With an Eye on the Distance, Radiographer Seeds Scholarship for Hispanics

Jul. 14, 2016

Jorge CasanasAsk Jorge A. Casañas about his journey, and you will discover a radiographer turned teacher and marathon runner who desires to give back to a profession he feels he lucked into. His new goal to help others afford a degree in radiography was inspired by a $500 scholarship.

“I won a Fulbright scholarship right out of high school,” says Jorge Casañas, M.Ed., R.T.(R)(CV)(QM). “I started going to school for respiratory therapy but didn’t like what I was doing, so I dropped out. At the time, I didn’t know that once you drop out you lose the scholarship.”

As Jorge researched his options for continuing his education, he realized he still wanted a career in health care. Choosing radiography enabled him to combine two of his passions: photography and medicine. After shadowing an R.T. for a day or two, he applied to the Mount Sinai Medical Center School of Radiology. His next hurdle was finding the money to enroll.

Making Strides Toward Goals

“I entered into the Dade County Youth Fair and they have scholarships they award to students,” recalls Jorge. “I applied for the scholarship — it happened to be $500, and school was $500. I still have a copy of that check.”

That was in 1980 and the small stipend the hospital-based program paid was only good for buying gas, says Jorge. “It was like boot camp. We went to school five days a week, with no holidays off except two weeks at Christmas. I see college now and think it’s a piece of cake. You come in twice a week and go to clinic twice a week. That’s not the way it was.”

After earning a certificate, Jorge went to work as a staff radiographer and special procedure technologist at Palm Springs General Hospital in Hialeah, Florida. He also continued his education. Years after he earned his bachelor’s degree in health services administration, Jorge discovered that he had accrued enough community college credits in radiography at the Miami Dade College to claim an associate degree.

“When I went back to the college I teach at now as an adjunct, they asked, ‘How come you never applied for your degree?’” recalls Jorge. “I went to school to get my associate degree, but never applied for it because I knew I wanted a bachelor’s degree.”

That single-minded determination has served the radiographer, supervisor and instructor well throughout the years. Jorge continued to seek out challenges like running a marathon — his first in 2014 and more to come — and earning his master’s degree at the urging of his professor, Tonette Rocco, Ph.D., and his friend and former student, Helena M. Coello, M.Ed., R.T.(R).

He especially credits Helena for encouraging him to finish his master’s degree. “She was the driving force in getting me to go back and finish graduate school.”

Going the Extra Mile

Although Jorge has worked as the imaging services supervisor for 29 of his 33 years at Baptist Health South Florida-South Miami Hospital, his contributions to the profession go far beyond a single facility. These days, along with his work as a supervisor, Jorge develops workshops and courses, including an eight-hour workshop he gives through the Advanced Health Education Center in Houston, Texas, along with serving as faculty in the radiologic sciences at Miami Dade College.

Jorge also had the thrill of seeing his first academic paper published before finishing his master’s degree, at the urging of his mentor and teacher Tonette, a full professor at the Florida International University in Miami.

“That was a big thing for her because it was her pushing me constantly that helped me get it done,” says Jorge. “I was really proud of publishing that paper.”

Now he encourages his students to write and publish articles and posters, and in the role of student and teacher has spoken and written about the career he chose.

Racing Ahead With the Foundation

In 2008, Jorge applied to the ASRT Foundation to participate in the International Speakers Exchange Award program and was chosen to speak in South Africa. “I was humbled to have been chosen out of the 30 who applied, and was truly humbled by the people I met in South Africa who work so hard.”

He also attended the Foundation’s Health Care Industry Advisory Council Summit in Miami last year and met some of the students who have won scholarships. “It was so rewarding talking to them and hearing what a difference the scholarship had made in their lives.”

Jorge wants to ensure that others can experience this profession as he has since finding his way into the field. “If it wasn’t for a scholarship, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve been very fortunate in life, not only professionally but personally. I think that’s the reason why I’m funding a scholarship for Hispanic students. You always think of someone leaving a legacy when they die. I know I want to do this now.”