Ellen Smith: Putting the rad in radiology technology

Anna Smith


At 14, Ellen Smith was diagnosed with scoliosis – the curvature of the spine – that without treatment can lead to permanent disfigurement, chronic pain, or other health issues. Her subsequent medical journey led her to her future career in the radiology technology field. She shared her scoliosis recovery, her journey to finding the radiology technology major in college, as well as benefits of the position in the hospital.  

My name is Ellen Smith, and I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and I have been studying radiology for about five years. One of the things that got me into radiology was my experience in the radiology department. When I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, and most girls going through puberty, especially around thirteen or fourteen, get scoliosis. When girls start going through puberty, and even boys, the doctor is supposed to check their spines to make sure there’s no abnormal curvature. And this unfortunately was not done to me, and so by the time I was fourteen, I had a 37-degree curve in my spine, which is on the brink either needing a brace, or surgery.

I wore a brace. Every single night for about two years, and my spine when from a 37-degree angle to a 35-degree angle. The brace is supposed to help, but the main idea of it is to slow down the curvature and prevent it from curving anymore. So, when I was fourteen and I found out that I had scoliosis, I thought it was the end of the world, like when you’re thirteen or fourteen, and you find out that there’s something abnormal with your body, you freak out, and that’s exactly what I did! And so, I was terrified to go to the Children’s Hospital to get my spine looked at, wear a brace, and stuff. Because I knew in my head that people would make fun of me for wearing a brace. And they won’t, but looking back now as a 22-year-old, I know they won’t.

Going into college I had no idea what I wanted to do. I even wanted to be a newscaster for a moment, but I knew that I was meant for the medical field, but again, I didn’t know what. Feeling like I was lost, I went to my career center and we kind of weighed different options for different careers, and I told her specifically that I did not want to be a nurse, I may want to be a doctor, but that was still on the table. I just wanted to be behind the scenes initially just to get a feel of how the medical field works. So, she ran through different options, and we landed on radiology, and when I went to college, I was 18, so I hadn’t really thought about my scoliosis adventure for a couple years because, at that point, I was out of the brace, and I was done growing.

Ellen Smith, wearing her radiology clinical scrubs while discussing her scoliosis journey in the Froedtert Medical Hospital break room. ©2021 Anna Smith

When I started the radiology program, I was like a deer in the headlights. I had no idea what I was doing, I’m literally radiating people for the first time ever in my life, and I was freaked out. So, when I’m on the brink of quitting and wanting to just stop doing what I’m doing I think of my experience when I’m fourteen, and I remember the technologists, and the nurses, and the radiologists that helped me through my experience and made it a wonderful time, where because I was so scared, and so nervous, they turned that anxiety into excitement about going to the doctor.

And there have been patients and co-workers that have inspired me to keep going. I have also had patients that are so thankful for my work, and that I am the “shining light” through their darkest days, and that is the best thing to hear. I could’ve been having a terrible day, and then I go in and work with a patient, and I just act like my normal self, and despite me having a terrible day, despite the patient having a terrible day, I am, the light at the end of the tunnel. I love when human interactions like that happen because obviously, I’m not pining for it, it’s very serendipitous.