Career Development Roundtable: The imaging informatics glass ceiling

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The uncertainty was palpable at this year’s SCAR Career Development Roundtable in Austin, Texas, today. Just what is the career path of a PACS administrator or information informatics professional? None within the group in attendance – comprised largely of PACS administrators with a sprinkling of IT folks, imaging directors, educators and consultants – had a clear answer to the question.
   
Based on a raising of hands, many attendees had a radiology technologist background, with a few having taken courses in IT systems, and even fewer having formal training in project and process management (both important, but very different things). Also, there was an MBA here or there. Based on the demographics of the group, a basic picture could be drawn about how one becomes a PACS administrator. But again, where to do from there? One attendee stated that he could not think of a single CIO that had previously been a PACS admin. Also, attendees seemed to be split as to whether it is better to work under a radiology umbrella or within an IT department.
   
One woman in attendance claimed that she felt that her career path was going “nowhere right now” and opined that a PACS administrator, while staying at the same job at the same facility, could take it upon themselves to expand the scope of their work by doing internal marketing to sell different areas of a hospital (such as cardiology) on using the system.
   
Otherwise, because of the culture of many healthcare organizations such as big hospitals, having influence and being promoted can be difficult. Many hospitals seem to prefer hiring expensive consultants to come in to tell them how to reorganize and improve their operations rather than listening to people inside, a few in the group suggested. Obviously, this sort of thing is a cause of much frustration. It might be more beneficial to leave for a better position at another hospital with the hopes of one day coming back to your previous employer at a position with more opportunity, others said.
   
One attendee put forward the notion that “enlightened management” that is aware of the benefits of cultivating in-house talent and resources can alleviate the problematic limits on opportunities to rise within healthcare organization.
   
A number of current trends in healthcare in general also are complicating the career paths of PACS admins. One trend is the move towards data sharing, electronic health records, and RHIOs. In the face of these changes, imaging informatics professionals would do well to have a broad skill set, which of course in most cases they certainly do, one attendee stated. And certainly, it was suggested, the branching out of PACS beyond radiology and across enterprises could possibly help administrators who are looking for new opportunities.
   
In the end, it seems that PACS administrators will have to wait and see what happens. Don’t burn bridges and keep in touch with people in the small community of hospital IT and radiology and with any luck something great will come your way.