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Evolving Education

By Tracy Glentz, EdD, MS, CNMT

How much do you know about what college and university professors do to help prepare your radiological technologist students? Graduating from a diagnostic imaging profession program is a significant accomplishment in which both educators and clinicians play a key role. The following is an excerpt of what educators at colleges and universities do to prepare students and help mold them into the quality technologists they strive to become.

Accreditation Mandates
Much like hospitals, educational programs, as well as entire colleges and universities, are accredited. Accreditation sets standards for educators to incorporate into their curricula to ensure the quality of students’ education. Accreditation is a multistep process designed to authorize the quality of an educational program.1 According to the Council of Higher Education Accreditation, accreditation indicates to prospective employers that an educational program has met widely accepted educational standards, especially since a particular field of study may require graduation from an accredited program or institution.2 Accreditation also involves a thorough self-evaluation conducted by the educational program, followed by an in-depth assessment of the program’s evaluation, then an on-site inspection conducted by peer specialists from the designated profession.1 This stamp of quality education is an important step in creating quality diagnostic imaging technologists.

I work at a university where three diagnostic imaging programs are housed: radiography, nuclear medicine technology, and diagnostic medical sonography. The corresponding accrediting agencies are the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) for radiography programs, the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT) for nuclear medicine technology, and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) for diagnostic medical sonography. Each accrediting agency has its own standards that must be accomplished prior to a student’s completion of a diagnostic imaging educational program.

For example, JRCERT has six mandatory standards for a radiography program and incorporates a 55-page document that must be followed to meet educational excellence. The six JRCERT standards include the following:

• Standard 1: Accountability, Fair Practices, and Public Information;
• Standard 2: Institutional Commitment and Resources;
• Standard 3: Faculty and Staff Requirements;
• Standard 4: Curriculum and Academic Practices;
• Standard 5: Health and Safety; and
• Standard 6: Programmatic Effectiveness and Assessment.3

Standards differ among educational programs, even within the same accrediting agency. JRCERT has differing accreditation standards for radiation therapy, MR, and medical dosimetry. It is the program faculty who must abide by the standards, to ensure and maintain the quality of the program. JRCNMT has standards that include diagnostic CT content, and CAAHEP has standards for advanced cardiovascular sonography, cardiovascular technology, and exercise physiology, among others.

Who Are Your Educators?
Educators within diagnostic imaging programs must meet job qualifications beyond those set by the college or university where they desire to work. Accreditation plays a key role in the process by ensuring educators meet the academic and professional qualifications appropriate for their assigned positions.

Educators within diagnostic imaging programs are qualified professionals who are skilled in curriculum design and program evaluation. JRCERT requires program directors in radiography to, at minimum, have a master’s degree, three years of clinical experience in their professional discipline, two years of experience as an instructor, and a current American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certification in radiography before taking on the role of program coordinator.3 Likewise, nuclear medicine program directors must also hold a master’s degree and certification and have a minimum of four years of postcertification experience.1 Diagnostic medical sonography program directors must possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and appropriate credentials and have a minimum of two years of professional clinical experience.4

Multidisciplinary Education
Beyond being curriculum experts and assessment specialists, diagnostic imaging educators must also include specialized criteria in their already packed curricula. It’s no surprise that radiation physics and general physics are components of diagnostic imaging curricula, but there is much more that educators must do to prepare students. Some of the special curriculum additions include online learning components, service learning opportunities, and interprofessional education.

Online learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, has become increasingly common in higher education. There is a growing acceptance of online learning mechanisms in higher education, with 74% of faculty and administrators stating that digital materials provide students with greater flexibility.5 Even in-person courses now have online components through college or university learning management systems that educators must oversee and continuously update. In addition, online courses and distance education programs are expected to comply with accreditation standards, just as traditional programs comply.6

Service learning and interprofessional education are elements added to the already tight curricula within diagnostic imaging professions. JRCERT encourages innovative teaching approaches such as distance education, varied curricular tracks, service learning, and interprofessional development.3 JRCNMT outlines criteria for the program to provide opportunities for professional and personal qualities and values, including participating as an effective member of an interprofessional health care team.1 The CAAHEP outlines interprofessional communication and education as a demonstrated knowledge requirement for compliance with the roles and responsibilities of working in the health care profession.4 These additional learning opportunities are what faculty must incorporate into already full curricula. But they do it to create more well-rounded diagnostic imaging professionals that can learn and adapt to the clinical setting. It all comes back to quality, and faculty are serious about their role as diagnostic imaging educators.

It is the goal of every diagnostic imaging program faculty member to prepare students in their chosen profession. All educators are responsible for student learning, educational quality, and program effectiveness. All facets of an educator’s career are based on providing the right mix of educational opportunities and student support, while abiding by accreditation mandates. Based on student learning outcomes, assessments and improvements made to the program, provided by faculty, are key to ensuring successful educational experiences for our future diagnostic imaging professionals.

— Tracy Glentz, EdD, MS, CNMT, is a professor of interprofessional CORE curriculum in the department of health administration and health information at the Ferris State University College of Health Professions in Big Rapids, Michigan. She can be reached at TracyGlentz@ferris.edu.

1. Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology. Accreditation standards for nuclear medicine technologist education. https://www.jrcnmt.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Standards_May2021_cCT.pdf. Published 2022.

2. About CHEA. Council of Higher Education Accreditation website. https://www.chea.org/about-chea

3. Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. Standards for an accredited educational program in radiography. https://www.jrcert.org/wp-content/uploads/Documents/Resources/Standards-PDFs/2021-Radiography-Standards.pdf. Published 2021.

4. Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Standards and guidelines for accreditation of educational programs in diagnostic medical sonography. https://assets.website-files.com/5f466098572bfe97f28d59df/5f8f36aaaf14c1a7c1a0b825 Standards-DMS.pdf. Published 2022.

5. Turning point for digital curricula: educational resources in U.S. higher education, 2022. Bay View Analytics website. https://www.bayviewanalytics.com/index.html. Published 2022.

6. Aaron L. Distance education standards. https://www.jrcert.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/RADT15_Vol87_No1_JRCERT_Update.pdf. Published 2015.