Casey Lewis had always wanted to be a sonographer. Two things stood in her way: physics and a rarely offered, highly valued ultrasound traineeship. Already a qualified radiographer with I-MED Radiology Network, she scoped the professional-development opportunities provided by her employer and identified 45 stepping stones to achieving her ultimate, hotly contested goal.
“My uncle services X-ray machines, which is how I thought of medical imaging as a career in the first place,” says Lewis. “I always liked the idea of doing medical imaging that wasn’t only about sick patients; obstetric scanning really interested me because it brings joy into our work life”. But when Lewis began her studies in Queensland, ultrasound was offered only as a postgraduate degree, so she started her imaging career in radiography, working mostly with X-ray and computed tomography technology, and waited for an ultrasound opportunity.
Although you mightn’t describe ultrasound as a sonographer-eat-sonographer arena, Ben Brock, regional manager for the South East Queensland region of ten I-MED clinics says he receives “an application every week” from a would-be sonographer in search of a training position. A traineeship is prerequisite to even applying for the two-year graduate diploma in Medical Ultrasound at Queensland University of Technology. Lewis knew competition for any training position would be fierce from both within I-MED and without.
I-MED runs more than 200 clinics around Australia. A significant GE customer for equipment such as the GE Logiq 9 Ultrasound System, it is also committed to developing and retaining its highly skilled staff, and adds to its equipment package the licenses for employees to access GE’s TiP-Ed Online portal. As a radiographer Lewis was encouraged to tap into the constantly updated stream of industry-accredited courses available on TiP-Ed, to achieve requirements for Continual Professional Development (CPD).
She found that where there were some 40 courses designed to update and extend the skills of radiographers, there were also 45 courses aimed at practicing sonographers.
“I did the physics ones first,” says Lewis, who says, “My brain doesn’t like physics very much, and I found it was a great way to introduce me to it, and get me familiar with all the physics terms.” Over the next three to four months, after work and during quiet times at the clinics she was based in, Lewis applied herself to every one of the 45 hour-long, tested, courses.
“I definitely enjoy having someone tell me the information … TiP-Ed videos are a lot more engaging than reading.” Casey Lewis, sonographer
Time came for the next offering of traineeships at I-MED, and Lewis faced the interview panel of four. She says, “The management team had heavily promoted the TiP-Ed courses to staff, and they were pretty impressed that I took on board something that was promoted in our company for the radiography industry and that I’d used it to my advantage for ultrasound as well.”
“It was impressive!” says Brock, who was on the hiring panel. “It separated Casey from the pack.” He says that in all the hiring and interviewing for positions that he does, it’s not common for applicants to show such initiative before they secure the role on offer. “It’s human nature that generally people wait for the definite opportunity before they commit that sort of time. It wasn’t the only reason Casey got the job, but it was certainly a stand-out part of the interview.”
Brock says Lewis had already distinguished herself in her work as a radiographer for I-MED: “We knew she had the character and the capability to be a good, strong sonographer, but there were other internal applicants in a similar situation. With Casey, we could see she was committed to going into that field. She’d spent however many hours in preparation without knowing whether there would be a traineeship or not.”
Although many of the 45 courses were more advanced than Lewis’s then knowledge of ultrasound, she says they were such interesting applications that she was compelled to continue. An unexpected outcome was that TiP-Ed Online showed her how broad and exciting her chosen field could be. Many of the ultrasound courses, designed as continuous professional development for sonographers, “weren’t the standard scans”, says Lewis. “There were different applications I didn’t even know ultrasound was used for, and there were some foetal-medicine courses that were really interesting.”
“Courses are expensive to put together. As a value-add, it’s very beneficial that GE offers an educational package such as TiP-Ed Online, that we can use in our business, rather than us having to create and host our own.” Ben Brock, I-MED Radiology Network
Lewis achieved her qualification as a sonographer in December 2016, and has been working as a sonographer at I-MED for the past seven months. “I did have a bit of leave for a honeymoon, so take six weeks off that,” she says with precision.
It’s as if she doesn’t want to miscalculate a moment of the time she’s had so far in her new role: “I’m so glad I finally got the job I always wanted. I really enjoy all the obstetric scanning with the mothers to be. It’s very exciting,” she says, nominating women’s medical imaging as a specific area of interest for her future development. She says it’s been nice to have a break from study, “but TiP-Ed is definitely a tool I would go back to in future”.
In the interim, Lewis’s initiative in completing the suite of development courses for ultrasound practitioners has become legend in the I-MED Radiology Network. At the recent annual I-MED-run medical-imaging conference in Brisbane, Donna Stibbard, education leader for GE Healthcare in Australia and New Zealand was talking to Chris Lewis (no relation), another of the I-MED management team who had interviewed Casey Lewis for the sonography traineeship. “Chris was so excited to tell me what Casey had done,” says Stibbard. “It’s the best story of a company providing something that they hope people will use and then somebody showing them the full potential of it.”