

Secondly, it’s about advancement. One of the best things I’ve seen with Solis Mammography is the opportunity for the tech to start out as a mammographer, learn everything about that part of the job, and then work up to team leaders, or center directors, or another executive leadership role. 

And, it’s a very rewarding career. I don’t even have words to describe how rewarding it is when you find out that the images that you took and gave to the radiologist helped find a cancer that saved someone’s life."

What are the biggest improvements you’ve seen over the years?

“What’s gotten better for me? The equipment for sure. When I first started, 2D was a nightmare in trying to keep the machine functioning because there were so many parts. You had the cassette. The film. You could have dust in there or some other kind of artifact. You had the processor. You could have marks on your film from the processor or the wrong chemicals. Going to digital was a major milestone for the technologist. 

For the patient, if you’re in a center like Solis that does it a lot and does it well, the patients are not in for very long and they get their results very quickly by email notification. I also appreciate that at Solis our radiologists only do breast health. I’ve worked in multiple places where the radiologists did everything. It was so frustrating because many disliked reading mammograms and they missed things. I really think the dedicated imaging center for breast-specific care has really changed mammography.”

What keeps you excited about the profession?

“I love the patient interaction. A mammography tech has 15 minutes to get the patient in, get them changed, go through their history with them to make sure there is nothing going on so we can do a screening test, then we have to put them at ease enough to get the ideal pictures we need to get without having to repeat them. And the patient needs to feel good when she leaves. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to do that. I feel like that’s my personality – this profession is a perfect fit for me.”

Why do you choose to work for Solis Mammography?

“I worked for the Wichita Falls center before it was purchased by Solis Mammography. I applied to work for Solis and did my research. I went online and liked what I read. I loved the Promise Book – absolutely loved it. I thought, this company is for me. They believe in everything I believe in. When I was doing my onboarding and training, it really came to life. Solis believes in putting the patient first, which makes it so easy to come to work and do what I do.”

 

“One of the greatest things I’ve seen with Solis Mammography is the opportunity for the technologist to start out as a mammographer, learn everything about that role, and then work her way up to team leader or center director, or into another executive leadership role.”

What is the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT)?

The American Society of Radiologic Technologists is the premier professional membership association for medical imaging technologists, radiation therapists and radiologic science students. Currently, there are more than 157,000 members who are supported through continuing education, annual meetings, career and professional resources, industry advocacy, and published research on advancements in technology and patient care.

Stephanie Johnston has served in every major leadership role on a volunteer basis, from vice president to president and now board chair. “Years ago, when I was in radiology school, my program director told us we should be prepared to give back to the profession if we feel like the profession has been good to us. I’ve never forgotten that. Mammography is my passion and I can’t imagine doing anything else. In my role as board chair, I want to support radiology techs in every modality and help them put their passions to work.”