Whether performing diagnostic imaging exams or administering radiation therapy treatments, radiologic technologists (RTs) spend many of their working hours reaching, lifting, pushing, pulling, twisting, scanning or just plain hustling to keep up with their increasingly demanding workloads.
These rigorous physical demands can lead to injuries of the back, neck, shoulders, wrists and other body parts. But there are ways RTs can minimize their risks of workplace injury. "Better body mechanics should become a daily habit," says radiation therapist Dawn Fucillo, who required surgery after she suffered a back injury more than 10 years ago lifting radiation-therapy cassettes loaded with extra lead.
Fucillo, former president of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) and director of Samaritan Regional Cancer Center and Mario Pastega House in Corvallis, Oregon, and other experts offer tips on how RTs can avoid workplace injuries.
Learn the Risk Factors
The various specialties within radiologic technology pose different risks, says Joan Baker, an ergonomics expert for the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography for many years and a founding partner in Sound Ergonomics, a Kenmore, Washington-based consulting firm that develops ergonomics programs for sonographers.
For example, mammographers, who are expected to perform a mammogram every 10 or 15 minutes, often get shoulder and low-back injuries from raising their arms above their heads and repetitively twisting their trunks to position their patients' breasts around equipment.
Sonographers commonly suffer neck and shoulder injuries, because they must forcefully press a transducer onto their patients' bodies to produce good images. Sonographers also risk injury if they're not equipped with or don't use height-adjustable tables, or if they position monitors at an incorrect height or angle.
An ergonomics consultant or a facility's physical or occupational therapists can evaluate RT work areas, recommend the most effective equipment and train RTs on how to adjust their techniques to reduce their risk of injury.
Don't Cut Corners
Once RTs learn the proper techniques, they must take the time to put them into practice. Being in a hurry is "not a good excuse" for ignoring proper body mechanics, Fucillo says. Whenever possible, schedule difficult cases for when colleagues can help, she says. Take time to adjust tables and monitors.
And be creative. If your employer won't buy you a cushion to support your arm when performing ultrasounds, for example, use a pile of sheets or pillowcases. "The best way to address occupational injuries is with prevention, not fixing it once it has happened," Baker says.
If aches and pains do occur, respond promptly, says Cathy Parsons, chairman of the ASRT board of directors and administrative director of medical imaging at Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Tennessee. "This way, slight injuries can be addressed before they become more serious or debilitating," she explains.
Prioritize Occupational Health in Job Decisions
Along with the standard salary and benefits considerations, weigh a potential employer's commitment to occupational health. See how far apart patients are scheduled, which will indicate whether your body will have time to recover during the workday. Find out whether you'll be stuck in the same room doing the same task repetitively or rotated to different tasks, which is better for your body, Baker says. Does the employer have state-of-the-art equipment, or are you expected to produce phenomenal images on equipment barely capable of producing them? Are table heights adjustable? Do colleagues help one another?
But be careful how you present these questions, Baker says, lest the potential employer write you off as a future claimant. "Ask how many people in the department have been occupationally injured," she advises. "It tells you a whole lot if they say that's why they've got this job opening in the first place."
Get plenty of rest, stay in shape, and stretch before each shift to lessen your likelihood of injury. During the workday, RTs should roll their shoulders or stretch their backs against a corner in the wall, Baker says.
Most RTs are inspired to prevent injuries out of dedication to their patients, Parsons says. "We are here to help the patient first and foremost," she says. "If we become injured, our job suffers."