Feature | April 08, 2008 | Herman Oosterwijk

Map Out a PACS Career Path continued education and professional certifications.

Mapping out a career path as a PACS SA requires

PARCA candidates often wonder how their peers in this industry have fared and what some of the typical career tracks are. Ultimately, they want to know what the opportunities are and how to map out a strategy for attaining those goals. As a follow-up from our past article, “What is the PACS Career Track?”, we put theses questions to several healthcare imaging and IT professionals, who offered some enlightening responses.
Dan Knepper is a typical example. He started out as a radiology technician, switched to working for a vendor and after getting tired of corporate politics and travel, moved back to the provider side as a PACS administrator. Knepper now manages the PACS at UT Southwestern in Dallas, which serves a large campus with several institutions, including Parkland, St. Paul’s and Zale-Lipsy and several clinics with diverse PACS and IT systems.
“In my opinion, PACS SAs [system administrators] are the cream of the crop among IT resources. PACS is an area that requires substantial effort from a technical and workflow perspective. There is also a high level of interaction with the radiologists and referring physicians that use the system on a daily basis. The qualities required to become a successful PACS SA lend well to migrating into other areas of IT. We all know that it takes many systems to manage an imaging department. PACS SAs are open to a whole world of radiology informatics, including management of radiology information systems, voice recognition,
cardiovascular imaging and more,” he said.
Knepper feels that being a PACS SA was instrumental in his career path and in earning his current position.
“My current position involves managing the implementation and support for multiple clinical information systems,” indicated Knepper. “The knowledge that I gained as a PACS SA was instrumental in preparing me for my current role. PACS requires a huge focus on technical infrastructure, workflows, customer support and policies and procedures. The development of these within the IT environment is critical to almost any clinical information system. Successes in the area of PACS provide the confidence of upper management to expand my role to managing other systems, such as laboratory and pharmacy.”
With an increasing number of PACS administrators, how do you stand out from the rest? Knepper suggests getting a PACS SA Certification. “Just recently I received a resume from a candidate that held a PACS SA Certification. This certainly made the candidate stand out. When a candidate has a certification and has attended formal training it indicates that they have a passion for learning and an interest in what they do.”
David Barrera, who also worked for a vendor and went back to the provider side to manage the PACS systems for the HCA hospitals in the DFW metroplex, commented, “Being in the PACS industry for many years, I find that PACS SAs are highly sought after by many of the PACS vendors. One of many reasons is that SAs have a unique blend of the technical, clinical and people skills much required in a position such as an application specialist. In addition, for those SAs who want to venture out into the sales arena, the opportunity certainly exists.
“My position as the Division PACS Manager for HCA North Texas Market would not have been possible without being a former PACS SA,” added Barrera. “You need to have a total understanding of configuration, architecture and other technical components, and being the SA provided that knowledge base.”
But what are the qualifications of potential SA candidates? According to Barrera, “It is necessary to have an understanding of DICOM, networking, workflow as well as clinical skills to enhance your SA position. Our PACS community must establish a standard on what minimal skills are required and prepare potential SAs before they undertake a position such as this.”
To run a tight ship at Texas Childrens in Houston, Melissa Blado, PACS manager at the facility, typically has had five to seven PACS SAs who report to her over the past several years, noting that they support the users 24/7 on-site. They went through a major migration effort not too long ago, which was rather dramatic and actually published at several conferences about their so-called “PACS divorce.”
“Possible career growth opportunities for PACS SAs may include a path in information technology support of imaging management,” suggested Blado, “as well as healthcare administration, to include not just radiology but other ologies, because of knowledge of radiology workflow and the workflow of other ologies.”
According to Blado, since on-going training and certifications are very common in the technology and healthcare industries, they help individuals stay competitive in the field. “At the very least, [training and certifications] keep them up-to-date with what knowledge base is needed to perform the job and provide the recognition for one’s competence and knowledge,” Blado noted. “Certification in PACS is still in its early stages, but it seems like it will grow in significant importance in the technology and healthcare industries.”
The SA career path is full of opportunities as voiced by these experts. Yet, it is critical to continuously educate yourself and pursue certifications to assist in growing in the imaging and IT profession.

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