At Houston medical Imaging, we celebrate our employees’ diversity. Each of us brings a mix of culture, religion, and ethnic background making our team unique. We believe that each individual plays a vital role in creating an environment that emulates our mission statement, which is to deliver a high level of patient care as well as show compassion for our patients.
As part of celebrating our diversity, I had the pleasure of meeting Suja Lukose. She is a lead MRI technologist at HMI’s Shephard location and is originally from Kerala, India. Her responsibilities include managing a busy MRI schedule, assisting the radiologist with several procedures such as biopsies and ablations.
I spent the morning with Suja observing how she interacted with her patients, managed her busy schedule, noticed the measures she took to ensure she remained on time, and how she approached explaining the procedure/follow-up steps to each patient. I couldn’t help but notice how thoughtful and aware she was of what her patients were experiencing as well as their feelings. In fact, several patients seemed nervous prior to their imaging study and Suja went out of her way to be compassionate, even holding their hand or touching their shoulder to add extra reassurance. As I watched this interaction, I became curious as to why she ended up as a radiology technologist and what aspects of her culture influences her day-to-day activities.
Suja is the youngest of eight siblings. She recalls her childhood as happy and simple. She loved math and exceled in school. Her eyes lit up as she described her home, culture, festivals, and the wonderful food that her mother would cook. Kerala is a state in India located on the southwestern Malabar coast and is known for its rich history as being a large port town between Europe, Asia, and Africa. At one point, it was the largest exporter of spices, especially black pepper, dating back to 3000 BCE. Kerala is considered a cosmopolitan culture, which is attributed to the centuries worth of influence from other countries such as Europe and the Middle East. Due to this outside influence they have developed a distinctive lifestyle with language, literature, art, and architecture, which threads their society.
After doing some research on Kerala, I was surprised to find that it had been named as one of the top 10 paradises to visit in the world by National Geographic. Visitors can enjoy a variety of terrains including: beaches, backwaters, lakes, mountain ranges, waterfalls, ancient ports, palaces, wildlife sanctuaries, and religious institutions. The official language is called Malayalam, but there are a dozen other languages spoken there as well.
The state is rich in agriculture from rice, black pepper, coconut, tea, coffee, cashews, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, as well as nutmeg with jack fruit being their state fruit and a cultural icon in Kerala. If you have never tasted jack fruit, most people would compare the taste to pineapples, bananas, and mangos. Rice has been the key agricultural product due to the vast paddy fields. Along with agriculture, the region is blessed with over 370 miles of coastal land which makes Kerala the leading producer of seafood in India.
Another fun fact I learned is that the elephant is an integral part of the culture. With over 10,000 annual festivals, elephants play a major role in all of them. The elephant is the state animal and is featured on the emblem of the government. Suja said their neighbor owned a ceremony elephant and every day they would watch it eat mangoes from the tree in the back yard.
She told me about the different traditional dishes she ate growing up and now cooks for her family. In the western world, India is known for its curries, naan bread, chutneys, and basmati rice. According to Suja, they use curry to flavor many different types of food including vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood. The most common breakfast in Kerala is puttu.Puttu is steamed rice floor with coconut log. It is often served with black bean curry and can be cooked with bamboo logs giving the puttu a lovely aroma. Due to the large number of coconut trees, coconut milk is a common ingredient to many of the southern Indian dishes. Suja described several other favorite dishes called Idli, palappam, and tapioca. They all sounded delicious. She explained that in her home, they ate on banana leaves and ate with their hands as was the tradition in their culture.
Suja’s family had goats and chickens, while her aunt had a cow. She explained how everyone would share their provisions with the entire family. Her job was to collect fresh eggs and for special holidays like Christmas and Easter, she would help catch and prepare the hen for dinner.
I wanted to hear about the festivals as there are over 10,000 celebrated annually in Kerala. For the sake of time, I asked Suja what her favorite festival was and she told me it was a festival called Onam. It is a harvest celebration in the months of August-September and lasts between 4 and 10 days. She said, “We didn’t have school for 10 days. We wore our best clothes and had a new flower arrangement every day.” The first and last day of the celebration are the most important. During the ten-day event, they celebrate with elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, games, elephants, boats, and flowers. I wanted to understand the story behind Onam and why this particular holiday was most celebrated.
The story goes that during the reign of mighty asura (demon) king, Mahabali, Kerala witnessed its golden era. Everybody in the state was happy, prosperous, and the king was highly regarded by his subjects. Apart from all his virtues, Mahabali had one shortcoming-he was egotistic. This weakness in Mahabali's character was utilized by the gods to bring an end to his reign as they felt challenged by Mahabali's growing popularity. However, for all the good deeds done by Mahabali, God granted him one wish that he could annually visit his people. This granted wish is this visit of Mahabali that is celebrated as Onam every year. People make all efforts to celebrate the festival in a grand way to impress upon their King that they are happy and wish him well. This festival is known worldwide as a grand carnival and many people travel to Kerala to take part or watch the grand celebration.
Once Suja completed her bachelor’s degree, she moved to the city of Bangalore where she studied radiology. She also learned how to speak English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, and some Arabic. It was her first experience living on her own, but she enjoyed the opportunity to live and experience life. At that time in India, it was not common for a female to be unwed as most marriages were arranged by the parents at a young age. Suja’s goal wasn’t to get married right away, and actually turned down several marriage proposals in order to focus on traveling and finding a life that allowed her to help people. Growing up she dreamt of becoming a nun, but her family was not supportive of that lifestyle and they encouraged her to get an education, which she did. She ultimately began to work as a CT and MRI technologist in Bangalore and eventually moved to Dubai to continue her career.
