Karina Simonn dreamed of becoming an ultrasound technician until she started the radiography program as a prerequisite at Santa Fe College. She fell in love with bones and how they look using imaging technology.
Simonn, who is now a radiographer at UF Health Shands Hospital, said the radiography program gradually grew on her because of the rewarding relationships formed with patients that radiologists don’t get the opportunity to make.
Santa Fe provides one of 32 accredited radiography programs in the state of Florida, said Sharon Whitcraft, the director of medical imaging programs at Santa Fe. The college held an open house Friday to recruit students for the program and educate them on the subject.
“We need to get more students involved and raise awareness, which is something this open house definitely helps with,” said Simonn, who graduated from Santa Fe’s radiography program in 2013. “We need to raise awareness that this in fact is a degree. Radiology isn’t the only path.”
In order to be a radiographer, a student has to be able to successfully capture images of the bones and anatomy for radiologists and have strong interpersonal skills, Whitcraft said. It requires a certain type of enthusiasm.
At Santa Fe, there are prerequisites like anatomy and physiology and a humanities course in order to apply for the radiography program, and students graduate with an Associate of Science degree.
“The requirements for the program are all based on points and academic performance,” Whitcraft said. “It’s a very popular program at Santa Fe. Typically, I get about 140 applicants for only 28 available seats, so it’s very difficult to get accepted.”
The program is so competitive because it ranks among the most successful in the nation.
An advisory committee with representatives from local hospitals and clinics across North Florida meets at Santa Fe twice a year to evaluate the need for radiographers and other medical positions, Whitcraft said.
The committee anticipates the growth of its respective organizations and addresses community needs for radiographers, which is always present, she said.
“We started doing the open house three years ago, and a huge reason for it is because we have to recruit for the profession of radiography, not just the program,” said Michael Fugate, the radiography program director. “We used to just be X-ray technicians, but now it’s evolved into a more formal education with more highly skilled individuals. We are radiographers.”
He said it’s all nomenclature, and the terms have simply evolved because of the increasing importance and education that comes with being a radiographer.
Summer Nichols, a junior in the radiography department, said a lot of people don’t know what it is because they get it confused with radiology, which is one of the main reasons for spreading awareness of radiography.
“We are like the backbone of radiology,” Nichols said. “We do the hard work. We do the dirty work. Radiologists read the X-rays, but we have to deal with patients, know how to take X-rays and know all of the anatomy.”
Radiography and radiology sound the same, Simonn said, but that’s really the only similarity. She said radiographers get paid much less than radiologists, but it’s worth it.
Paul Whitlow, an open house attendee, said the pay in Florida for radiographers is about $18 to $20 per hour, which is lower than the national average. But, there are so many different paths students can take to engage in more opportunities.
Like Simonn, Whitlow said many students don’t mind the pay gap because the program does not require as much schooling and leads to lasting relationships with patients, which radiologists don’t get the chance to form.
“Often students can take jobs in other imaging specialties like CTs, MRIs, CAT scans or even go to PA school,” Whitcraft said. “We track the placement rates of students at Santa Fe, and we have an average rate of about 75 percent.”
The junior class president of the radiography program at Santa Fe, Maria Fernandez, said the enthusiasm for this year’s open house reflected a lot of the optimism for opportunities in the field of radiography. Everyone seems excited, she said.
“We want to raise more awareness for the program and radiography in general,” Fernandez said. “We want to exhibit that same awareness to everybody else across North Florida.”