Student Spotlight: Sydney Chastain Moves from Courtside to Bedside, Imaging Sciences

By Ben Boulden

At 5 feet 6 inches tall, Sydney was never the tallest player on the court when she was on the University of Arkansas – Little Rock Trojans women’s basketball team. She said she was a defensive player who stuck to her opponents so persistently that they often got “annoyed” at her.

Playing college basketball was much more physically challenging than she expected, but she soldiered on and adapted. Studying for a career in nuclear medicine imaging also was something she didn’t expect to be doing when she joined UAMS. She has now embraced that, too.

Sydney Chastain

Sydney Chastain

Instead, she originally had her sights on becoming a physician assistant and to qualify as a student in the College of Health Professions Department of Physician Assistant Studies, she needed some clinical experience.

A member of the Trojans Booster Club who works at UAMS guided her toward a job as a patient care technician in the Medical Center to get that experience and later suggested she might be interested in pursuing a career in nuclear medicine imaging.

“I never saw myself in imaging ever, but I said I would take a look at it,” Sydney said. “After a couple of rotations though my clinical, I was shocked at how much I liked it. It challenged me in a way, which I liked, both academically and clinically.”

Summer Khairi, CNMT, MBA, has been an important mentor for Sydney. Khairi is an assistant professor in the Division of Nuclear Medicine Imaging Sciences in the College of Health Professions Department of Imaging Sciences.

“Summer has been very supportive, making sure I am where I need to be in my classes, helping me out by answering questions, seeing I stay on top of things,” Sydney said.

As she took the online classes she needed and did clinical rotations, she continued working as a patient care technician on F8, a cardiovascular care floor in the Medical Center.

Sydney started her job there in the summer of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was ongoing.

“Because of COVID, being a PCT was completely different from what I was told. It was all ‘flipped upside down,’” she said.

One of the biggest challenges she faced was putting on all the Patient Protective Equipment (PPE) required, taking it off when finished caring for a patient in their room, then putting new PPE on again for the next patient.

“It was miserable just taking it on and off from room to room,” Sydney said. “We were so hot under all those layers.”

She assists nurses and their patients with aspects of daily care like hygiene and making it to the bathroom. Throughout the pandemic, Sydney was determined to help and the personal bonds she established in the course of her job have motivated her to keep up that spirit.

“Stories, I like hearing everyone’s stories,” she said. “I try to ask questions of patients and if there is a connection. I try to get them to open up to me. It makes their lives easier in the hospital, and mine.”

The nurses with whom she has worked have been mentors, helping her to acquire new skills and confidence.

“All of my nurses on F8 have been some of the best people I have met,” Sydney said. “They are so welcoming and great at teaching people, and even formulating questions. We are like a family on F8.”

When she completes her studies late this summer, Sydney said she hopes she can continue working at UAMS. She would like to add more to her skill sets and earn professional certifications in additional fields like radiologic imaging as well.

Her motivation to continue learning is in part due to the culture of the college she is in.

The College of Health Professions is “involved in so many things. It’s a very inclusive environment. They make sure everyone has an opportunity to get involved.”