Dr. Traci Fox EdD, RT(R), RDMS, RVT has been a sonographer for over 20 years, but she’s been intrigued by the sciences since grade school. She earned her Bachelor and Masters of Science degrees from Thomas Jefferson University, and her Doctorate in Education from Drexel University.
Currently she is a full time Diagnostic Medical Sonography professor at her alma mater, Thomas Jefferson University. Before that she worked at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where she taught, researched, and worked with Dr. Barry Goldberg, “one of the biggest names in ultrasound.” UltrasoundSchoolsInfo (USI) had the chance to chat with Dr. Traci Fox (TF) by phone in December 2017.
USI: What drew you to ultrasound when you first started your university studies?
TF: My mother had an ultrasound, and she described it to me, and it sounded interesting. I did some research in the days before the Internet, so it wasn’t quite as easy to do research on the subject. But I did some research and it had technology and medicine, and that’s what drew me to the field.
USI: Before becoming a technical coordinator, and now professor, at Thomas Jefferson University, did you work as a sonographer in a clinical setting?
TF: Yes. I worked in hospitals doing … general ultrasound, vascular ultrasound and high risk obstetrics.
I would say (students) have to have a passion for it. Don’t do it because you heard it pays well, don’t do it because somebody told you that there’s a lot of jobs in it…It has to be something where you’ve done the research, you know what the field involves and you say “Yeah I can see me doing that”.
USI: I’m sure there were many times, but what would be an example of a time where you saw your work as a sonographer make a difference in a person’s life…where you really caught something that was life threatening or risky?
TF: Oh all the time. That’s the standard life of a sonographer. I mean our job is to be the detective. We’re supposed to take a bunch of clinical symptoms and look at whatever body part we’re supposed to look at, use clinical thinking to evaluate the patient’s clinical presentation…. With the physical exam we might need to do on the patient, we put those pieces of the puzzle together with the ultrasound picture.
USI: I like how you describe it as detective work.
TF: Well yes, as I just said to my students earlier today: “If I don’t take a picture of something that’s potentially life threatening, the patient could go home and die.”
USI: So ultrasound is an essential modality then.
TF: Oh absolutely – essential for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons is there is no ionizing radiation, so to that extent we’re safer than some of the other modalities that can be used for imaging. We’re less expensive…and you know we’re reproducible. We can repeat the exam if necessary again without worrying about radiation or toxic contrast agents and things like that. So there are definite benefits to ultrasound over some of the other imaging modalities.
Learn more about how ultrasounds work, and how the technology compares to other types of medical imaging.
USI: Now you’re a professor at Thomas Jefferson University. I’m guessing you must enjoy teaching?
TF: Yes, I love it. You love taking these new students who have never seen any of this before – it’s all brand new – and watching the transition as they go from green students to fully developed professionals after one to two years of training, depending on which pathway they took.
USI: And you’ve even been to China to teach medical students?
TF: Yes. I was there in 2015 as part of what was called the University Immersion Program. They do a summer program at Sichuan University where the students take this two-week course where professors from around the world come in. So I was teaching the West China Medical students ultrasound physics, among other things. I did a bunch of topics that were all ultrasound-related. And this year  I went back to China again for another reason – there were a couple meetings and things like that. And then most recently, a couple weeks ago, I was in Dubai giving an OB-GYN course. So I get around.
As my department chair and I were discussing, when I travel I’m not just “Traci Fox”, I’m ‘Traci Fox from Thomas Jefferson University.” So I’m representing Jefferson. I like that part of it where I get to say this is what Jefferson has to offer, and talk about our university and our hospital. Basically I’m like an ambassador.
USI: What research have you worked on in the past?
TF: I personally don’t have any research going on at the moment under my name…My focus used to be working in the research area when I worked over [at the hospital]…Now that I’m over here in the university I don’t have as much time…but sometimes they’ll still ask me to help out with different research. Most of the research we do is cancer-related using ultrasound contrast agents to diagnose and to stage… but mostly to follow treatment to see if the treatment is working or not.
USI: And you’ve done some research obviously in teaching methods. At the last SDMS conference in October, you presented and one of your talks was called ‘Breaking from the Past: Reinventing Health Professions Education (Pedagogical Practices)’.
TF: Yes, that’s what my doctorate was based on – the pedagogy for the health professional educator. So talking about the flipped classroom for example, the fact that we shouldn’t be lecturing to our students, we should be doing interactive things to get them to use critical thinking skills and things like that.
USI: How can a person know whether or not they’re well suited for a career in ultrasound?
TF: I would say they have to have a passion for it. Don’t do it because you heard it pays well, don’t do it because somebody told you that there’s a lot of jobs in it…It has to be something where you’ve done the research, you know what the field involves and you say “Yeah I can see me doing that.” If you want to get into the profession, know about it. If somebody asks you, “What does a Sonographer do?” have an answer. If you can shadow, which is near impossible to do unfortunately, try and shadow. And do well in whatever pre-requisites you need, because if you don’t work hard at that, you’re not going to survive an ultrasound program.