Winona Daily News Campus Connection
Sunday, January 16, 2022
X-ray Vision: MSC Southeast Radiography instructor Alex Howell sees great potential for his students
According to Alex Howell, an instructor at Minnesota State College Southeast, being an x-ray tech is more than taking pictures of broken bones.
"You can go into CT, MRI, or a cardiac cath lab and work in surgery centers, trauma centers, orthopedics, or hospitals. Radiography pays very well, and what most people don't realize is that you don't need to go to school for four years become a radiologic technologist," he explained. "Having a bachelor's degree isn't necessary to launch a high-paying, sustainable career."
Alex graduated from the radiography program at Western Technical College in La Crosse in 2003 and has worked in the field ever since. When a new radiography program was established at MSC Southeast in 2009, he started tutoring at the college in the summer, then was asked to teach a summer class.
"I fell in love with the teaching aspect of radiography," he said. "But I knew I needed a bachelor's degree if I ever wanted to teach full time."
Alex graduated from Winona State University with a degree in Healthcare Leadership and Administration in 2016 and a master's in Educational Leadership in 2019. He is currently working on an Ed.D. in Education Leadership from Minnesota State University Moorhead.
"The older I get, the more I love to learn!" Alex said. "I want to keep learning additional ways to better my students and better myself. The more I learn, the better the students' outcomes will be."
MSC Southeast's radiography program draws students from all different walks of life. "It's important that they like a fast-paced environment, like science, and want to work in hands-on profession. We get highly motivated, driven students who want to give back and help people," said Alex.
Ultrasound technician comes back to college for x-ray degree
Student Chelsa Glass accepted a position at Gundersen St. Elizabeth's in Wabasha, Minnesota in February of 2020 with the expectation that she would go back to college and obtain a radiography degree.
Since Gundersen St. Elizabeth's is a small rural hospital and clinic, all employees of the radiology team are multi-modality technologists and must be able to do x-ray, CT, ultrasound, bone density and mammography.
Although Chelsa had an associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography from Chippewa Valley Technical College and was working ultrasound, she needed to qualify as a radiologic technologist.
"Even though I had been working in a radiology department for more than 15 years, there was so much I didn't know," said Chelsa. "There is a big responsibility that comes with being an x-ray tech that I didn't realize, including patient safety, choosing proper technique, and obtaining a high-quality diagnostic image to aid in a patient's diagnosis."
At Minnesota State College Southeast, radiography students start in the fall and attend for five semesters - two years including summer session. They are in in class for a full semester of learning, then go into clinical rotations for 12 weeks at a time.
"Unlike many programs, we run our clinicals so you are at one location for the entire clinical rotation. You really become part of the department and get to know the team. Our students don't have to move from place to place every few weeks," said Alex.
Salary, career prospects are bright
An associate degree from MSC Southeast will prepare graduates to pass the boards and begin a career at a very good salary.
According to salary.com, the average radiologic technologist salary in Minnesota is $63,601, but the range typically falls between $57,901 and $70,101. (Salary ranges can vary widely depending on the location and other factors, including education, certifications, and additional skills.)
For students who want to earn a four-year degree, MSC Southeast has developed a 2 + 2 degree with Winona State University. Students can enroll in WSU's Healthcare Leadership & Administration program when they start at MSC Southeast and begin university classes in their last semester of radiography.
Alex pointed out that, "In four years you can earn an associate degree, begin a career, and graduate with a bachelor's degree. There are no hoops to jump through!"
Alex said that the radiography program at MSC Southeast is intense and demanding. "There is a lot of commitment required. You have to be dedicated to learning. The icing on the cake is that once you become board certified, as an x-ray tech you can live and work anywhere."
"This program has fully prepared me to be a great radiographer," Chelsa said. "It takes a lot of effort on the student's behalf; lots of time studying, but it's all worth it in the end. Even in today's world with all the challenges in healthcare, working in this environment is much more rewarding than you could ever imagine."
Top photo: Alex Howell and student look at an x-ray together.
Lower photo: Instructor Alex Howell works with student Chelsa Glass to position a patient for having an x-ray taken.