Cancer: Diagnostic Imaging Specialist Encourages Patients to Seek Safety and Standards

About Meheadshot-mcdonald

My name is Elaine McDonald and I am Director of Diagnostic Imaging for Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), Colorado’s largest provider of cancer care. I have been with RMCC for nine years, and I currently manage the daily operations of six imaging locations including PET/CT and CT modalities.

I started my professional life planning to teach music. After realizing that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, I went back to school for a degree in nuclear medicine technology. I had always loved images, and the logic of functional, physiologic imaging really clicked with me. Imaging has been my career for 25 years now. The music education degree has not been lost entirely; I use my musical training to help me present, train, and create balance and harmony in my work and life.

I am in my early 50s and share my life part-time with my son (15) and daughter (13). When not at work, I spend a lot of time in the creative world of photography, choral music, writing, and cooking. I sold some pieces in a recent show and  enjoy capturing the stunning fall season in the Rockies. Colorado seemed to call me here, and I love this beautiful state! I’ve been here more than 10 years and live just south of Denver.

When I started my most recent position, it seemed a perfect fit between patient care and administrative responsibilities. I am often asked, “Isn’t it difficult to work with cancer patients all the time?” My reply is that it is just the opposite! Patients give me inspiration! What they face and survive, showing resilience and support for each other, is remarkable. I work much more administratively now, but when I was scanning on a daily basis I thought my greatest strength was to work with those cancer patients in the staging process. They had just been diagnosed and were in the midst of shock, anger, and denial. I was delivering the tool that could give their doctors the best and most accurate information to help them approach treatment. In this role, I can offer calm optimism and patience to help a patient through taking this test on this day.

I am excited to share my story with Better Medicine because it lets me directly communicate to cancer patients a picture of what the other side is doing and thinking. Imaging professionals are here because we want to deliver quality care to patients who didn’t ask to be where they are and many times do not know where to turn.

About My Work

I oversee imaging sites for PET/CT and CT services across the front range of the Rockies. That includes three mobile coaches and three fixed sites as well as managing support staff for PACS and RIS services (image and information archive and handling). I often said that I would “never be an office tech,” and I was happy scanning and working with patients daily. But as opportunities presented themselves, I began to realize I could make a difference in the lives of patients in many ways, especially supporting the safety and standards of our services.

Our business has a strong commitment to quality, and every day I contribute to our services by meeting and trying to exceed expectations of quality and integrity. For example, if a patient misses an important step in preparation for an upcoming test, the test results can be compromised, so I direct my team to not do the test on that day. This can appear to be strict, picky, whatever you want to call it, and it can certainly be an inconvenience to the patient who may have come a long way or taken time off work for the appointment. But I have learned that postponing the test in these cases is the right thing to do.

Early in my PET scanning days, when we were still learning, there was a case involving a young woman who had consumed a couple of ounces of juice prior to her tests. A couple of ounces of juice may not seem significant, but we repeated her tests on another day to make sure that we had the best information. When we compared the two studies, it was clear that two distinctly positive lymph nodes would have been missed had we not repeated the test. As imaging specialists, we don’t know what we didn’t see in a test. What would the consequences have been if her breast cancer had progressed because our team accepted the quality of the first scan?

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