The Ten-Minute Interview with… Christopher Kambak, RT(R)

Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute, Sacred Heart Medical Center, Eugene, Oregon
Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute, Sacred Heart Medical Center, Eugene, Oregon

Why did you choose to work in the invasive cardiology field?

I spent approximately 15 years employed in sawmills, working my way from cleanup to foreman before being laid off in September of 1991. One week after the layoff, I was back in school. Five years later, I graduated from Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) as an x-ray technologist. I spent 2+ years working nights as a diagnostic x-ray tech, mostly in the emergency department. I had been introduced to the cath lab during my training at OIT and was hooked. When a job opened at Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute, I was fortunate enough to get hired. We are privileged to have both interventional radiology and cardiac labs at our hospital, so we split our time between them.

Can you describe your role in the cardiovascular lab?
Our labs are comprised of RTs, CVT/RCISs and RNs. The RT and CVT/RCIS role is to monitor, scrub and x-ray. We all rotate through each position. Our lab does require that an RT be in the room whenever an exam using fluoro is performed.

What is the biggest challenge you see regarding your role in the cardiovascular lab?
My biggest challenge is earning the trust of the new doctors. It’s a great feeling on the day they turn to you and ask, “Chris, what do you think we should do here?” and then take your suggestion and do it.

What motivates you to continue working in the CV lab?
I truly love my job. Patient contact is probably the most important reason. The knowledge that I am part of the solution to a patient’s health problem(s) is a real boost to the daily work. I enjoy putting patients at ease and making their procedure less stressful. The other part of my job I like is my co-workers. They help make my workday a joy.

What is the most unusual case you can recall?
We had a patient come to the lab that had infarcted 3 or 4 days before. She ruptured her left ventricle while she was on the table. We tried extremely hard to save her.

When work gets stressful and you experience low moments (as we all do), what do you do to help keep your morale high?
I turn to my co-workers for support. I am usually pretty easygoing, so people can tell fairly quickly when I am bothered by something and never hesitate to ask what is going on.

Are you involved with the SICP or other cardiovascular societies?
Yes! I am a member of the SICP and President of the Oregon chapter. We affectionately call them “Skippy” meetings. I am also a member of AVIR (Association of Vascular and Interventional Radiographers).

Are there websites or texts that you would recommend to other CV labs?
Not so much websites, but I would suggest attending any of the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR)/AVIR conferences. It is very worthwhile.

If you could send a message back to yourself at the beginning of your CV lab career, what advice would you give?
Get lighter lead; that stuff’s going to destroy your back!

Where do you hope to be in your career when it is time to retire?
I only have 9 years until retirement and I hope I continue with what I am doing today. Did I mention I love my job? Boating and fishing have also been a lifelong hobby for me.

Has anyone in particular been helpful to you in your growth as a cardiovascular professional?
Todd Chitwood. He told me many times, “You can do this! You’ve got what it takes.” When we train in our lab, we have set goals. We must meet these goals in order to move on. When I was in training, I had not yet reached my goal of 150 diagnostic case scrubs, but had to scrub in on an intervention. The physician I was scrubbed in with was confident in my skills and encouraged me to proceed. It went great and I’ve never looked back.

Where do you think the invasive cardiology field is headed in the future?
I believe drug-eluting stents will make their way to IR. I think that we will do less diagnostic cases and more interventions, due to the increased use of cardiac CT and MRI. It won’t surprise me to see standalone labs doing interventions, especially the radial approach.

Christopher Kambak can be contacted at CKambak@ohvi.org