There are those that are content with their position as a sonographer…and then there are individuals who emanate wholehearted enthusiasm for their ultrasound profession. Such is the case with Samantha Sawyer, MHA, RDMS, RDCS originally from New Washington, Indiana.
Sawyer is a determined, career-driven woman: She currently serves as an ultrasonographer for Cindy Basinski, MD and Rupal Juran MD in Newburgh, Indiana, teaches sonography students at the University of Southern Indiana and is pursuing her Master’s degree in Health Administration!
In this interview with UltrasoundSchoolsInfo.com, Sawyer describes how she began her sonography career, the work that went into training and certification, her zeal for her profession as well as her vision of improving healthcare for the benefit of patients. Throughout the whole piece, Sawyer offers valuable advice to aspiring sonographers and also those wishing to advance their sonography careers.
SS: Academically speaking, I was strong in the majority of my coursework. Perhaps the easier list would be my weakest subject (math, in case you were wondering!)
I found the subject of biology particularly challenging and fascinating. Because I went to a small high school, the courses offered in this area were limited— Biology I and Biology II. I credit my teacher, Michael Schneider, for taking it upon himself to instruct the Biology II course as a human anatomy and physiology course. I recall him saying it would be more applicable and useful in our future. Although I spent hours worrying about keeping an A in the course, I did not realize at the time how enthralled I was by human anatomy and physiology and how it would guide the path for my future career.
I also had a strong affinity for the arts—music, theatre, reading, and writing. I played the piano for eight years, sang in the school choir, and enjoyed acting in theatre productions for both my school and community theatre. To this day, I enjoy being glued to a book or writing for creative or academic reasons.
SS: Sonography is unique in the sense that many people do not recognize it as its own distinct profession or career at a young age like, being a firefighter or a lawyer, for example. There is certainly an added dimension of doing research before pursuing sonography as a profession. I spent the few years prior to attending college convinced I would pursue theatre education to become a theatre teacher for high school students.
I have a large extended family, and I was incredibly fortunate to have exposure to versatile career paths. In particular, my cousin Angie worked as a vascular sonographer in downtown Louisville. We spent time talking about her education and clinical experience. Our conversations made me curious about the field of sonography. After some research, I thought this field could possibly be a blend of my love for science, art, and desire to benefit others. My cousin graciously allowed me to shadow her as observation experience was a prerequisite to apply for the sonography program at my university. The moment I stepped foot into a hospital and recognized the vast capacity of patient care and healthcare delivery, I was certain I made a great decision.
SS: I received my Bachelor of Science in Radiologic and Imaging Sciences through the CAAHEP-accredited Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Indiana. It is a four-year program that consists of approximately 1.5 years of prerequisite coursework. To begin the program we were required to submit a formal application, documentation of observation experience, a personal narrative, and granted an interview if compliant with the GPA standards for program admission. At USI, approximately 10 students are accepted in the fall of each academic year.
During the first four semesters of the year-round program the focus is on sectional anatomy, patient care, sonographic physics, and didactic theory of general sonography (abdomen, obstetrics/gynecology, small parts) in conjunction with hands-on scanning in our on-campus lab and off-campus at various clinical sites. During the last three semesters, specialty tracks are studied. The 10 students divide into groups of five, studying either vascular or cardiac sonography in the same blended didactic and clinical format as with our general studies.
Didactic experience allows students to acquire the knowledge and skills to think critically in the patient setting while preparing for ARDMS board examination as well. Clinical experience is emphasized heavily during the program. Students rotate to different clinical sites each semester to gain a broad spectrum of experience from multiple professionals ranging from 24 – 32 hours a week depending on the semester. Needless to say, it required the dedication one would give to a full-time job making it a challenging, well-rounded academic experience.
SS: My greatest lesson in obtaining board certifications and credentials was that the level of difficulty was directly related to the amount of my self-accountability and preparedness. My current certifications are RDMS (OB/GYN, Abdomen) and RDCS (Adult Echocardiography). I had to prepare for four board examinations including physics. I studied diligently for each board exam; however, I dedicated different amounts of time or slightly different resources for each specialty. Upon completion and reflection of my board exams, I found the most arduous specialty examination received a lesser amount of studying time/resources than the others. In other words, you reap what you sow. If you prepare adequately, the credentialing process will feel much less difficult than the nightmare we often envision.
