Janet Boomer is looking to reinvent herself.
The lead computed tomography (CT) technologist at a satellite hospital within a large hospital system, Janet aims to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Flexible Option Diagnostic Imaging program offered by UW-Milwaukee in the spring of 2017.
“I graduated from the X-ray program back in 1994 and I still have a lot to offer,” said Janet, who lives and works in Michigan. “My goal is to get to grad school—I want to become a physician’s assistant.”
Demand for physician assistants (PAs) is growing, Janet says, particularly in rural areas. One reason is that PAs are less expensive than doctors. “That helps keep healthcare costs down,” said Janet.
It wasn’t easy finding the program she wanted, particularly as a full-time healthcare professional with a family.
“I still have a lot to offer…I want to become a physician’s assistant.”
“I looked at other bachelor’s programs in Michigan, but they were aimed at people who want suit-and-tie administrator jobs. I am a scrubs-and-gloves kind of person. I want to be involved in patient care.”
Of course, flexibility was important. “My work schedule is so variable—this is health care, after all—that I need to be able to study whenever I can.”
One day, Janet discovered the flexible Diagnostic Imaging program online. The competency-based format fit her schedule, and the curriculum was “right in my wheelhouse,” said Janet. “I thought, ‘I can do this!’”
Janet flexes her potential
Having been out of school for nearly 20 years, Janet started slowly. “For my first subscription period, I only took one competency set. It was summer and I wanted time for golfing and outdoor activities, as well as to get my feet wet with going back to school.”
“My life is extremely full and I have to prioritize. With the Flexible Option, I can study at my dining room table, before dinner and after.”
Her Flexible Option program made it easy.
Unlike traditional college degree programs that operate on standard semester schedules, Janet’s flexible Diagnostic Imaging program let her start any month and offered two subscription options to fit her availability and ambition. One subscription option would let her focus on a single competency set (essentially a “course” in traditional programs) for a three-month period. A second, “all-you-can-learn” option allowed Janet to advance as fast as she could over the same three-month span.
“The flexibility is what I like best,” said Janet. “My life is extremely full and I have to prioritize. With the Flexible Option, I can study at my dining room table, before dinner and after dinner, during breaks at work—whenever I need to. But more than that, I can take a breath when I need to. Last year, I took off the entire month of December to enjoy the holidays with family and catch up around the house.”
Progress in Flexible Option programs is achieved by passing assessments—tests, papers, projects, and other activities—designed to demonstrate student knowledge. Some competency sets include practice assessments so students can make sure they are prepared for the real thing. Students who come to their programs already proficient in required competencies can take assessments without having to study the suggested learning materials. As soon as the student passes an assessment, he or she can move on to new competency sets and assessments.
In this way, motivated students have the potential to dramatically accelerate their time to graduation.
Janet’s program began with an introduction from her Academic Success Coach, a dedicated adviser who provides one-on-one support throughout the program.
“My Academic Success Coach took my transcripts, analyzed them, and created a learning plan personalized for me. The nice thing is, I can take my competency sets in any order I choose.”
The day-to-day experience in the Diagnostic Imaging program
Many prospective Flex students are eager to understand what the day-to-day experience is like. Janet explains her approach: “At the start of each competency set, I go in and look at the expectations. Then I look at the recommended learning resources. If I already know the study material, I skip it. But I’m not doing much skipping right now, because the competencies that involve the skills I use at work—in X-ray contrast, in imaging agents—I haven’t taken yet.”
“If I wanted to take 20 credits, I could have. There’s no limit to what you can do with Flex.”
The Flexible Option’s self-paced format is a big bonus for returning adult learners like Janet, but it is by no means a shortcut for students who don’t know the material. “I thought I could knock out assessments really fast,” said Janet. “Then I got in and thought, ‘Wow.’ I am a perfectionist. I hear from younger people that ‘Cs get degrees.’ But that’s not me. I like to do things to the best of my ability.”
