Setting Yourself Up for Success in Your Clinical Rotations

Congratulations! You have been accepted to Radiologic Technologist school and you have found yourself at your first clinical rotation! So, what now? I am sure you have heard all the horror stories, from techs treating students with disrespect, all the way to the techs making micro adjustments to the student’s positioning and techniques.  We have all been there and it is almost considered a “Rite of passage”. Many students have complained about these issues only to be told that they must “Pay their dues”.  Unfortunately, this is true.  Well, at least half true.  We must remember that as students, we are guests in their house.  This means that we must take the good with the bad.

If we want to guarantee that we have a successful clinical rotation, we must change our perception of the scenario.  Let’s say to ourselves “There are no problems, only opportunities”, and every type of tech, good or bad, provides a learning opportunity.  Learning how to deal with different personalities is paramount to being a successful health care provider and rad tech. Whether you recognize it or not, this starts as soon as you become a radiology tech student.  You will undoubtedly encounter the following types of rad techs listed below.  Now, I can’t tell you how to make them stop treating you poorly, but I can help you learn to navigate around these well-known personalities, helping you get the most out of each clinical rotation.  Here we go.

Types of Techs:

The Guru

This tech has seen it all and is happy to take an eager-to-learn student under his/her wing.  They are full of knowledge and experience and everyone seems to gravitate towards them when there is an issue of any kind.  This tech may or may not be in a leadership role.  Even if they are not, they are the go-to person when there is a crisis, and every tech in the department knows who this tech is.

Approach: This tech is usually easy going and loves their job.  They aren’t hard to approach, and if you show initiative and willingness to learn, you have the potential to learn a lot from this person.  Locate them as quickly as possible, attach yourself to their hip and take lots of notes.  Be sure to study and practice what this tech teaches you.  They are taking the time to pass on quality information that took years to collect, show them your appreciation by having it memorized for the next day.

The Know-It-All

This tech thinks they know everything and they aren’t afraid tell you all about it.  When the guru is having a teaching moment, the know-it-all won’t hesitate to chime in with their two cents and a “me too” story to go with it. They always seem to have an opinion on everyone else’s images and positioning. Their self-confidence almost always exceeds their ability.  This tech is usually easy to spot.

Approach: Treat this tech like grandpa’s “uphill both ways” story time.  Learn to filter the gobbledygook and pick out the truths as they apply to you.  Their stories may sound grandiose, but there could be something useful buried in there.  Just don’t waste all your time at clinicals with this tech because the knowledge-to-time ratio just isn’t worth it.

The Disgruntled Tech

Every department has at least one of these techs.  The tech that hates their job and they aren’t happy until everyone else hates their job too.  Sometimes they come in the form of a tech who has been in the field for 20 years or even 40 years or more  and it is time for them to retire and they want to take down as many co-workers with them as possible. Sometimes they are the tech that just chose the wrong career field and have too much time and money invested to change.  Either way, avoid this tech if possible. 

Approach: This tech is grumpy as the day is long and it won’t be hard to steer clear of them as they usually want to work alone anyway.  These types of techs use the excuse of having had bad experiences with students in the past in order to avoid having to work with them. Don’t waste your time with this type of tech.  You are just starting out in a new career with a ton of time and money invested and they will have you second guessing your decision to be a tech the entire time you are there. 

The Know-Nothing

This tech is easy to spot by their “I don’t know” answer to every question you have.  The proverbial “fake it till you make it” tech.  Their image quality and positioning is questionable at best and their repeat rate is through the roof. These techs barely passed radiology tech school let alone the registry and figured they would just learn everything on the job.  These types of techs slip through the cracks far more often than they should.  They can be hard to spot at first, but when you work with them it will become painfully clear.   

Approach: As quickly as I try to find the guru, I also seek out the know-nothing.  Simply put, the guru will teach you what to do, the know-nothing will teach what not to do.  Spend some time with them and watch closely.  It is a good test to see if you have been paying attention in class because you can pick out what they are doing wrong.  You will also likely see how to handle an issue when something does goes wrong, such as marker on the wrong side, shooting the wrong patient, or wrong exam. 

The Knowledge Hoarder

This tech is the diamond in the rough. Cracking through their tough outer shell can be very rewarding as it often provides a wealth of knowledge, tips, and tricks that even the guru doesn’t know.  It is well worth the trouble of befriending this tech, although your work will be cut out for you if you find out that the disgruntled tech is also a knowledge hoarder.  The younger knowledge hoarders tend to do it out of job security and fear that the students are there to take their job from them as soon as they graduate. They believe that if they are the only ones that can perform a certain fluoro exam or O.R. case, then they will always have a job. It is harder to get this knowledge from the younger, insecure techs than it is the older techs who just don’t care about teaching.

