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X-ray tech makes sure doctors aren’t operating blind

  • Published
  • By Jeremy Gerlach
  • JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs
Senior Airman Meagan Tavares, 59th Medical Wing radiologic technologist, has a gift for seeing through people.

Her X-ray equipment helps, but Tavares relies just as much on her people skills.

"I get excited when I have a challenging patient that other techs (think) is too difficult,” said Tavares, who works at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland’s Wilford Ambulatory Surgical Center. ”If I can help that person - if I can get that image that other people think is impossible - if I can do that exam that other people think is too hard, that really gets me fired up.”

Starting at 7 a.m., Tavares takes X-rays of patients ranging from active-duty Airmen and their families to retirees. Beyond these basic procedures, she also administers steroid injections for patients with joint pain and fluoroscopy exams for those with digestive tract problems.

"When I can help a patient walk to out of our clinic feeling better than they did when they came in, and they walk out in a better mood, there's nothing that's more satisfying," said Tavares, who also loves working with pediatric patients. "You think kids and X-rays don't mix, - you have to get them to hold still, and some of them are afraid of the doctor- but they're actually the most fun patients to work with.”

These services, Tavares noted, are vital to the 59th Medical Wing’s mission.

"Without X-ray imaging in general, most doctors would be operating blind," Tavares said. "If doctors are unable to see the body part or issue they're looking for, it's really hard for them to get an accurate diagnosis."

Caring for the families of enlisted servicemen and women can be just as important, Tavares added.

"We make sure our forces get to fight, but they're not worrying about their families," she explained.

"If they know their families are in good hands, that takes a huge weight off the shoulders of people who are deployed or who are working on training for long hours. That way they're focused on their mission.”

Tavares knows a thing or two about working long hours. Tech school for most jobs is under three months, but lasts about 13 months for radiologic technicians. That's the longest-running medical tech school in the Air Force, and one of the longest in the entire armed services, according to the Air Force website.

"This is not just button pushing," noted Tavares, who spent hours learning the complete human anatomy. "We also learn about physics so we can ... minimize the radiation exposure to our patients. This is so much more than standing behind a wall and pushing a button."

Tavares is aiming to become a physician's assistant after leaving the Air Force. She's taking pre-requisite classes at the Alamo Colleges, and said she plans on applying to the Inter-Service Physician's Assistant program at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston later this year.

"I never thought the military was going to be an option for me, but the Air Force has just opened so many doors," said Tavares, who noted that she’s not just making money at a job she loves, but is also going to school for free thanks to the Air Force’s tuition assistance. "I'm just very fortunate to have been given these opportunities."

Even after several years of training, Tavares’s endless fascination with the human body keeps her fresh and engaged at work.

"To be able to watch even something as simple as somebody swallowing - to watch that process and see how the esophagus has this motion called ‘peristalsis’ - to watch that in motion is the coolest thing to me," said Tavares. "The human body is so much more complicated than we give it credit for. It blows my mind every time I see it- it never gets old."

Keeping that enthusiasm is important, because the patients at Wilford Hall keep Tavares and the rest of the radiology department on their toes, Tavares said.

"Every morning when I get to work, I'm so excited,” she explained. “No two days are exactly the same. Every patient is different- you never know what you're going to get. Even after two years, I'm learning new things every day.”