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“I was working as a quality inspector for semiconductors at Texas Instruments when my entire shift was laid off. TI generously gave us a two-year tuition reimbursement package, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. My mother, a medical staffer at the time, asked what I thought about pursuing echocardiography. She knew how much I liked high-tech work, and she was always taking calls looking for echocardiographers at her medical temp agency.
“I looked into one school but found it was very expensive — about $18,000. For that price I would have only ended up with a certificate and not an associate degree. I asked around at other schools and found El Centro. I quickly applied and was accepted to the Cardiac Sonography program.
“It amazes me that my entire degree cost approximately $4,500 and is far more valuable in the workplace than a certificate but cost about one-fourth as much. Many of my friends with four-year degrees are loaded with debt and do not have near the same earning potential with their degrees. Thank God I listened to my mom!
“I was hired full time at one of my clinical sites months prior to graduation and was able to complete the remainder of my course work online. I agreed to work without pay until graduation, and my employer decided to thank me with a generous sign-on bonus. I worked at the HeartPlace Richardson for two years before my second child was born and loved every minute of it. It was there that I became a clinical preceptor for El Centro Cardiac Sonography students. That was especially gratifying for me as I could so relate to what they were experiencing, having gone through the program myself.
“Our role as echocardiographers is so critical to patient care. It is no small thing that physicians and their patients rely upon us. After my son was born, I resigned from my full-time position. The physicians there were very kind and helped me secure PRN work with the adjoining hospital, meaning I filled in on an as-needed basis, so that I would be able to maintain my skills until I was ready to resume full-time work.
“I enjoyed working PRN for several facilities, including my former employer, for over a year, until I received a call from
Cathy Carolan. She gave me quite an honor when she requested that I return to El Centro, only this time to teach. I initially went back to El Centro as a part-time clinical instructor, but that turned into a full-time visiting scholar position for two years.
“While teaching at El Centro, I welcomed my third child. I continued to teach until my daughter was seven months old, when I decided to leave the college and return to contracting. It provided better hourly wages than being on staff somewhere, less the benefits and guaranteed work. My CPA advised me to go ahead and incorporate a business because I quickly gained so many clients. Initially, my company was created as a contracting firm to offer echocardiography services to hospitals or cardiology offices whose staff was taking vacation or leave.
“I’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. I have also created and copyrighted an Excel-based spreadsheet for echocardiography labs to purchase, which would assist in tracking statistics of their correlations and confirmation of results — comparing the results of echocardiography tests to other modalities, such as cath, MPI, MRI/CT or surgery. This information is required by the accrediting bodies, but it can be very time-consuming to track.
“My spreadsheet makes the process very simple. It automatically pulls statistical reports from a specially designed electronic daily logbook. I am very proud of it, and the labs that have purchased it have given me really positive feedback.
“My company really grew when I learned more about the accreditation process for echo labs. With insurance companies beginning to require it as a condition for payment, I saw a potential career opportunity. I had been an echocardiographer in a busy practice and knew how daunting the accreditation process would be for any full-time technologist unfamiliar with the standards. Policy writing and report designing could all be done from the comfort of my home. They wouldn’t have time without it drastically affecting their lab’s bottom line. I saw the opportunity to consult and offer my services. It has really paid off. I never dreamed there would be such a demand for my services.
“This degree has offered me so much flexibility as a wife and mother. I also home-school my children. It’s very exciting to have a full-time income on my own terms. Having my own company allows me to have more flexibility both in my career and at home with my family.”
Liberty Cowden earned an associate degree in Cardiac Sonography from El Centro College in 2003 and was hired as a staff echocardiographer for the HeartPlace Richardson before she graduated.
Liberty Cowden is a registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer.