Manny Roman, training specialist and founder of DITEC Inc, Solon, Ohio, has more than 30 years of experience in curriculum design and instruction management. Roman first got his start designing courses in the military where he was a radar maintenance and basic electronics instructor at Fort Huachuca in Arizona for 6 years before transitioning into the private sector. Today, DITEC is recognized throughout the industry for its detailed commitment to providing unique diagnostic imaging training. Roman recently spoke with us about equipment, his curriculum, and the most sought-after skill in the industry.
24×7: What sort of skills does your curriculum emphasize?
Roman: We start off with a good foundation in fundamentals: What x-rays are, how they’re produced, how they interact with matter, what makes a good image, etc. We also cover the issues you need to be concerned about when you walk to a radiology room or floor room, such as the six known ways of controlling the current that flows through the x-ray tube that generates x-rays.
24×7: How much learning in your classes is hands-on versus textbook or DVD based?
Roman: It’s about a 50/50 ratio. We cover a topic in the morning, and then in the afternoon we go into the lab and do exercises that prove it. If it’s a specific product course, then we might talk about a circuit, then have them calibrate and troubleshoot that circuit. Service professionals are generally kinesthetic learners, meaning they have to actually do something in order to learn it, as opposed to those who learn by seeing or hearing—so the hands-on portions are very important.
24×7: Does DITEC have a lot of out-of-state students?
Roman: Yes, we have two or three Canadians here right now, and we have a couple of people from Ohio, Florida, and California. Most of our students come from in-house biomedical engineering departments in hospitals who send them for training. Departments starting to do either first-level service or more advanced service on radiology equipment send service professionals to us so that we can train them on the fundamentals and then on specific products.
24×7: What made you want to design courses for the private sector as opposed to staying with the military?
Roman: Well, in the military it was a mandate. It was not something I wanted to do, it was something I was assigned to do. Afterward, I figured it beat working for a living, so I liked it. In the military they teach you how to design courses properly. They pay a lot of money to get people to figure out how to design courses, and then they teach instructors how to do it. So that’s where my background comes from.
There was also a need in the private sector for training, as these are complex machines and systems. The manufacturers back in the ’80s essentially told hospitals what they were going to buy, when they were going to buy it, and what they were going to pay. There was a real need to reduce health care costs by providing an alternative to the current training, which was not really available to anybody but manufacturers’ representatives anyway.
24×7: How does feedback from students influence DITEC courses?
Roman: At the end of each course we ask students to fill out a fairly complex critique asking them if we met their expectations and ask them to critique the instructor on about 10 different things. We even ask them to critique the hotel and the lunches, if they took advantage of our expense-reduction package. The real learning is in the application, so about 2 months later we send them another critique asking them if the course has been helpful, if they’ve used anything from the class, or if there is anything they would like to see in future classes. When we get those back we definitely incorporate any necessary changes.
24×7: How do you make sure the equipment students work on is current and not outdated?
Roman: That’s an interesting question, because if you’re going to do fundamentals you have to use older equipment. If you go back in time to when machines were simpler, they required more service and there was more interaction between the service professional and machine. There were noncomputerized machines, and service professionals actually had to do calibrations and monitor waveforms.
For newer machines, the calibration procedure may be: Enter this software program, push this button, go get a cup of coffee, and then the machine will be calibrated. If we want to give good fundamentals, we can’t use those newer machines to train on, because there’s nothing for the individual to do. For fundamentals we use machines that are in various states of technology, from older ones to some of the newer stuff. But they do need to see the waveforms, and they do need to tweak the potentiometers, and they really do need to calibrate an x-ray tool. For specific products, we will teach on the newer machines.
24×7: Do you have to purchase all the equipment the students work on?
Roman: We don’t purchase everything, as we would need a training center three times the size of the one we have. Instead, we have host sites, especially for the newer machines. We might go to a hospital in Chicago or a refurbishing outfit for ultrasound in Florida, and then use their equipment to train on.
24×7: What is DITEC’s thought on distance education?
Roman: I’m a bit ambivalent there for a few reasons. For one thing, these people are kinesthetic learners. For another, we’re dealing with 480 volts fused at 60 to 100 amps of current, meaning death on contact could occur. We need them to see the equipment and have fear and respect for the equipment. Some things lend themselves to distance education, but for others I think the talking head is very important.
If there’s distance education—say, like a DVD—you can’t ask a question. It’s presented only one way. Normally, you need to have an instructor, like in college, to help interpret the book for you.
I like the idea of distance education for the things that lend themselves to it. We are looking to take some fundamentals education, like what x-rays are and how they’re produced, and put it on some type of distance education. Otherwise, you’ve got to see the machine.
24×7: What are typical class sizes like?
Roman: For fundamentals, since we have all the equipment here, we’ve had as many as 30 people in a class. The limiting factor is not the number of chairs available but the equipment availability. If we have a lot of equipment, we can have more people, but that also requires more instructors so that students aren’t waiting around to ask a question. We try to make sure we have more than one instructor available for the labs. For specific product courses we limit the number of students to six.
24×7: Is there a customer service component in any of your courses?
Roman: I travel to a lot of biomedical conferences and shows, and the most-requested course we have is a 2-hour customer service and communication skills class that I teach myself. We talk about various communication and personality types, the three reasons why people would be upset, as well as good ways to defuse situations. This is in our fundamentals course. We found out a long time ago that if you take the typical educational experience of one of our students, they go from high school to a 2-year biomedical engineering program and then spend a few months as an intern in a hospital in a biomedical engineering department, along the way maybe doing a little bit of actual service. In that educational process there’s no customer skills training. With normal biomeds, there’s not as much interaction with the rest of the hospital staff as there would be in radiology, where you can’t go in and replace a box and run away again back down to the basement. You have to fix it as it’s sitting there in the room.
There may be a radiologist in there who’s probably upset, and a technologist who just got yelled at by the radiologist, and maybe a cardiologist who may feel that they make enough money to be able to disrespect anybody. So service professionals have to have not just technical skills, but customer service skills so that they don’t get into trouble.
If you ask any manager anywhere they probably would rather have someone with good customer service skills rather than someone with good technical skills. If there was a choice between one or the other, they’d likely choose good customer skills.
We can teach them the technical skills all day long, but they don’t get the customer service skills in too many places. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.” We try to make sure these are not fools that are going out there carrying our training certificates.
24×7: How has the curriculum changed in the 17 years since DITEC was founded?
Roman: As a natural progression, we have had to add more troubleshooting fundamentals and to talk more about troubleshooting, because colleges don’t seem to provide much actual troubleshooting techniques.
We’ve had to go back and do more electronics review than we used to have to do, too. As colleges change their curriculum to include new technology, these guys are still going to be working on older things. There are 30-year-old x-ray rooms out there, and you never know what you’re going to need to work on. When we talk about things like transformers, relays, and triads, these guys don’t know what we’re talking about, so we’ve had to include more electronics explanations. And, of course, we’ve added the high frequency circuits, digital imaging, and PACS. It’s interesting that as technology has advanced, we’ve also had to go backward to make sure students are familiar with the older technology they need to service these things.
24×7: Do you have any partnerships with other educational institutions?
Roman: Yes. The continuing education department at Penn State evaluated our curriculum and agreed to give continuing education certificates to our students and CEUs [continuing education units] for those who want it.
Stephen Noonoo is the associate editor of 24×7. Contact him at .