Her parents passed away only two weeks apart from each other, so her brother and sister encouraged her to join them in the United States. She arrived in the USA with family support and decided to take the needed exams to continue working in radiology.
She was thirty-years old at the time and her family stressed that they were responsible in the absence of their parents to ensure that Suja married. After turning down another two marriage proposals, she finally agreed to allow her older brother and sister to arrange a marriage and find a suitable husband. The suitor was a young man who lived in Philadelphia and was originally from Mumbai. They met in March for thirty minutes, he soon moved to Houston, and they saw each other just a couple more times before they were married in August. My curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask the question, “What was it like to meet a stranger and then marry him?” She said that she was able to assess him quickly and realize that he very similar to her in many ways. Although he has the same culture as her, he was from a military family and he grew up traveling, which allowed for a broad upbringing. She felt confident in that initial meeting that he would respect her and her life goals. Fast forward to today where they have been married for 18 years and have three beautiful children together. She said that their marriage has been good as he values her and strives to make her happy. Although she appreciates the values she was raised in, she is raising her children to make decisions for themselves. She said, “We will not prearrange who our grown children marry, they have a right to choose, times are different now.”
She talked about the difference in her culture growing up versus the culture and environment her children are being raised in. She said that we are so blessed to be in the United States, it is so easy to take that for granted. Suja said that what she most wants her children to learn is to always follow their heart, travel and experience the world, and find a way to give back. She wants them to remember that family and providing help to those in need are the most important values.
“I try to show my children the real world when we travel. We go to orphanages and bring necessities to those who need it. I want my children to grow up understanding how privileged they are to grow up with so much opportunities. I tell them to never hurt anyone, follow their conscience, and smile.”
She explained that she uses those same principals in work. “I make sure each patient has a smile on their face when they leave. Patients don’t choose us, they come to us because they need us, so I try and do the right thing for each person I perform a scan or assist in a procedure. I believe that my diverse background has given me an understanding of multiple cultures and ethnicities. It has helped me when caring for patients. It is important that I treat each person with respect and kindness, if I fail, it all falls on me.”
I asked her what it was like moving to the United States and what those early days were like for her. She said that her accent was very thick causing people to have a hard time understanding her. This made her speak slower and clearer so patients could understand what she was saying. According to Suja, this made her a better tech as it taught her to slow down and focus more of her time on the patient. “When I first came to the United States and started working as a technologist, I met a radiologist named Dr. Staewen. I thought his skillset was exceptional and his patient care outstanding. I have worked with Dr. Staewen since 2001 and followed him to join the team at HMI. I have learned so much from him. He not only treats his patients with kindness and respect, he also treats me and the other staff with respect and compliments us and makes us feel valued. In my experience, I think Dr. Staewen is the best MSK doctor in Houston- he is gifted. I feel fortunate that I work with some incredible radiologists, they are always available and willing to help.”
I asked Suja why she has stayed with HMI for so many years and she said that there were several reasons on her list. “First is, the technology/imaging equipment we offer our patients. It is the same level of quality imaging that a large hospital would have, except we don’t have the same high cost to patients. It is not easy or cheap to compete with the large hospital systems in Houston, so to be able to deliver this kind of patient care is unique. I know our patients are receiving optimum care.” Another reason she said, “We have sub-specialty radiologists. A lot of people may not understand or completely grasp the importance of that, but, ultimately, we have individuals who are specialists at what they do and patients benefit greatly. We also have quick turn-around time, which means the referring doctors and patients have access to their reports in a relatively short amount of time. We offer stat exams and have flexibility with scheduling stat request from referring doctors. I believe HMI is about quality and that is another reason I stay.”
She continued to talk about her overall experience as an employee at HMI, she spoke about Dr. Stenoien, CEO and owner of Houston Medical Imaging. She said that he treats everyone with respect, whether you are a patient, doctor, technologist, receptionist, or janitor, we are all valued. This creates a positive environment and we support each other, which then reflects in our patient care and it becomes “our” business. That is the culture- support each other and learn from each other to create a stronger team with less room for error.
A typical day as a lead MRI technologist for Suja actually starts the day before. She reviews each patients chart to ensure there is nothing pending, if she finds anything that needs attention, she will call the patient and fix any issues which could potentially create delays in the schedule and also gives the patient a chance to ask any last-minute questions.
Suja is very passionate about the high-quality imaging equipment especially the Skyra 3T MRI. She explained that the power of the magnet and coils make for high-quality images with improved detail compared to other MRI machines. The high resolution and ability for thinner cross-sectional imaging allows for improved visualization. The machine is also one of the best on the market for patients that experience claustrophobia as the opening measures 72 cm wide and can hold a patient up to 550 lbs. The other benefit is the speed, making the scan time quick and easier on the patient.
I asked her what she does to help a patient who gets claustrophobic and she explained that working in an outpatient imaging center gives a more intimate feel, she is the second person the patient will meet, so the process is short. “We take our time ensuring patients are as comfortable as possible, monitoring, and talking to them during the scan ensuring they are okay. If necessary, we give oral sedation if this is the only option to help a patient make it through their scan. We try to remain on time. If a patient has to wait this can elevate their level of anxiety so we try to be very mindful of this. Thankfully, scan times have decreased, which has improved the patient experienced.”
We are thankful to have technologists like Suja who are passionate about patient care and bring experience as well as knowledge to the team. Together they make up the wonderful and diverse team who truly care about their patient’s experience.
If you have any questions about imaging studies performed at HMI or the technology used for imaging scans, please visit our website at www.hmixray.com