Fifteen years ago, the Radiologic Technology program at Northwest Iowa Community College was implemented to fill a gap in the local workforce. Now the Radiology program at NCC is successful in producing quality Radiologic Technologists that fill the competitive gaps in the healthcare industry, even at globally-known hospitals like Mayo Clinic.
When Andrea Steffen was younger, she never pictured she would be working at the #1 rated hospital in the nation. In fact, she never pictured she would be working in a healthcare setting at all. Andrea was once a girl who would hide in her car in fear of getting booster shots. Overcoming this fear of medical facilities led her to being immersed in the technological medical advances of one of today’s leading hospitals.
After graduating from high school in 2005, Andrea attended La James International College in Cedar Falls, IA. It was during her time there that she met her husband and eventually moved to Northwest Iowa. Upon moving to the area, her cosmetology career didn’t materialize as she had hoped, and decided a change in occupations was necessary.
Andrea decided to learn more about occupations in health care, and began taking pre-requisite and general coursework. She debated between Nursing and Radiology for an extended period of time. After much consideration, she opted for Radiology as she assumed it would offer a better work schedule for their family. Looking back now, Andrea laughs as she is currently on-call a majority of the time!
Andrea was very nervous to begin the program, as she knew it would be no easy task. She recalls the high number of non-traditional students in her class. Coming into the program in her mid-twenties, she anticipated being among the oldest in her class, but she was surprised to find this was not the case. Andrea admits she would not have been ready for x-ray school right out of high school, and she recognizes the Radiologic Technology program as being one of the hardest undertakings she has completed in her life, including marriage and parenting. Passing the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) Exam would be her next obstacle.
Because Andrea was pregnant with her second child at the time she graduated, she waited until after he was born to take the ARRT exam. She recalls her anxiety prior to testing, “I was so nervous. I almost talked myself out of taking the test that day.” When Andrea received her results, she was surprised to learn she not only passed, but she excelled on her boards. “My education at NCC definitely prepared me for the National board exam and also prepared me for the discipline of working in a medical environment.” With the hurdle of passing the ARRT exam behind her, Andrea began working as a Radiologic Technologist at an orthopedic clinic. Although she enjoyed the work, she did not see many opportunities for advancement or lifelong learning. Andrea began researching other careers in hopes of finding a position that challenged her. Andrea found an opening at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. She hesitated to apply, assuming her application would not even be selected for an interview. To her surprise, she was not only called in for an interview, but was also offered the position the very same day!
Within her first month working at Mayo Clinic, Andrea was presented with a huge learning opportunity. It was required that she achieve her Interventional Radiology (IR) Board Certification. Although unfamiliar with IR at that time, Andrea was excited to take on the challenge of learning and becoming proficient in this unique healthcare niche. In her first few months on the job, Andrea was not only learning the equipment, schedule and various duties of her position, but was also studying for the IR test. She recalls feeling nervous and overwhelmed for nearly the first four months on the job, but it was all worth it. “My team is immersed in the latest & greatest technological advances in the medical field. We see various, rare diseases and treatments because we are at the forefront of medical research. To be part of this is extremely gratifying,” shared Steffen.
Andrea’s role in Mayo Clinic’s Interventional Radiology Department consists of various complex tasks. Some of these tasks include controlling the position of the C-arm machine during procedures, acting as a circulator in the operating room, prepping patients for procedures, notifying physicians of limits on patient exposure to radiation, and completing code compressions when necessary. Depending on the severity of the situation, Andrea’s department is the next stop from the Emergency Room for many cases. Her department sees everything. From strokes, GI bleeds, ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms, port placements, and other emergent scenarios, Andrea gets to experience it all first-hand.
Coming into a large, globally known hospital was extremely intimidating for Andrea—not only due to the technology and rare diagnoses that Mayo specializes in, but also the culture. She learned quickly her co-workers and work environment would be phenomenal. Her department spends so much time together they consider themselves family. Working alongside Andrea are about 35 other Radiologic Technologists and Certified Surgical Technologists. This team works together to cover nine IR suites at St. Mary’s Hospital, three operating rooms and two suites at Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building downtown Rochester.
Andrea’s favorite part about her position at Mayo Clinic is the instant gratification her team receives after helping a patient. Not only does Andrea get to experience this feeling every day, but she also has the luxury of being immersed in the culture, innovative research, and deep history of the #1 rated hospital in our Nation today.
The Radiologic Technology program at NCC is able to produce quality alums like Andrea due to extremely rigorous curriculum, real-life clinical experiences, and the exposure and ability to practice on various technology and equipment on campus. This ability to practice technique and procedure in the comfort of the student’s on-campus lab setting puts the student steps ahead in knowledge and application when going out to clinical practice. The Radiologic Technology program is constantly seeking new equipment for the student lab. This past summer, they added two pieces of equipment to the lab, a GE Portable X-Ray machine and a GE Fluoroscopy Table, both donated by Sanford Rock Rapids Hospital.