HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, News13 is taking a look at how workforce shortages could impact breast cancer patients across the country.
Medical studies show that the number of breast imaging specialists is down, and it looks like they can’t keep up with the demand.
A breast cancer survivor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College said in 2003, she went in for her regular mammogram when her breast cancer was first detected.
Susan Wall said if she hadn’t gone in for her for that checkup, no one knows what could’ve happened.
“They said, ‘yes, you do have cancer.’ And I was heartbroken,” she said.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says that women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage have a 99% chance of surviving at least five years.
“They really need to have access to a good mammogram,” Wall said.
Professionals at HGTC and Conway Medical Center said they’re going to great lengths to provide patients with breast healthcare.
“We want to detect a cancer early so it doesn’t go any further and we can get it treated,” said Jennifer Coker, a mammographer at Conway Medical Center.
However, workforce shortages have made it difficult. HGTC medical officials like Dr. Douglas Gleasman said it’s impacting healthcare centers both state and nationwide.
“The population is growing so much in this area and it’s expanding,” he said. “Our clinical affiliates are adding outpatient centers, building hospitals.”
HGTC offers a variety of imaging sciences programs which prepare students for paths like mammography.
Through those programs, HGTC officials hope to graduate medical professionals who will go on to a secondary pathway for mammography and fill some of those gaps in the workforce.
Coker said she commuted to North Carolina to get her mammography certification in person.
But after more than a decade in that role, she said it’s something more young medical students should consider.
“When patients come in, they’re anxious and they’re wanting to get their mammograms done,” Coker said. “And if I can make that uncomfortable test easier for them, it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day.”
HGTC said it’s accepting applications for its six-semester x-ray technologist program until January.