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Sonographer Volunteer of the Month- December 2018: Karen Helfinstine, ACS, RCS, RDCS, FASE

By Natalya Read posted 12-18-2018 10:37


Karen_H.jpgWhen and how did you get involved with cardiovascular ultrasound? 

In 2002, I took an anatomy and physiology class at Rochester Community and Technical College thinking that I was preparing for a nursing career to care for pediatric cancer patients. My daughter is a childhood cancer survivor and I always had wanted to give back in that area by becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.  However, in class when we got to the unit on the heart, I completely fell in love with the heart.  I was mesmerized by it and intrigued by what an incredible organ it is.  It stirred in me a passion I had never experienced before.  My sister, Jennie Durant, is a general/vascular/fetal sonographer and encouraged me to go into Echocardiography.  I was working at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN at that time and I applied and was accepted into the Mayo Echo program in 2003.

 What is the name and type of facility/institution at which you work, and what is your current position? 

I currently work at Mayo Clinic Rochester.  After I graduated from the Mayo program, I worked until 2006 at Mayo and then we moved back to the Twin Cities from Rochester.  At that time, I became the program chair at an ultrasound school there.  In 2011, I was recruited to help build the CV Imaging program at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.  I just came back to Mayo Clinic Rochester in 2014 as the operations manager for the Echo/Stress Labs at Mayo.  Recently I started working as an administrator with our Mayo Clinic Care Network. 

When and how did you get involved with the ASE? 

I joined ASE as a student in the Mayo Echo program in 2004.  I wanted to be part of this world class organization.  I was encouraged to join not only from my program chair at the time, Janell Mays, but also from the Echo Lab leadership of Dr. Fletcher Miller and then Dr. Patty Pellikka.  I was able to attend my first Scientific Session at National Harbor, MD in 2012 and fell in love with the ASE Scientific Sessions.  I have been regularly attending since.

Why do you volunteer for ASE? 

I volunteer for ASE because I believe in the mission of ASE.  It is great to be part of an organization when your values align so closely.  Being part of ASE is easy for me as it is an organization, I am proud to be part of and want others to join as well. 

What is your current role within ASE? In the past, on what other committees, councils or task forces have you served and what have you done with the local echo society? 

My current role is on the Training and Certification Committee. Since 2015 I have been involved with the Advocacy Committee and just rotated off of that committee in 2018. I have also had the privilege of preparing talks for the Scientific Sessions in Baltimore and Nashville. In 2016 I received my FASE designation.

 What is your advice for members who want to become more involved in their profession or with the ASE? 

When I was a student in the Mayo Echo program, there was a huge poster that hung in the hallway that said:  Sonographers are the guardians of quality in echocardiography”.   This was a quote from Dr. Jamal Tajik.  Working with him and with other greats such as Dr. Jae Oh, taught me that preserving excellence in our field is the most important thing we can do as sonographers.  ASE helps us all as a collective body to keep the level of excellence up in everything we do.  Another physician has said “no measurement is better than a wrong measurement”.  This was a reminder to me that I shared often with the echo students that I helped train to not just measure something for the sake of measuring, but to make sure it is accurate and reproducible. ASE as an organization helps us as sonographers to maintain a level of accuracy, reproducibility, and excellence.  

I would encourage all fellow sonographers to reach for excellence in all that they do and to work with the next generation of sonographers to teach them the importance of excellence in quality in every picture that they take and every measurement that they do.

 What is your vision for the future of cardiovascular sonography? 

I think Echocardiography is one of the most rewarding career choices a person can make.   You can move into so many different areas… fetal, congenital, research, education, presenting, and writing.  There are so many areas.  The future of CV sonography is full of promise as each of us strives for excellence in all that we do.    There is a quote that says” Striving for perfection is demoralizing, striving for excellence is motivating”.    We will never be perfect, especially in a field like sonography that is so operator dependent.  We are human and can make mistakes.  But striving for excellence in every measurement we take and every report we work on – is something each of us can do.  Each of us can do the very best that we can each and every day when we wake up. 

My vision for the future for Cardiovascular sonography is to inspire the next generation to rise up and be excellent sonographers that are passionate about their career.