As bad as the emergency was?and by all accounts, it was an emergency of dire proportions?Paul Sullivan was not about to send his technologist unarmed into the medical field of battle. Even if it meant letting the client down, even if it meant losing a tech perfectly qualified for the assignment, even if it meant some very sick children would have to wait a few days longer for the help they needed.

As a senior account representative with Med Travelers (Irving, Tex), Sullivan is charged with filling specific technology positions in the medical field with top-notch temporary personnel. Sometimes, it can be as simple as finding an X-ray technologist, who’s between assignments, to help a desperate medical facility fill a vacant position or assume a portion of the workload. No muss, no fuss, and everyone’s satisfied. On to the next client. Ah, if it were always so simple.

A Tough Situation

Recently, Sullivan faced a challenge that would test his professional mettle and personal integrity. Driscoll Children’s Hospital (Corpus Christi, Tex) was desperate for a pediatric echocardiography technologist to handle what Sullivan termed “the worst of the worst” cases involving some of the most severe abnormalities imaginable.

Driscoll’s needs were both unique and highly specialized. It needed someone with extensive experience working in a children’s hospital setting. The facility needed someone who wouldn’t crumble under a demanding workload that could range from 15 to 40 patients a day. It needed someone who could handle?day in and day out?the emotional roller coaster of seeing children with severe abnormalities. And the hospital needed someone with the demeanor to leave it all at the facility and return the next day, refreshed and renewed.

Sullivan had never faced a more daunting task in his Med Travelers’ career.

“It was a real challenge for us,” says Sullivan, who joined Med Travelers 2 years ago after spending 4 years at Novation LLC (Irving, Tex). “In our entire database, we have only a handful of pediatric echo techs who have that type of experience. A lot of the techs we put in are more generalized. To be a travel technologist, you almost have to be a chameleon?you have to be able to fit into many different situations. But this one was more specialized, in terms of pediatrics, than pretty much any of the general techs we have.”

Sullivan combed his recruiting banks but found a similar refrain from nearly every pediatric echo tech he contacted. “I’ve done pediatrics, but I don’t have that specific experience,” he was told again and again. Even when Sullivan found a pediatric tech who thought the assignment would be possible, the job ultimately proved too emotionally demanding. Physical and emotional burnout already had forced two techs to resign.

“Especially in pediatrics, when you see and deal with sick children day after day, it’s going to begin to wear on you,” Sullivan admits. “Mentally, it’s a challenge. In this field, you see a lot of burnout, because people get tired of seeing sick babies.”

Sullivan relates one story of a pediatric echo tech who succumbed to the pressure. “I had a gentleman with a pediatric background who served the typical three-month contract, but he had not been in a children’s hospital setting,” Sullivan recalls. “He told me, ?Quite honestly, I can’t extend my assignment. I can’t handle it. I need a break; it’s too mentally draining.’ “

Knight in Shining Armor

Sullivan turned his Med Travelers’ efforts toward targeting the nation’s children’s hospitals. While looking at a children’s hospital in Denver, Sullivan came across pediatric echo tech Blake Bestol, RCIS, RCS, who was coming off of an assignment and expressed an interest in working in Texas.

Sullivan might have been under the gun, but he wasn’t about to lose another tech without ensuring he knew the score.

“I made sure that when I screened people, especially for this job, that I gave them every possible detail as far as what the assignment entailed,” he says. “I told them, ?If you don’t think you’re a fit for this job, if you don’t think you can handle it, let’s find out now as opposed to you going there and discovering that you cannot.’ “

Contacted after completing a Med Travelers stint at Denver Children’s Hospital, Bestol was given a clear picture of the problem facing Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, an area of close to 1,000 square miles that also draws patients from Mexican border towns where adequate medical care is lacking. Sullivan was so honest, in fact, that he thought he might have discouraged his prospective tech from taking the assignment.

“I really pounded the situation into Blake, and I think that was one of the reasons he was hesitant at first,” Sullivan remembers. “In fact, I think I frightened him a bit. He was especially tentative about the volume.”

Bestol promised to give the assignment a chance?for a few weeks, at least. “Let me go in for a while, and I’ll let you know how it’s working out,” he promised Sullivan. “But,” he cautioned, “I don’t want to jeopardize my standing as a traveler by going into a facility and seeing something I can’t handle.”

All Hands on Deck

Although Bestol was the most qualified tech for the position, he would have to shift gears to keep up with the volume at Driscoll. Denver Children’s Hospital was more of a teaching facility, where protocol was by the book, and every step was checked and then checked again. His new position, however, would put both his tech and people skills to the ultimate test.

“Driscoll wanted someone who was not afraid to dive in and go after it,” Sullivan says. “The hospital didn’t want someone who was hesitant, because it was a such a high-volume facility.”

Admitting the situation was as “tough as I had heard,” the 44-year-old Bestol says the pressure forced him to tackle the job head on. “They were depending on the techs,” he says. “If you make it, you make it. If you don’t, you don’t. It was sink or swim from the very beginning.”

Sullivan adds that in that facility, “there’s more of a need to get through the volume. We have to make sure we’re getting good echo techs, but we also need to make sure we’re tending to all the patients.”

Bestol says he was taken aback by the cases he saw on a daily basis. “They’re congenitally deformed,” he explains. “You see that in any children’s hospital, but Driscoll services such a big area that there’s a higher propensity for defects.”

Sullivan concurs, adding that there is more to being a pediatric echo tech than simply making sure that the kids are seen and the reads are correct. Compassion and a warm hand often are just as important as a tech’s professional skills. “I think people like Blake have a strong drive to help other people,” he says. “The hospital was hurting down there, and he obviously could have gone to other assignments. But I think he saw that the facility needed an experienced tech who could relieve some of the pressure.”

Bestol did that one better?actually, three times better. Although he spends much of his time on the road and typically works 50?55 hours per week, Bestol recently signed his third, 3-month contract. And his reach extends far beyond Driscoll’s main facility. Bestol has gained the title “traveling Traveler,” because he will routinely fly with a physician to border facilities to treat children at smaller clinics.

Simply the Best(ol)

“For someone to go down there and extend for nine months? It takes a special kind of person,” Sullivan says with obvious admiration.

Bestol, who worked as a tech at the Naval Hospital San Diego, insists that compassion for both the young patient and the parent goes a long way toward making his job easier.

“You do two things?develop coping skills and move faster,” he says of the job. “Since we very rarely use sedation, it helps if the parent is either holding the child or trying to keep the child still during the exam. Holding, feeding, or occupying the child goes a long way toward achieving our goal.”

But Bestol’s skills don’t stop there. Not only has he become a pediatric echo tech mainstay, but he also is helping a new set of techs learn the ropes. After his first 3-month extension, Driscoll hired two permanent but relatively new techs who Bestol is training.

“He’s gone above and beyond in terms of being flexible and taking on this assignment,” Sullivan says.

Bestol maintains that it’s all part of his desire to be part of the solution. “I just want to make a difference at the location I go to. It’s nice to go somewhere I’m needed, and it’s even better to do something for others.”

It might have taken a while, but Med Travelers eventually found the perfect man to solve a dire emergency.

Dave Cater is a contributing writer for Medical Imaging.