Melissa McKirdie's interest in sonography was sparked during her own pregnancies.
"I found it amazing to see my children before they were born. It brought a sense of comfort to know that someone could take a peek to make sure everything was OK," she said. "As I researched the field of sonography, I came across the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and the information presented sealed the deal for me. It described a career where you work as part of a team, interact with patients and various health care personnel, and use equipment that takes internal images which aid doctors in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of various diseases and conditions. All of this appealed to me."
Before making the switch, McKirdie worked for six years at a therapeutic day school for children with autism spectrum disorders. She helped to develop a variety of positions, some of which she also held: Relatedness Therapist, Adapted Physical Education Instructor, Parent Trainer and Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist/Consultant. While her career was rewarding, she also found it heart-wrenching to see the challenges that the children and their families faced.
Now McKirdie trains students as they become sonographers, and she feels a surge of excitement and pride upon seeing a student’s skills set and critical thinking skills develop right before her eyes.
"Students go from not being able to find the aorta to being able to thoroughly assess it using a prescribed protocol which involves scanning in two planes, annotating, measuring, utilizing color Doppler, and taking velocity measurements -- all while determining whether or not disease is present," she said. "It is also rewarding to visit the clinical sites and see students applying their newly formed scanning skills as they continue to further develop and refine them. In the clinical setting, students also have to implement all the other ‘stuff’ that they learn in their didactic courses, such as proper review of prior exams from various imaging modalities, interpretation of laboratory results, obtaining a thorough clinical history, explaining the procedure to the patient, exam protocols, and field-appropriate communication of the findings to the radiologist. This must be done while maintaining a compassionate and professional attitude.
"Since every student learns differently, it’s a pleasant challenge to determine ‘how’ each student needs to be instructed to be successful. During that quest, I enjoy developing new ways to facilitate understanding of various concepts, one of which is to make organs out of clay and then slice them to demonstrate the scan planes, and orientation of what is displayed on the machine's monitor."
In return, McKirdie hopes her students gain a sense of accomplishment and pride with the skills and knowledge they acquire in class.
"They need to be competent, compassionate and professional, as their responsibilities as a sonographer are quite serious," she said. "I often ask them to think of each patient as if they were a loved one. ‘How would you want them to be treated as a person, and how would you feel if their exam was not conducted appropriately and a condition or disease was missed?’ It reminds them of their responsibility as a health care provider."
In addition to her students, McKirdie is inspired by her family, patients, co-workers and many more on a daily basis.
"It is awesome to see so many smart, hardworking, helpful, fun people out there who are forever striving to make this world a better place, not only for themselves but for us all," she said.