August 18, 2014
For Dr. Shelley Pearson, Blinn College Radiologic Technology director, the key to her students’ success on the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists national certification exam is simple – Blinn faculty don’t teach to the test, they teach beyond the test.
It’s not enough for program graduates to merely be able to pass the certification exam; instead, students are trained to pass the test and quickly succeed in their new career.
That strategy has now worked for a quarter century. During that span, which includes more than 300 students, only one has failed to pass the exam, and every student since 1992 has passed. In fact, only two students in the history of the program have failed to pass the test on their first attempt.
“That’s incredible pressure, I don’t mind telling you,” Pearson said. “I know a lot of program directors and faculty are proud of their 90 percent pass rate. That’s an exciting number for them, and I’m saying, ‘What are you doing with the other 10 percent?’
“It’s a high goal to maintain, but we’re very much known for it in the radiology world.”
Fourteen radiologic technology students graduated from the program and passed their certification exams this Spring, qualifying them for careers as entry-level radiographers. As technologists or radiographers, they will be responsible for administering low levels of ionizing radiation to patients. Starting salaries range from $35,000 to $38,000, with opportunities for increased pay as general x-ray technologists move into specialties such as CT and MRI.
“The Blinn name carries a lot of weight, even when students go out of our service area,” Pearson said. “I had a former student apply at Memorial Herman in Houston, which had employed a graduate of ours a while ago, and he was hired over 40 or 50 other applicants. Employers know what being a graduate of this program means.”
Pearson gives much of the credit to the program’s outstanding faculty and their dedication to student success. Tracy DeFrancesco, a 2007 program graduate, agrees.
“The program is tougher, the standards are higher and it shows,” she said. “That’s not to say the techs coming out of other programs are bad in any way, but Blinn graduates are more prepared for what the real world has to offer.”
In the two-year program, students learn patient care and safety, anatomy and physiology, image production, equipment operation, radiation protection and radiographic procedures. Pearson said the curriculum consists of three general areas – patient care skills, anatomy and technology.
“We know the curriculum is there so they can pass the test,” she said. “We focus on preparing them for a career and giving them the skills to be successful in the community, not just the basic math problems to get the license.”
Students take cumulative exams that include all the information they have learned throughout their tenure in the program. That cumulative testing prepares students for the all-inclusive certification exam.
“We’re not waiting until the end to test students on all the information we’ve covered. We’re doing that in every test we take,” Pearson said.
Each year, Blinn accepts 16-23 radiologic technology students. Prior to admission, each candidate must complete RADR 1309: Introduction to Radiography and Patient Care, an open-enrollment, three-credit hour course that provides an overview of radiography. The course allows students to judge whether it’s a career they may be interested in, and if students choose to pursue another profession, the credits count toward their science elective.
Beginning in January, applicants can pick up an application packet. To be considered, students must have a 3.0 in their prerequisite classes, score at least a 70 on the Health Occupation Basic Entry Test, write an essay, conduct a hospital observation, begin a Hepatitis-B shot regimen and participate in an interview.
Once students enter the program, things begin moving quickly. By the second week, first-year students begin working in clinics two days a week. During the Summer semester, they will spend four days a week in clinics, and second-year students spend three days each week in clinics.
“We have incredible clinic sites,” Pearson said. “The techs our students work with during their clinicals are fully 50 percent of the program’s success. Most of them are Blinn graduates, so they know what the standards are and they care about the program.”
In addition to hospitals such as St. Joseph’s, The Med and Scott & White in Bryan/College Station, students learn at clinics in Caldwell, Brenham, La Grange and Bellville.
“You get that information in class and the next day you’re working with patients and using what you’ve learned,” Pearson said.
Approximately 50 percent of program graduates start working toward their bachelor’s degree within the next two years, and some students have transferred to medical and veterinary schools. Blinn has an agreement with Midwestern State University that creates a pathway for students to earn their bachelor’s degree online while transferring the credits they earned at Blinn.
Radiologic Technology is part of Blinn’s Division of Health Sciences, which also offers associate degree nursing, dental hygiene, emergency medical services, physical therapist assistant, fire science, therapeutics manufacturing, veterinary technology and vocational nursing programs designed to quickly train students for high-demand professions.