I get asked many questions about PACS certification in South Africa. What is available? Which is the best? Do you know where I can get certified?
Recently I decided to write the PACS Administrators Registry and Certification Association (PARCA) Certified PACS associate (CPAS) exam. I did this for a few reasons. The first was to gain an insight into the structure of the exam and the type of questions asked. The second was to ensure that the course material used by the In2pacs Academy and IBIS Branding is appropriate in preparing a candidate for the exam, and thirdly I wanted to establish if this would be a useful certification for South African PACS administrators. I focused on the CPAS exam as this is the first of the 3 PACS specific certifications offered by PARCA. It is also a requirement to get the CPAS first before getting any of the other PACS certifications offered by PARCA.
Before I give some more details about the exam, let me first answer an important question. Why did I decide on PARCA? Well currently in South Africa we don’t have our own certification program. This is mainly due to the fact that the skill set required by PACS administrator’s crosses over 3 SETA’s (Sector Education and Training Authorities) making it difficult to establish which SETA is the correct one to take ownership of PACS administration certification, this in itself is a discussion for another day.
The PARCA certification appealed to me for a number of reasons. You don’t need any prerequisites to write the exam, you can write the exam online, when looking at the statistics on their website; PARCA does have an international following. I can well believe, many PACS administrators outside of the USA are attracted to PARCA for these reasons. Does PARCA offer a good option as a PACS administrator certification for South Africa? Well in the absence of anything else yes it does and if more people get certified it could get more recognition over time.
So for those enthusiastic PACS administrators who are considering writing the PARCA CPAS here are some things to consider based on my experience.
The PARCA CPAS exam consists of 2 separate exams, a clinical exams and an IT exam. These exams can be written in any order and separate from each other. Each exam consists of 50 multiple choice questions with 1 correct answer to each question. You have 30 minutes to complete each exam. To pass you must get 70% or more in each exam, this translates to 35 out of 50. The exams can be written 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. The exam is proctored, which means you are observed while writing the exam. The proctoring does add to some technical requirements for your PC or laptop, such as a webcam, speaker and microphone (no headphones are allowed) so that the “proctor” can see and communicate with you.
An important requirement to be aware of is the internet bandwidth needed to support this video communication, remember the “proctor” must see you at all times so you need a minimum of about 3 Megabits per second upload speed. I found this the most difficult aspect to overcome. A normal ADSL line will not do as the upload speed is restricted to only 0.5 Megabits per second. Even my office internet didn’t give me a stable 3 Megabits per second upload speed and the 3G mobile network failed the requirements test. Welcome to Africa!! I eventually found a location with a strong 4G signal and used my mobile phone as a modem to connect to the internet. This gave me enough bandwidth up and down to pass the technical requirements test which you run on the PC, before scheduling your exam.
Using 4G is risky as there is no guarantee the signal will hold for the duration of the test, and it is a good idea to make sure you have enough data loaded before the exam. During the exam I recorded the data usage on my phone which ended up being about 600 Mbytes for the 30 minutes.
Some other rules that need to be adhered to are noted here. You must be alone in the room. You can’t be disturbed during the exam. You laptop or PC must be connected to a power source. You can’t get up during the exam. Your table top must be clean of papers, books, anything that could be construed as helping you during the exam. The “proctor” will ask you to show your desktop and environment via the webcam. No mobile phones are allowed (in my case I had my mobile phone on the desk because I was using it as a modem but I wasn’t allowed to pick it up or look at it). No dual monitors are allowed.
There are a few things you are allowed in the exam which can be useful. You can take a hand held calculator (no not the one built in to your operating system), a piece of paper and pen, also very important is a drink or in my case a strong cup of coffee. The piece of paper and pen I found to be very useful. As during the exam I was able to make notes of which questions I wanted to revise and by jotting the numbers down it was easier to go back to these questions knowing the number. 30 minutes is not a long time so you have to plan your time well, you either know the answer or you don’t. My strategy was to move through the questions systematically, if I wasn’t sure of the answer I made a note of the question number and came back to it later.
The cost of the exams varies depending on the exam and whether or not you are a member of PARCA. As you have to be a member to write the exam this can be a bit confusing. So I recommend joining PARCA and paying the full fee for the first exam. This will cost you US$ 30.00 (membership) + US$60.00 (Exam) = US$90.00 which can be paid online via mastercard or visa credit cards. Once you have passed the first exam then only pay for the second exam which will cost only US$60.00 as you are already a member.
So what should you learn to write the exam? The requirements are listed on the PARCA website and this is a very good outline of what to cover in your studies. I found both exams challenging but fair. The certification validates a candidate’s board knowledge of IT terminology and understating as well as clinical terminology and understanding. Our introduction to PACS administrator and management course will also go a long way to giving you a strong foundation in preparation to writing the exam. We also offer a PARCA simulation test which you can use to gauge your knowledge in relation to the exam.
The only disappointment in PARCA was that they don’t seem to update their exam statistics on the website so I’m not sure how accurate they are. One thing I do know is that there is at least 1 African with a CPAS certification.
In the future I intend writing the other certifications, I have a felling the level of knowledge and exam will be more intense, but this would be appropriate as advanced PACS administrator certifications.
Please visit the PARCA website www.pacsadmin.org to get more information on the certifications they offer.