Approach: It is my experience that if you take the time to prove to them that you are serious about your education, there is the potential that they will open up to you like a book.  I find the best way is to stroke their ego a little bit.  Don’t brown nose them, but let them know you admire their level of knowledge and competency.  For example, if you just can’t get that perfect lateral knee, and everyone else is giving you a vague answer on what to do, just say to them “Wow Jim, out of all the techs here, your lateral knees are always perfect.  I have trouble telling if I am too medial or too lateral.  What’s your secret?”. Or something to that affect.  Let them know you recognize their superior ability, then ask a specific question.  Don’t say “Wow Jim, nice lateral knee, teach me everything you know”. Not going to happen. But if you can get them to teach you a little bit at a time and prove to them you really want to learn, they may just take you under their wing and mentor you.  This can pay off in spades.

The Gossiper

This tech’s only concern at work is to talk about other techs, mostly in a negative manner.  I only bring this up because they usually have burned their bridges with the “good” techs and will take every opportunity to bend your ear and gossip or complain about work and the other techs.  They are toxic and you should avoid them at all costs.  They will teach you next to nothing and you don’t need their negativity while trying to get through clinicals.  You also don’t want to be associated with this person when it comes to applying for a job at that facility after you have graduated.

Approach: Stay neutral when they try to draw you into their conversation.  If they are complaining to you about something or someone, don’t add fuel to the fire. They will eventually stop trying to pull you into their “mean girls” sessions.  The last thing you want is to engage with them in their gossip and have other techs find out that a student is talking trash about them.  These types of techs generally do not provide much educational value.  Identify them and move on.

The Delegator

This tech uses the students as slave labor and rarely teaches anything above and beyond what it takes to get the current exam done.  They are very “hands off” when it comes to “teaching” and will make the student do everything possible so they don’t have to lift a finger.  Beware of this tech if you are looking to learn how to perform an exam.  They can seem like they are showing an interest in your education only for you to discover you are doing all the work and they have taught you nothing.  However, if you are looking to practice an exam that you are familiar with, then see below.

Approach: Use this tech to practice the exams you already know or have comped.  This will give you the opportunity to perform an exam without having to worry about the following type of tech intervening every 5 seconds when you stop to think about something.  This can be very beneficial when you are a senior and close to, or in your last clinical rotation as you should be feeling more comfortable performing exams on your own by this point.  When word travels around the department and back to management that you can perform exams independently, you suddenly jump higher on the list of new grads they are likely to hire. 

The Micromanager

This tech will correct everything you do no matter how close to textbook you do it.  They are the ones who will adjust your positioning that extra millimeter and turn the kVp up from 60 to 61 before you shoot your image.  Nothing is ever good enough to this tech when it comes to students, and they can act a lot like the know-it-all

Approach: Use this tech to perfect exams that you are already comfortable doing with the delegator.  Your goal is to get the positioning or technique so perfect that when they “correct” you, it actually makes the positioning and/or EI numbers worse.  This is the student’s “Zen” moment, and only when this happens will they back off and second guess themselves when they try to intervene in your next exam.  You may celebrate your victory, but you may only celebrate internally while keeping your best poker face.  Internal celebrations may include, but are not limited to confetti, fireworks, and jazz hands.  

This is not a complete list of the types of techs that you may encounter at clinicals, but these types are in almost every department.  Do your best to go with the flow.  Remember, you are the student, and they are the tech.  Under no circumstance should you try to point out a mistake a tech has made, no matter how correct you know you are.  This never ends well for the student. You will not impress anyone and they will quickly remind you that they have already passed the registry while you have not.  No tech likes to be critiqued by a student, even if the student is 100% correct, and the last thing you want is to be removed from a clinical site for simple lapse of judgement. Do your best to make as many friends in the department as possible and work hard.  It is easy to get lazy when you have performed your 25th chest x-ray of the day, but when that requisition paper prints, be the first one up to grab it.  Techs like teaching students who show initiative.  Whether you realize it or not, management is always asking about how students are doing. They want to know which ones are hard workers and which students the techs think would be the best fit for the department.  You would be surprised to know how much your chances of getting hired depend on these techs.  Remember, clinicals truly are one long job interview and it should be treated as such.  Put your best foot forward and show them what you can do!


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