The radiation science industry is at a crossroads. Job demand for radiologic technologists is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that job growth for radiological technologists will rise at a 9 percent rate between now and 2024. The outlook is even more positive for diagnostic medical sonographers as well as cardiovascular technologists, as this market is expected to grow at a 24 percent rate between now and 2024. Both of these figures represent larger than the average job growth, which is 7 percent, but the underlying conditions behind this growth show a need for managers and educators across the sector.
The Skills Gap Beneath the Occupational Growth Stats
Looking beyond the raw statistics, the BLS pointed out that ongoing job growth in the radiological sector stems from the growing population of aging baby boomers who face ailments that are diagnosed and treated with various forms of medical imaging and radiation therapy. This same aging population will mean more retiring organizational leaders. The BLS also pointed to increased access to insurance creating more demand for radiology services. As the need for technologists rises and the large baby boomer population ages out of roles, potential demand for leadership roles is rising across the industry.
Understanding Emerging Skills Demand
This theme is clear in a report published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information that emphasized the changing operational dynamics in the radiology sciences sector and need for leadership as a result. The article, which was originally published in the Biomedical Imaging and Intervention Journal, explained that the rapidly increasing volume of radiologic procedures being completed around the world is creating tension between quality and value within care environments.
On one hand, the study found, a rise in telemedicine is allowing for more radiological outsourcing to take place. This creates potential cost efficiencies as the actual radiological practices are commoditized. On the other, this move toward streamlined, ultra-efficient, value-focused radiological practices can become problematic as the drive for efficiency can take time away from human-centered patient care. Radiologic technologists with communication skills can become especially valuable in this environment by providing the added care necessary to help patients feel at ease.
This need to balance quality with efficiency is creating an environment in which organizational and industry-wide leadership is critical as the sector advances. The report explained that collaboration across stakeholder boundaries and formalized, system-based strategies are critical in enacting this leadership. In short, the need to provide organizational value and quality care is putting pressure on radiologic science professionals to work more effectively within organizational settings.
The importance of operational cohesion through effective leadership is the point of emphasis in a Health System Management report detailing how a manager’s attitude can have a major overarching impact on a radiology practice. While the report focuses on radiologists as the primary leader, its lessons apply equally to any radiology expert with administrative duties. On the whole, it emphasized three key themes:
- Radiology teams cannot operate in isolation: For a long time, radiologists have depended on operating as separate entities from most care facilities to give them a degree of freedom in how they operate. The article explained that as hospitals and care networks become more conscious of cost control, radiology teams will need to be open to a greater degree of collaboration across the organization. As a result, leaders must be prepared to communicate and set expectations across operational boundaries.
- Service is becoming essential: According to Health System Management, radiological practices are shifting toward a service delivery model in which hospitals and similar care facilities consider their teams as a service provider they partner with to meet patient demands. As the focus shifts away from specific results to the overarching service experience, radiology teams need leaders that can keep everybody on the same page about operational expectations and goals.
- Leaders must be aware of culture and expectations: Tensions can run high as radiology teams are pressured to meet taxing demands for quality and speed of service. Managers must be able to lead in such a way that they set an example for what is considered acceptable and create the kind of work environment that keeps everybody happy, the report said.
All of these reports point to a common trend – radiologic technologists are increasingly expected to do more than just specialize in handling technology, they must also be aware of the people they interact with. This is especially true as the growing move toward automation takes hold in the sector.
Automation Adding to Emphasis on Leadership
In 2013, Oxford University held a “Machines and Employment” workshop that explored how computerized systems are changing work environments around the world. From this event, researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne performed a landmark study on occupations that are likely to be automated in the relatively near future.
The research eventually led to the ranking of more than 702 occupations with some possibility of being automated, and radiologic technologists ranked at number 218. Radiation therapists fell in at the 248th position. The study’s authors are clear that this data isn’t a death knell for these occupations – something that is backed by the BLSs’ projected job growth for the sector. Instead, the move toward automation will likely lead to changes in expectations and requirements in industries that are transformed by computerization.
The study explained the situation thusly:
- At the time of the industrial revolution, the move toward automation often meant the replacement of skilled tasks, something that, though initially frightening, led to a broadening of wage availability. Essentially, simplifying work made it easier for a middle class to develop.
- The initial automation led by digital advances in the 20th century, on the other hand, widened the skills gap in many industries and led to growth in the service economy and created new wage gaps.
- The recent rise of robotics and growing move to automation is expected to reverse this 20th century trend, with computerization primarily impacting lower-wage jobs and creating opportunities for growth.
All told, the study found that automating technical tasks through computerized workflows and robotics is creating new opportunities for career growth. Technical experts who can handle tasks that require creative and social intelligence can set themselves apart in the new economic environment, but they may need to develop new skills to do so.
Taken together, these reports indicate the changing nature of the radiologic profession and growing need for leadership skills. Radiologic technologists who want to advance into teaching or management roles can take advantage of overarching job growth in the industry, an aging workforce and a move toward commoditization and automation to position themselves as the leaders of the future. The University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College’s BRST program emphasizes the social, creative and communication skills radiology professionals need to take their career to the next level.