5 August 2019

Sonographer with a passion for patients

5 August 2019

Sonographer with a passion for patients

When Kathleen Bimiakos embarked on a degree in Nuclear Medicine at the University of Sydney, little did she realise she would end up working in a completely different modality.

“I discovered sonography as a nuclear medicine student. One of the electives we had was Ultrasound, and I knew immediately that it was the modality for me. Once I graduated, it wasn’t until about seven years into my career that I was given the opportunity to study ultrasound.”

Kathleen now works as the chief technologist at I-MED’s busy Woy Woy clinic. What she likes best about the job is the daily interaction she has with patients. “It’s really the only modality where you have a prolonged patient interaction, you get to meet them and they all have different uniqueness and stories to tell. Having rapport with the patient, and finding out their story in their own words, can help you as a sonographer. It’s amazing seeing how your efforts and your skills can directly help a person.”

Coping with the demands of the job

Sonography is a demanding job, Kathleen concedes. “You’re faced with some life-changing outcomes for your patients, for example, miscarriages or cancer; it can be quite confronting and extremely emotional. You have to maintain that professionalism with patients, whilst dealing with those emotional situations … it can be quite taxing.”

Dealing with patients all day long also means you have to be flexible, says Kathleen. “Flexibility is the other big thing. Each day is so different, you never know who’s going to walk through the door. You’ll have patients who are handicapped or disabled - it will change the protocol and the way you handle the situation. It can be challenging to provide that care for every patient.”

Working with a supportive team

A typical day in Kathleen’s busy practice involves not only a full list of booked-in patients, but also fitting in the urgent scan requests that come in; helping students who come in for training; answering questions from administration staff; and sorting out Work, Health and Safety issues at the clinic. She says the camaraderie at the practice is vital in coping with the stress.

“What’s different about our clinic (compared to others I know) is the phrase ‘Are you ok?’ Being a sonographer is quite a solitary job, and sometimes it can be quite overwhelming - you might have very complex studies, or difficulties with patients. Here, we function as a team. We always check in with one another throughout the day, because you never know what someone else is dealing with. That’s quite unique for us here, and that’s one of the reasons why I love working here.”

Career progression

The support of her employers has been a big help to Kathleen in her career. “I started working at I-MED two years ago, and my manager has been super-supportive and encouraging from day one. I-MED doesn’t see you as an employee number or by the number of scans you can perform a day - they see you as a person who has goals and aspirations. Whether you want to progress your career to follow a managerial path, upskill your lists as a sonographer, or venture into a different modality – I-MED sees you as an individual and tries to help you along that path.”

Kathleen recently completed I-MED’s Advanced Program, which she says was a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the national network. “Advanced Program is an amazing opportunity to grow as a leader and a person. It identifies individuals who might be future leaders for the organisation. The program runs for a year and you participate in workshops and online learning and you build your projects with a mentor - most likely with your manager in the region. It helps you develop skills like people management skills, commercial management skills, financial and business acumen. The good thing about it is you participate in real life business projects. And at the end of the course you’re given the opportunity to present a project that could be implemented into the business - in front of the I-MED executive team.”

Attending the Advanced Program within I-MED has given Kathleen an insight into parts of the radiology business most sonographers would not know about. “You learn how I-MED works as a business - it’s not really a generalised course - it’s specific to the business - it pushes you out of your comfort zone.  I’ve been awarded opportunities since graduating -I’ve been a part of a couple of projects, which have helped me grow and build up my skillset as well.”

Sonography and the general public

Kathleen is supportive of efforts to raise the profile of the sonographer’s role. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate the amount of work and knowledge that goes into becoming a sonographer. We answer questions for patients, you know, whether it’s a boy or a girl, but I don’t think it’s appreciated that it’s an entire medical procedure that needs to be done. And the biggest thing with sonography over other modalities is that we can evaluate areas of the body dynamically. So if someone has pain doing a certain motion then we can actually look at those areas whilst they’re in motion, which is quite unique and I don’t think a lot of people realise that.”

Future developments in sonography

Keeping up with developments in imaging is a priority for Kathleen. “Ultrasound changes rapidly - the detail and the pathology that we can see now, as opposed to even five years ago, has dramatically improved. Keeping up-to-date involves constant education and revision, attending education events, sonography conferences, seminars, and reading articles. I-MED offers education days too, which help us to maintain our knowledge with new techniques and technologies.

“For the future, I think there are two emerging technologies that will become more popular. 3D/4D imaging allows complex procedures, like vertical tarp, to be carried out with a more cost-effective modality, and in real time, as opposed to other modalities such as CT. We see it a lot now with obstetric scanning, but I think this will extend to other areas of scanning in the not-so-distant future.  The other thing we’re looking into now at my clinic, and I’m sure others are as well, is elastography - using external stimuli to see the mechanical properties of the tissue. It’s quite a non-invasive, cost effective and reliable procedure.

Be patient

When asked what advice she gives to young sonographers, Kathleen sums it up in one word: patience. “As a young sonographer you really want to try and learn everything at once, and that thirst for knowledge will make you a great sonographer. But there’s a lot to learn, and you’ll always see new things that you’ve never seen no matter how long you’ve been scanning for. So it’s quite important to have patience with yourself, and also patience with your patients. A lot of patients are worried about their results and they handle their emotions differently. Some are angry, and others are silent, but being able to understand that people are emotional and that their behaviour is driven mostly by fear… having compassion for your patients is absolutely crucial to be successful as a sonographer.”