It seems that every few months, a new face or program emerges at CPN Health Services. This November was no different, as Mammography Technologist Heather Alford officially began seeing patients at the CPN Health Services’ East Clinic. Alford got her initial motivation to work in the healthcare sector as a child, as she watched her mother undergo treatment for a brain tumor.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in the medical field after watching my mom undergo treatment for a brain tumor,” explained Alford. “I remember her going through that and seeing her lay down in these big tubes, which I now know she was getting CT scans and MRIs. Today I’m the one helping operate those same kinds of machines for our patients.”
Alford is a graduate of the Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City School of Radiology, where she completed an AAS in Radiology.
“OSU-OKC is a more clinical based program,” said Alford. “With the studies I took there, I received practical, in-office training that has served me in my work at St. Anthony’s Shawnee hospital and now the CPN Health Services.”
Officially known as a Radiologic Technologist, Alford is trained to operate X-ray, CT scan and mammography machines.
“We all learn how to perform X-rays in school,” explained Alford. “CT scans and mammograms are what you learn on the job. The training for the mammogram machines is what I’ve been doing since I joined CPN as a full time employee.”
Alford came to CPN in May 2014 as a full time employee after two years of serving as a contractor when the previous X-ray technologist Sharon Gerards was out of the office. During that time, Alford worked full time at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Shawnee, Okla. as an X-ray technician. When Gerards told Alford of her intention to retire and of the subsequent opening at CPN Health Services, Alford jumped at the chance to join the Tribal health services.
“With support from Tribal administration, we were able to budget for and purchase a top quality mammography machine,” said Director of CPN Health Services, Tim Tall Chief. “With this purchase, we are now able to keep our mammograms in-house to provide quality care and increase patient satisfaction, which in turn saves thousands of dollars through Contract Health that we can earmark for other services.”
Historically, CPN Health Services have had to send out patients to other facilities to have mammograms done. With Alford, the tests can be completed in house. Another benefit allows CPN Health Services to bill for the service as well.
“The addition of Heather Alford to this department has been the icing on the cake,” said Tall Chief. “Heather comes to us with contagious excitement and eagerness to build this service from the ground up.”
Since May 2014, Alford has undergone training and certification as a mammographic technologist while serving in an as-needed basis as an X-ray technologist. With her and the clinic’s final certification by the Food and Drug Administration completed, Alford began seeing patients on Nov. 24.
“I don’t think people realize what all you have to do to get mammography up and running,” she explained. “It is so regulated by the FDA and American College of Radiology, and there are a lot of steps involved, so I’m happy to see light at the end of this tunnel. I love that the equipment helps and that patients like the fact that it is both brand new and can be used here at the clinic. It’s just a wonderful experience and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
The American Cancer Society and American College of Radiology recommend annual mammograms beginning at the age of 40, unless one’s mother or a first relative had a history of breast cancer. In that case, it is recommended patients start mammograms ten years before the age of that relative’s diagnosis.
If you would like to learn more about the new mammography clinic or about the other offerings of the CPN Health Services, please visit www.potawatomi.org/services/health/clinics or call (405)273-5236.