Flex gives Janet that opportunity. Rather than award letter grades, Flex programs quantify learning based on whether a student can competently do the tasks the curriculum requires.
“Flex assessments aren’t just pen-and-paper tests,” Janet explains. “For example, in one assessment, I was asked to review a very poorly written email. I analyzed it for logic, reasoning, grammar, and appropriateness. I corrected it and made it more concise and professional.”
“Assignments can be hard work, but they’re very worthwhile,” Janet confides.
Throughout her Flex program, Janet is able to draw from learning resources, either recommended or selected by her, to gain the knowledge she needs. “With the Flexible Option, I can use any learning resources I find to study for assessments. The professors’ recommended resources are very good, and I am using a lot of resources from work, from home, from the Internet. I like being able to use what I want.”
Janet earned three credits during her first subscription period. “After so many years away from school, I wasn’t sure how it would work out. But I loved it!” And so she signed up for her second subscription period, taking nine credits in the “all-you-can-learn” model. “If I wanted to take 20 credits, I could have,” said Janet. “There’s no limit to what you can do with Flex.”
A relevant and engaging curriculum
Janet says the curriculum is living up to her expectations. “The Flexible Option Diagnostic Imaging curriculum teaches healthcare literacy. It’s all relevant and it has opened my eyes to a lot of new things.”
“The depth of the material has enriched the job I am doing now…”
Importantly, Janet is learning new skills she can use at work right away. “The depth of the material has enriched the job I am doing now. It’s already made a difference.”
So impressed was Janet with one competency set in particular that she wrote the professor a heartfelt email thanking her for a class well done.
“The information literacy assignment on diagnostic errors was hard work but very rewarding,” she wrote. “As a former safety ambassador for the radiology department, patient safety (and employee safety) is a passion of mine. As many precautions as are put in place, healthcare has a long way to go in combating diagnostic error. Thank you for opening my eyes to a category of medical error that I will continue to draw attention to.”
“…I bring my new learnings to work every day.”
Janet especially likes the units in radiology. “Competency sets one and two expanded my knowledge base outside the radiology discipline and into the lab discipline. As a technologist who serves the emergency room, I access patient chart data specific to the exams I am performing. Using my newly acquired knowledge regarding lab values gives me better insight into my patients’ conditions. This enables me to provide better patient care.”
“The material has really stretched my thinking,” said Janet. “The knowledge I gained will serve me well in the future.”
Janet is keen to share this knowledge with her co-workers. “I bring my new learnings to work every day,” said Janet. “For example, the curriculum had me looking at professional ethics and integrity. The assessments referenced the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists—we had to write a paper on its code of ethics. I had to examine the code closely and really take it apart. I am now planning to hold a staff meeting at work where I will conduct a lesson on professional ethics.”
An affordable education option
As the cost of college tuition rises, affordability is a big concern for returning adult learners. Janet appreciates that the Flexible Option allows her to study only what she needs to learn.
“Other online courses I looked at still used the standard, high-cost credit hour,” Janet said. “The ability to work at my own pace gives me the potential to save money as well as time.”
“The ability to work at my own pace gives me the potential to save money as well as time.”
How does the cost of the flexible Diagnostic Imaging program compare to other programs? Janet said, “I didn’t do a lot of comparisons, but my kids just completed their degrees. The Flexible Option Diagnostic Imaging program is very affordable in comparison.”
A bright future ahead
Janet Boomer is looking to reinvent herself, and with the University of Wisconsin Flexible Option Diagnostic Imaging program, she’s found a convenient, affordable, and thought-provoking education—one that makes it possible for her to complete her bachelor’s degree on her own time and terms.
“I am really happy with my Flexible Option program,” said Janet. “Even if I don’t go on to grad school, I will still get an awesome education and a bachelor’s degree that has developed me as a healthcare provider.”
Whatever the future holds, Janet’s motivation, dedication, and love of learning are sure to take her far.
To find out more about the UW Flexible Option and whether this competency-based education option is a good fit for you, call a friendly enrollment adviser today at 1-877-895-3276.
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