SS: I currently work as a dedicated gynecologic ultrasonographer in a private practice for Dr. Cindy Basinski and Dr. Rupal Juran in Newburgh, Indiana just minutes from Evansville. At Basinski & Juran, MDs, the practice solely serves women in need of gynecologic/urogynecologic healthcare needs. The practice services range from annual wellness exams to complex, minimally-invasive surgeries and everything in between. My average day at work is upbeat and fast-paced. I spend the majority of my time scanning patients with gynecologic/urogynecologic concerns and pre-operative patients. I also spend a fair share of time performing ultrasound-guidance for in-office procedures, which are among my favorite cases. The practice I work for thrives on teamwork so I fill any time in between my patients completing my reports and using my administrative education to assist with various office-related tasks and projects. I love working in an environment where I am always challenged and presented with new learning opportunities. Never a dull day!
More recently, I began instructing in the sonography program of my alma mater as adjunct faculty in my spare time away from the office. The only thing as interesting as caring for patients must be working with students. They always provide me with plenty of entertaining stories to share! It has been indescribable to see them develop their didactic and clinical skills as they enter this profession.
SS: Upon declaring my sonography major during college I also decided to pursue a minor in health administration. During an honors program seminar taught by the director of the health administration programs on campus, I had my first exposure to ethical debates and dilemmas surrounding healthcare. I quickly decided to pursue dual-degrees during my undergraduate career, adding the goal of obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Health Services with a concentration in Health Administration to my to-do list.
Pursuing my MHA was a decision I made for various reasons. I wanted to continue my commitment to lifelong learning while expanding my skill set and experience in the healthcare field. In the future I hope to work in the capacity of not just a healthcare administrator but moreover a healthcare leader. Wherever I may go with my career, I want my work to benefit patients. No matter what the future holds, sonography will somehow be a piece of my professional life. While it is possible to consider a career without sonography, it is nearly inconceivable to imagine my career without it!
SS: Our healthcare system is currently and has historically faced a plethora of tribulations. With ever-increasing uncertainty of the future, (in regards to healthcare reform, shortage of skilled professionals, financial distresses, and addressing the massive disparity in access to care), one crucial element remains—the absolute necessity for high-quality, patient-centered care. As a healthcare leader, I want to support the necessity of meeting the “clinical bottom line” of healthcare.
In the midst of tumultuous changes, patient care should not suffer. Patients must be advocated for, and who better to do that than those professionals who serve them daily? By far, the most important part of my job now is delivering healthcare services in the caring environment and positive atmosphere we all would want and deserve as patients ourselves. Business administrators can address the financial bottom line. I want to address the clinical bottom line. Together, with some effort, perhaps these goals can be aligned harmoniously. Patient care is definitely my soapbox topic.
SS: Absolutely! If you are considering a career in sonography, do your research. Find out if you are suited for this profession. Get into a sonography department and walk a mile in a sonographer’s shoes. Make the effort to ensure you are entering a field you desire because it is not without its daily challenges and frustrations. Enjoying this profession for what it is makes the day-to-day issues seem more like speed bumps rather than mountains.
Seek your education through an accredited program to facilitate the board certification process and post-graduation job search.
Spend your time as a sonographer in pursuit of perfection— knowing that you will not succeed. Sonography is both science and art, neither of which is perfect; however, it will be your responsibility to the patients and physicians who rely on your skills to pursue this level of excellence.
Lastly, commit to lifetime learning. Healthcare innovation and advancement is astounding. Continuing education in this profession is a necessary component of being a proficient sonographer.
SS: I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank my parents, family, and co-workers for their support of my education and career aspirations. Without them, none of this would be possible. I also want to recognize and thank the exceptional faculty at the University of Southern Indiana for years of education, guidance, and inspiration, particularly the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Diagnostic Medical Sonography and Health Administration Programs.