Vivian Porter began her career as an EEG tech at a Virgina hospital in 1964, making $1.25 per hour.
Porter retired 28 years later as the director of neurodiagnostic services at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, FL where she founded and ran a school of neurodiagnostics bringing in an annual income of roughly $120,000.
Throughout her career she has been a mentor to many techs, including three that went on to become president of ASET-The Neurodiagnostic Society.
“She’s a pioneer in the field of neurodiagnostics,” says former ASET President Connie Kubiak. “She’s been instrumental in developing a lot of career goals for a lot of techs, both men and women. She’s just incredible.”
We recently had the opportunity speak with Porter, now in her 90s, about her extensive and exciting career in neurodiagnostics. The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
NI: What first interested you about the medical field?
Porter: I wanted to become a medical doctor because my mother’s grandfathers were both doctors. When I graduated from college with my first degree in health science, I was 42 because I’d had to go to school and work on my degree whenever I could. I had two teenage kids. I went to Mount Sinai and applied for medical school and the doctor there (I had known him socially) said to me, ‘Vivian, you’re too old to get into medical school. Now, if you were a man, we could take you.’
NI: How did you get into EEG technology?
Porter: I started at Norfolk General Hospital [in Virginia]. I started as an EKG technician. The medical doctor over in the EEG department asked me if I’d come to work on that side of it and I did. I was determined from the get-go to be a registered technologist. When I moved to New York state with my husband, I worked at Vassar Brothers Medical Center my registry number was 191. I was the second registered EEG tech in the whole state of New York. I still have my card.
NI: What about doing EEG back then might surprise techs today?
Porter: I started working on a Grass Model 6 machine. These old machines could break down while you were running a test. We started out using needles. They were very fine needles. We didn’t measure back then. I was just shown with my fingers to measure the head and put the needles in.
NI: How did you get your start in teaching?
Porter: My goal was to help other people. Because it was so hard to get the registry, once I passed it, I wanted to help other people. So, I started a little school in the Hudson Valley just one night a week to teach people how to measure heads and how to do the work and stuff like that.
NI: How did you come to start the EEG school at St. Joseph’s?
Porter: In 1974 I moved to Tampa. I was hired by three hospitals and St. Joe’s [St Joseph’s Hospital] wanted me to start a school. I only had that bachelor’s degree. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I did it. The first year I graduated five students. It was all women. We did have some men later on. I graduated about a hundred all together and I imagine that there may have been four or five men.
NI: Why were there so many more women at that time?
Porter: I think because it was a short course. I think the longest was 18 months. There weren’t too many other fields for women to get into besides nursing and the technology field was growing at the time.
NI: What made you pursue a PhD?
Porter: I decided that if I’m not going to be a medical doctor I ought to get something better for myself. I enrolled in an MBA/PhD program and I completed it in about two or three years. It was back and forth through the mail. It was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to do. I did my orals over the phone. They quizzed me for two hours. They called me back within a half an hour and they said, “Hello, Dr. Porter,” and I just about fell out of my chair. I think I was the first one in the field of neurodiagnostic technology [to get a PhD].
NI: Did you enjoy your career in neurodiagnostics?
Porter: I loved every minute of it. I’m glad I was in it at the beginning and worked my way up. I had some of the best students. I kept in touch with a bunch of them for years and made good friends throughout the field. It was a really good experience.
I was invited by the People’s Republic of China to bring a neuroscience delegation in 1985. They wined and dined me. That was wonderful. Some of the companies sent me to Europe. I went to Italy. I went to Germany to buy equipment for the hospital. I visited every state in the union, except six.
Those years were the most wonderful of my whole life. I enjoyed every minute of it. I loved the students and I did the best I could as long as I could.