OHC Mercy West’s Christel Tyree a happy convert to Elekta systems following move from Varian to Elekta technology
Like most radiation therapists, Christel Tyree is confident in her ability to master the complexities of medical technology. As a therapist at The Barret Cancer Center, University of Cincinnati Health, she spent eight years operating Varian technology and viewed learning the technical aspects of the job of radiation therapist as a hurdle she had cleared in the distant past.
In 2013, Christel could not pass up the opportunity to advance her career and accepted the position of chief therapist at a new radiation oncology clinic at Cincinnati’s OHC Mercy West. As any new employee would, Christel imagined some of the challenges she might encounter early on.
“I thought the biggest obstacles would be the difficulties and logistics of a brand new cancer clinic – the new employees, the establishment of workflows and implementation of policy and procedure,” she recalls. “Never did I dream that learning new equipment and technology would be the biggest struggle I would face.”
The reason for Christel’s anxiety was that the radiotherapy equipment at OHC Mercy West was virtually all Elekta technology, systems with which she had zero experience.
“The first thing that struck me when I entered the vault was how the room design kept all of the Elekta system’s mechanical components hidden behind a sleek and clean false wall,” she remembers. “But the refined visual differences did not prepare me for the intuitiveness of the treatment software in which I would become an expert. Not to mention the mysterious hardware; a weird accordion type device in the table base frame with small silver spheres [HexaPOD patient support], and a camera coming out of the ceiling [iGuide], and hand pendants at the head of the table.”
Christel Tyree, Radiation Therapist, at OHC Mercy West, Ohio USA
About a week before the new clinic was to treat its first patient, the Elekta application specialists arrived on site to work with the just formed staff of four therapists – including Christel – all of whom, like Christel, had never operated Elekta systems.
“The most important advice I would give when it comes to learning a new technology is to have a positive attitude and above all keep an open mind, and trust that once you are fully trained, the new system will not seem so intimidating.”
Thinking back on her learning experience, Christel can now crystallize her recommendations in the following tips:
Maintain a positive attitude
Stay upbeat and positive through the process and remember that, although change can be difficult, the new technology will benefit patients and help increase the likelihood of a good clinical outcome.
Consider the new equipment and technology as a great opportunity to gain access to industry knowledge and advancement, not as a resume-builder for future employment opportunities. When dealing with challenges in the training process, your trainers and service peers are your greatest resources.
Log everything that isn’t clear to you
Meet with your peers before and after each training session and compile and maintain a master list of questions or concepts that don’t make sense that you can present to your trainers. Go over each point as a group, and rely on one another for help, since everyone is most likely experiencing very similar difficulties.
Keys for success in your journey to understand the new systems are to be open to new ideas or suggestions the trainers make, let go of old experiences and tear down any personal walls that hinder effective training such as pride, distrust or backsliding into old unproductive habits. As radiation therapists, we tend to be very hard on ourselves, so be certain to practice patience and grace in the face of learning frustrations.
Leverage and exploit all available training and continuing education resources
That is during and after training. The greatest resources during training are your expert trainers and the training material they provide. Elekta Support Plus is a great resource once the on-site training is complete; there are many searchable modules for training refreshers and support that are hugely helpful.
Consistently working with the machine during morning QA and any interlocks helped me learn functionality and how to navigate the linac computer systems. Relying on your peers, and also having an easily reachable engineer to help walk staff through any machine glitches are great as well.
‘The biggest fan’
Now four years into her tenure at OHC Mercy West, Christel says she is “the biggest fan of Elekta products.”
“I look at the experience in hindsight and wonder why I struggled so much in the beginning,” she says. I can honestly say that Elekta’s X-ray Volume Imaging [XVI] is one of my favorite products because of its intuitiveness.
“The treatment plans our physicians and dosimetrists are able to create using Monaco and VMAT are second to none,” she continues. “And, as a therapist, I am extremely confident knowing Elekta software does an outstanding job in automatic registration of cone beam images. In addition, with the use of iGuide and HexaPOD, the improved patient positioning ensures precise treatment delivery.”
With her Varian experience fading into memory, Christel is adding daily to the list of advantages she sees in Elekta technology, the system’s uptime being a key example.
“The reliability of the machine and lack of downtime have been pleasantly surprising to say the least,” Christel notes. “It also is very comforting to know that when we do have an occasional need, our Elekta service engineers [Tim Campbell and Tim Sullivan] are so attentive to us. We can contact our engineers directly and they are always just a short drive away and willing to come out immediately to assist.
“I am so pleased with Elekta systems, and feel very confident of the radiation treatments we deliver to our patients,” she adds. “The group I work for just announced that we are adding two more Elekta linear accelerators to our practice, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the decision. For those moving on to new equipment, or if you find yourself new to Elekta systems, please know that the best is yet to come! On your journey of growth and learning, don’t forget to have patience and grace for yourself; like the old adage states: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’”