If you are a nurse who is new to the specialty of radiology, congratulations! Radiology nursing is a wonderful learning experience. Not only will you gain a deeper knowlegde of human anatomy and pathophysiology, you will begin to understand how the many imaging modalities are individually unique. Additionally, you can take pride in your experiences within a specialty, "where few nurses have gone before."
To help you with your radiology experience, I have compiled my personal, "Radiology Survival Top 10 List."
1. Radiologists are a different species. I don't mean this offensively, but even radiologists admit that they are a little, well, different. When a radiologist says or does something that seems odd to you, keep in mind that their day is spent largely alone in a dark and windowless office reading chest x-rays. Radiologists are generally very intellegent and precise; that's their job, after all. So don't be surprised if one of them picks a fight with you about the best time of day to water your grass. It's happened to me.
2. Absorb everything. I was fortunate enough to have a position in an IR lab where nurses not only monitored patients, but also scrubbed, circulated, and pulled sheaths. We also recovered post-CT-guided biopsy patients, administered conscious sedation, monitored nuclear medicine patients during certain cancer therapies, and gave injections to some MRI patients. I learned so much from those experiences that helps me daily in my nursing career. Also, learn everything you can from new MD's and locums. They often bring new ideas and perspectives that can be very useful.
3. Be an educator. Radiology techs know as little about our profession as we know about theirs. They never endured a 12-hour shift of paper charting on the ICU, and therefore they don't understand why a nurse guards her ink pen so fiercely. Pens aside, the more your non-nurse colleagues understand about your nursing judgement, the more they will value you.
4. Join ARNA (American Radiology Nurses Association). They have wonderful resources.
5. Be prepared to grieve. When I started in radiology my perception was that I'd be caring for patients for a couple of hours (at the most) and then send them on their way. I had no idea that I'd be doing weekly paracenteses on terminal cancer patients, or do repeated work on the same dialysis patients. Losses happen in radiology. You will get attached to patients, and you will lose some of them.
6. Know ACLS. Know it well. You will be performing exams on the sickest patients in your hospital. A medically unstable patient takes on a new dimension of scariness as you watch a diagnostic catheter flip through their heart and into their pulmonary artery. If you are entering this specialty without prior critical care experience, I recommend you review ACLS guidelines frequently.
7. Stay active in the department of nursing. You represent such a small sect of nurses that it is easy for administration to forget you exist. Make yourself known, and make your needs known.
8. Fear these words: contrast reaction. See also #6. Learn everything you can about the contrast media used in your facility. Engrain the contrast reaction protocol on your heart. While you're at it, learn about all the meds and reversal agents that you will routinely give.
9. Embrace these words: sterile conscience. Nothing is worse than seeing a patient with a septic dialysis catheter, especially if it was placed in your department within the last few days. You start to wonder: Did I contaminate that line? Did dialysis do it? Was it the patient? Even the most experienced people can contaminate the sterile field. What matters is that you recognize the contamination and rectify it.
10. Take pride in your specialty. Consider a certification. This job is unique, and you should take full advantage of the opportunities in the field.
A plethora of information exists on the field of radiology nursing, which makes it difficult to choose which topics to address. I suppose I could have written an article on the characteristics of diagnostic catheters, but that knowledge will come to you with time. I could have told you what I carry in my scrub pocket every day, but all you really need is a pen and some lip balm. The information that I have shared is from my experience, and from my heart. I hope that it was helpful. Best wishes in the practice area of radiology!
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