By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
A scan of the smaller headlines in the paper will usually reveal that a group or profession is having an official week of its own. Some of them are well known: Nurses Week, Fashion Week and so on. Others groups and professions don't get nearly as much recognition.
Crucial part of health care
There's a definite shortage of MRI and nuclear medicine technologists at the moment, and when the boomers start to retire, the too few staff in the profession will become even more pronounced, says Dorothy Gallagher, president of the CAMRT.
One of these less high-profile weeks is National Medical Radiation Technologists' Week held this year Nov. 7 to 13. Its aims are twofold. First, the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (www.camrt.ca
) wants to raise public awareness of the profession and, second, the CAMRT wants to encourage high school and, increasingly, university students to consider pursuing a career in what is a crucial part of health care.
Debbie Bolger-Ingimundson, director of education for the CAMRT in Ottawa, says raising the profession's profile is essential. When people go to a hospital they see staff in white coats or scrubs and assume they're doctors or nurses. In fact, a hefty percentage of those individuals walking the hallways in medical garb are radiation technologists, says Bolger-Ingimundson.
There are four disciplines under the radiation technologist umbrella, she explains. There's the radiographer, who takes x-rays and is the technologist most familiar to Canadians; the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) specialist; the nuclear medicine technologist who uses small amounts of radioactive material to obtain images on how the body functions; and the therapist who delivers measured amounts of radiation to attack certain diseases such as cancer.
Bolger-Ingimundson says the CAMRT has produced a poster, a tabletop display, a series of informational postcards, pins and fridge magnets to push the association's message, mostly in hospitals, but also in malls and high schools.
High school grads
Dorothy Gallagher, Burlington-based president of the CAMRT, says getting the attention of high school graduates is something she and the association are talking about.
"How do we get that message out to the young people, that there is a very worthwhile career [in the profession]. There is so much flexibility and opportunity for youth right now when it comes to imaging. Imaging is one of the very few health-care professions that has had so much change. When you hear about changes in health care -- MRI, CT scanning, mammography and breast screening -- that's all imaging. I think we need to get the message out there to councillors and to high schools."
National Medical Radiation Technologists Week runs Nov. 7 to 13.
The profession comprises four disciplines: radiography, MRI, radiation therapy and nuclear medicine.
Only one school in the GTA, the Michener Institute, teaches all four disciplines.
For anyone considering the profession, employment prospects are excellent with rates in the 90th percentile.
Depending on the discipline, students will graduate with either a diploma or a degree, although the trend is definitely towards four-year degree programs.
Robin Hesler, CEO of the Ontario Association of Medical Radiation Technologists in Brantford, echoes Bolger-Ingimundson and Gallagher's sentiments. He says there's a lot of attention paid to doctors and nurses but guidance councillors just don't know about the profession he represents.
For those students and others who find it and choose it as a career, the employment prospects in medical radiation technology are excellent.
Gallagher says there's a definite shortage of MRI and nuclear medicine technologists at the moment and when the boomers start to retire the too few staff in the profession will become even more pronounced.
Beyond the boomers, Gallagher says there are at least two other factors that hamstring recruitment. The first is that not every province has the schools to teach one or more of the disciplines. In Ontario, only the Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences teaches all four subjects, although individual specializations are taught variously at Mohawk College in Hamilton and Fanshaw College in London, among others.
The other fly in the proverbial ointment is salary, Gallagher continues. "I would think certainly salaries are a factor and need to be looked at properly. There needs to be a little more recognition of the responsibilities that the medical radiation technologists are taking on."
She's right, of course. Anyone in charge of flying a $3 million MRI machine is definitely worth paying well.
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