Rad Techs Turn to Industry: A Growing Trend

September 8, 2016

Radiologic technologists are increasingly leaving practice and going to work for vendors.

It’s a growing trend that one of the most experienced technologists on the clinical team decides after years of loyalty to shift over to the medical vendor side of the health care industry, leaving behind a difficult vacancy to fill.

Yet, as innovation continues to drive health care start-ups, medical devices, and a wider range of apps and platforms, using experienced technologists on the vendor side is a growing trend likely to increase because techs “understand the product, the workflow, and often have pre-established relationships with physicians,” according to Jorge Arellano, RT(R), an account manager for Ziehm Imaging. Their expertise can often drive the safest, most appropriate, sales solutions.

With 240,000 jobs available clinically as a technologist according to a U.S. Department of Labor study conducted in 2014, the volume and variety of jobs available working for a medical vendor on the sales side in and around imaging is over much larger and predicted to increase at a rate of 7% by the year 2024. From application specialists to clinical educators and sales representatives, these unique roles require the expertise and credibility that comes from real-life experience in the field. Despite the initial FTE loss, techs that shift over to the industry side can still provide a unique set of benefits to physicians when the timing is right.

Technologists Work an Average of 10 Years Before Moving to Industry
“A high level of clinical expertise is needed first in order to have value within medical industry roles, particularly those that involve research,” said Joshua Drew, National Clinical Training Manager for B. Braun Interventional Systems. As an IR technologist with fifteen years of clinical experience, Drew grew his expertise shifting from staff technologist to clinical instructor and ultimately worked as an internal clinical consultant during his hospital’s analysis and trial of a B. Braun interventional device.

Years working with the vendor internally and several offers later, Drew accepted a role that could make full use of his clinical expertise in a new way, he said. Drawn by a company that was “at the forefront of new technology, ethical, and product driven,” the opportunity to see a product from infancy to launch, still work with his old team in addition to sharing his expertise with high level radiology teams across the country was a rare opening and one he simply couldn’t find internally.

Understanding the types of cases within a sub-specialty along with physician needs, preferences, and rationale in product selection often takes years clinically. Such skills are essential on the industry side to gain new business and bring the right product to the right experience. Arrellano, a former clinical instructor and super user in the OR, was a familiar face for external vendors during C-arm demos and training, and a fan of the latest technology. While he loved teaching and working clinically with techs and doctors on cases, he said, after 10 years, the timing seemed natural to better use his C-arm expertise and working relationship with surgeons to benefit a wider Chicago audience by supporting technology he believes in.

Shift to Industry the Most Natural Career Progression?
Sharing clinical expertise with a larger audience is a natural desire for many experienced clinicians. While some choose to share information through annual conferences or medical journals, working for a vendor affords an effective means to increase exposure and maintain physician interaction while educating a larger audience. Christa Hendricks, RT, (R), CI, VI, marketing development specialist at Merit Medical Systems, and an IR and Cardiac Cath technologist with 13 years of clinical experience sees both internal clinician and vendor roles as essential.

“What made my day as a technologist was seeing the huge difference I was making on the spot and being able to tell a patient they were ok,” Hendricks said. Now, covering the Boston area, Hendricks’ satisfaction comes more indirectly from working with OB/GYN and IR physicians at a wide variety of practices to offer UFE procedures as an alternative to hysterectomies and hearing positive patient outcomes. Having a working knowledge and understanding of both sides of the industry can only provide an even “stronger impact on the health care world,” Hendricks said.

Moving to Columbia first then settling in London seven years ago, Elsy Kinery, RT(R), neuroradiology account manager for medical device group Penumbra, found that shifting over to a vendor role when she moved out of the U.S. was a more practical solution internationally than transitioning her CT and IR clinical skills to a foreign system. Enhancing her flexibility while adapting professionally, Kinery said she was able to share her strong clinical knowledge with international practices to create the safest, most innovative solutions while developing her own communication and management skills.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"51714","attributes":{"alt":"Radiologic Technologist Jobs","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_2468406868227","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"6386","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 200px; width: 200px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©amasterphotographer/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Technologists Turned Industry Offer Distinct Value to Physicians
While both sides of the industry aim to help patients, often vendors struggle with how to get their product and information to the right decision makers within a practice in a timely manner while not interfering with urgent cases. Likewise, practices may have little time to prioritize investigating new products. By hiring experienced technologists, some who have already worked with the doctors in that region, an immediate trust is established,  Arellano said, who believes that the hardest hurdle in sales is getting the initial appointment with a potential client. “When doctors hear I worked in a lab and have a clinical background, they gravitate towards me,” Hendricks said. Credibility is established and mutually beneficial relationships are formed. “Staff knows they can fall back on me and radiologists do not have to make appointments,” B. Braun’s Drew said, who still works with many of his former hospital colleagues across the country.

Developing strong relationships built on a similar trust shared clinically, technologists working for vendors often keep the physicians’ needs at the very forefront of their business by providing access to new products and training, assisting in emergent cases, and acting as a product expert to field issues along the way. With the intuitive ability to navigate how and when to help, there are far fewer unnecessary disruptions and in critical cases, physicians in turn have someone who is comfortable under pressure and able to steer the safest practices.

Industry Careers Not for Everyone
Yet, even the most knowledgeable technologist may not thrive on the industry side. “The sales world is competitive and you must believe in your product,” Arrellano said. Unlike technologist shift work that offers consistency and familiarity working with the same team during the same hours, the industry side often involves some level of travel, changing schedules, and self-direction. A willingness to train extensively on new products as well as adapting to unfamiliar teams in the field is a must and while all agree that the financial benefits are strong compared to clinical work, there is also more financial volatility in some roles where compensation is tied directly to sales goals.

“You also must be persistent and not give up easily,” Kinery said, who will always keep the possibility open of returning to clinical work. “You must not be afraid of change and willing to respect and accept different ways of practicing,” she said. Being challenged is much more common on the industry side and you are much more likely to encounter practices that might not maintain the clinical standards you would expect.

Forward Thinking Hospitals Can Keep Technologists Longer
Drew and Hendricks agree that forward thinking practices and organizations open to innovation and research, and encouraging of self-motivated staff are those most likely to retain experienced staff. While Drew feels it is difficult for hospitals to compete with the salary differences, he said practices that provide techs who shine the clinical opportunities to make full use of their skills, can create the most satisfied, empowered technologists. Merit’s Hendricks agreed that versatility in the everyday workload along with being open to new ideas are two tangible improvements that can make clinical environments more attractive. Offering external ways for technologists to share their expertise whether on a steering committee, organization conference, or task force can bring value to both technologist and organization.

Ultimately, all agree that they keep their credentials active and would always consider a return to the clinical environment.  Working internally offers real time, direct patient contact, and immediate outcomes along with strong accessibility to physicians as a member of a team. Such ability to affect patient care is a top priority for many technologists. Many vendor roles shift the focus from patient to product and technologists must be able to understand that they are providing better care more indirectly through better technology that either enhances workflow and/or outcome.

“Doctors see me as part of the solution instead of just a transaction. Because of that, I am still able to provide and care for patients,” Arellano said.