Mammographer near 30 years at Mercy

Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Gail Pierce, staff tech in the Radiology Department at Mercy Hospital in Cassville, looks at images of a mammogram screening on the Mercy Hospital Cassville’s Hologic Selenia digital machine. Pierce said the hospital does about 1,200 mammograms per year, and the facility’s smaller size allows for more time per patient. Kyle Troutman/editor@cassville-democrat.com

Hospital does about 1,200 screenings annually

Breast care and health has changed quite a bit over the past 30 years, and Gail Pierce, staff tech in the Radiology Department at Mercy Hospital in Cassville, has been around to see it.

Pierce said the hospital does about 1,200 mammograms per year for local residents, and about 10 percent of those end up having to go in for further research.

“Our ratio is right on because we keep quality controls and record for accuracy, and about 1-in-8 of positive tests end up being cancer,” she said. “The other seven may be benign tumors or overlapping tissue, just something we have to do additional studies.”

Pierce said when she came to Cassville in December 1988, things were much

different than what is available now.

“Right now, we have a Hologic Selenia digital machine [for mamograms,” she said. “We got that in 2012, and even though it is five years old, it was top of the line when we received it.

“When I first came here, we had the barest minimum of what was on the market, but back then it wasn’t regulated like it is now. In about 1991, the government got involved and partnered with the Food and Drug Administration and American College of Radiology and came up with guidelines everyone had to follow. We also moved into a new facility and separated the lab and the X-ray departments, and that is way better. But, sometimes I miss the old days. This is a great place to work, but it was easier when we got to see our co-workers regularly versus being behind locked doors everywhere.”

Before the digital machine, Pierce said the hospital used film screen, a technology she said was still effective.

“The skill set of the tech plays a big role, and there is a broader length of grays and more variations and detail in digital images, but the film screen detection statistics are just as accurate as the digital detection statistics,” she said.

Radiology was not originally Pierce’s first choice in the medical field, as in high school, she aimed to become a nurse.

“I always wanted to be a nurse, but I discovered it takes a lot more time and money,” she said. “I didn’t know if I would like radiology, but it was only a two-year program and only cost $350.”

Pierce schooled with Cox in Springfield to get her education, having to work 40-hour weeks for two years, and at no pay.

“It was fast and affordable,” she said. “When you go through school, get your skill set and start to get to know what you’re doing, it takes some time to figure out how much you enjoy it because you’re so busy just doing it. It was three or four years before i figured out this is where I am meant to be.”

Pierce said Cassville is even a better place to be, as the smaller size allows her more time and personal interaction with patients.

“I am friends with a lot of my patients, and coworkers who have come in,” she said. “Every tech in the Springfield hospital has to do 40 mammograms per day, and it’s not that way here, and I hope it never is.

“On a full day, we may be in the lab for 10 exams, and if we do 12 screenings, that’s a full day. Some days, we only do five or six. Some patients really need that extra time and interaction. If you take your time, it’s more tolerable, and I like to be able to look my patients in the eyes instead of just having my head in the computer or the machine.”

Whether in soon or not, Pierce said she hopes women are doing self breast exams and planning to get mammograms annually.

“I think every woman out there should know how important annual mammograms are, but it never hurts to say it,” she said. “Some patients get in a routine where they do self exams and skip a couple years, then they come to get a mammogram and that’s when we find something. So, you have to stay diligent.

“Come get a mammogram. We are open.”

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