Career Counseling

Welcome to Career Counseling. This Health Imaging & IT feature offers readers a chance to ask career counselors, recruiters and human resources managers for their advice and perspectives on personal and workplace issues, such as professional advancement, job satisfaction, and training and education.

This month, we offer the case of a biomedical technician (BMET) in a 350-bed hospital with five years experience in patient monitor and life support systems. With a four-year degree in clinical engineering in hand, what is the best course for this BMET to take to become a PACS administrator.

Nancy Johnson, Vice President, OnStaff Healthcare

Excellent career choice! PACS administrators are in high demand. The aging of baby boomers and continuous technological advances have created a demand for PACS administrators that is not going away any time soon. Having experience in the healthcare industry and training in the biomedical, radiology, or information systems (IS) areas are the right steps toward becoming a PACS administrator with a potential 50 to 100 percent salary increase from your current position.

I would begin by inquiring how to make the career transition in the hospital where you are currently employed. Find out if there is PACS in place and the type of system it is. Then, do your homework. Research various local programs for vendor-specific, as well as vendor-neutral, training. Discuss your career aspirations with the IS or RT director overseeing the system. Explore the possibility of your hospital employer sponsoring you in a PACS administrator training program. In most cases, training will be vendor-specific to support the hospital's current system, because vendors often include training as a part of their agreement with healthcare facilities.

However, it may work to your advantage to attend a vendor-neutral PACS administrator curriculum, as this training will give you a broad overview of the various systems on the market. Vendor-neutral training programs will increase your marketability, as your knowledge will not be limited to one system. Hospitals often pay the $6,500 tuition for the week-long course for qualified candidates. Even if the hospital does not have a PACS, I would still discuss your career interests with the hospital's IS and/or RT director(s) to request tuition sponsoring. The hospital may consider implementing a PACS in the near future and may find your training valuable to their efforts. In any event, it never hurts to ask.

Finally, on-the-job training may be available with your current or potential employers. Look around for options. Share your goals with your current employer. Survey the various training programs. Talk to the training program's staff and graduates.

Get started today on making your career dreams a reality. Good luck!

Patrick Milostan, Chief Technology Officer, CareTech Solutions

The PACS administrator must ensure that the life cycle of a radiology study flows smoothly from order creation through report completion. The system administrator is counted on to quickly identify and correct issues that may occur during study and image processing. Due to the newness of this technology, only a small population of resources exists with all the skills necessary to be an expert PACS administrator.

Given the BMET's background, enhancing the skills for this role can probably best be done through on-the-job experience within the radiology department. Understanding how the various staff roles fit together is critical in order to ensure that the PACS is configured and utilized properly. Previous experience in a hospital environment will be beneficial in understanding how radiology processes are related to a hospital's admitting, registration, ordering, billing, and results reporting functions.

Acquiring additional technical skills can be done by participating actively in system set-up, or researching the configuration of the system with a focus on understanding what infrastructure components are required to support your PACS system. Understanding what makes the system work will be valuable when tracking down issues that deal with data integrity, interfaces, workstation configuration, and system connectivity. This will be helpful when the time comes to modify or add new devices to the system. 

Good communication skills also are necessary in order to coordinate training and support for users of the system.

In addition, most vendors offer system administration training for the installation and ongoing support of the system, with both clinical workflow and operational support topics covered. This training will offer valuable insights related to your specific PACS implementation.

A good way to get started in understanding the day-to-day duties of a PACS administrator is to visit an institution that has implemented PACS. Meeting with someone who is supporting PACS will enable you to understand how PACS works and what it takes to support it.