Tamara Syverson did not originally intend to be a radiation therapist. Originally, her major was microbiology, but due to circumstances beyond her control, she had to change her course of study. Her plan B was nuclear medicine, but her academic advisors thought she could thrive in radiation oncology. So, they arranged for her to observe the radiation oncology department at a local hospital.
“Immediately, once I walked into the department, I was like, oh my gosh! I had no idea that this is what this was! I mean, it’s all lasers and light fields,” she recalls. “I’m a real science nerd, and immediately it was like, oh! This is completely different than I thought it was.”
Tamara started her career in patient care. However, after a little more than a decade, she began to feel that her options for growth in a clinical setting were limited. Still, she didn’t want to leave the industry because she felt that she still had more to offer the specialty. At this point, she decided to reach out to Revenue Cycle Inc. (now Revenue Cycle Coding Strategies).
“I had some things that I really liked to do in my day-to-day job and that was what they offered to clients,” she explains. “And I was like, wow! I could do that every day all day, instead of just occasionally.”
What’s kept Tamara at RCCS all this time, even through all the changes over the last several years? One of the main reasons is the variety of projects and clients she gets to work with.
Tamara explains that the Oncology Client Services department is slightly different from other departments at RCCS. First, every team member started their career in a clinical setting. In a radiation oncology department, the physicians, dosimetrists, and radiation therapists perform the charge capture and most of the coding. The Oncology Client Services team at RCCS goes beyond billing and compliance to help assess and improve the clinical staff’s workflow as they treat patients and complete the appropriate documentation and charge capture. In addition, they assist with staffing models, policies and procedures, and more.
“I’m developing staff competencies, their job descriptions, whereas [my colleague Trena] is working on departmental policies and procedures for accreditation,” Tamara says when describing her current projects.
Another reason Tamara has chosen to continue her career with RCCS is the company’s relationship with clients. It’s easy for companies like RCCS to come in, perform an audit, and tell the client everything they are doing wrong. It’s no wonder that the clients can come to see auditors as “the enemy,” as Tamara describes it. However, clients tend to see RCCS as their trusted partner.
“We’re not going to focus on the ‘problem,’ per se,” Tamara explains. “We’re going to focus on the solution and figuring out how to fix it and make it better.”
Having come from a clinical background herself, Tamara is committed to helping improve radiation oncology as an industry by advocating for oncology departments within their larger organizations. Even if the oncology department has submitted multiple requests for necessary equipment or staffing, it sometimes takes a final nudge from Tamara and her team to get them what they need.
“Sometimes people have to hear something from the outside, even though the [radiation oncology] department probably told somebody this many times. Until some outsider says it, nobody listens,” Tamara explains. “A lot of times, we are the voice of the radiation oncology department.”
Outside of her normal routine of helping clients solve their problems, Tamara often speaks at national conferences on many topics, including radiation and medical oncology coding, compliance and reimbursement, electronic medical record efficiency and customization, and operational workflow analysis. In fact, she’s presented at over 40 speaking engagements in the last 15 years. She is also the author of the RCCS Medical Oncology Navigator®, which is published every year with coding and reimbursement updates.
Something you might not know about Tamara is that she is a trained pastry chef. Though she loved the field of radiation oncology, there was a period of time during her days as a clinician when she began to feel burned out by her work. As a result, she decided to go part-time at the clinic and enroll in culinary school, eventually graduating with a baking and pastry arts degree. With her culinary degree, she worked in a bakery, took on private clients, and even taught classes at the institution she had studied at, all while continuing to work part-time as a radiation therapist. Though frequently traveling for work these days makes it difficult to bake often, she still loves to cook every day.
Tamara also loves to travel. She and her family frequently go camping throughout the Southwest and the western United States, they especially love South Dakota. She is currently in the process of planning a long-anticipated trip to Scandinavia to connect with her family’s heritage.