By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
In the trade it's called the "magnet" because it works on the principles of a magnetic field. The rest of us know it as a magnetic resonance imaging machine, a hulking great beast that nevertheless produces pictures of astonishing quality, whether it's a knee, a brain or any other part of our bodies.
Once qualified, MRI technologists seldom have difficulty finding a job.
Given the sophistication of these machines, which cost the taxpayer about $3 million each to buy, it's no wonder the technologists who operate them need commensurate skills.
The only place to learn those skills in the GTA is the Michener Institute for Health Sciences in Toronto. It accepts 40 students a year, 20 of them learning part-time every second weekend in class and the other 20 studying long distance via the Internet. All 40 have to spend 16 weeks in unpaid clinical placement.
Lorraine Ramsay, chair of advanced imaging at the Michener, says the 18-month program isn't open to anyone, however. Before students are accepted into the course they must be qualified in Canada in radiography, medical sonography or radiation therapy.
"Most of our students have been in the profession for four or five years, but more and more recent graduates are coming into the program because they don't want to do x-ray (work)," Ramsay says.
Once they have finished their in-class, online and clinical placement requirements the students still have to write a national certification exam that costs them $450; apply to join to the College of Medical Radiation Technologists, which sets them back another $100; and pay $275 a year to remain in good standing with the College. Tuition at the Michener costs students who live in Canada $5,500 for 18 months; overseas students get charged $1,000 more for now.
Once qualified, MRI technologist seldom have difficulty finding a job, but their pay is only fair to good at just over $50,000 a year.
So if it's not just the money, why do bright, able professionals choose to pursue MRI certification? It's a no-brainer: this technology is leaving other imaging tools in its wake.
"The technology is pretty amazing," Ramsay says. "It's the newest baby on the street."
The Michener is the only school in the GTA to teach MRI technology.
Students can study in class or online, but only 40 students in total are accepted.
Applicants must already be qualified in Canada in radiography, medical sonography or radiation therapy.
The program lasts 18 months of which four months are spent in unpaid clinical placement.
Tuition is $5,500, with overseas students paying $1,000 more.
Marco Buccella, a radiographer, a Michener grad and a part-time MRI technologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, says there's a lot more thinking involved with MRI than with other technologies. There are always adjustments to be made to produce better pictures, says Buccella, and there's the challenge of staying on top of MRI technology since it's always changing. Twenty years ago MRI was crude compared with what's available today, he points out.
Ketan Mistry, who works in MRI for the Rouge Valley Health System - Centenary site, calls MRI "the frontier." Imaging technologists can't sit still, he says, and have to progress with the technology, machinery that he thinks will supercede other imaging tools.
"I think in many modalities MRI will take over," says Mistry, who graduated from the Michener in radiography in 1984 and then went back to study echocardiography (cardiac ultrasound).
Like Buccella and Mistry, Muhammad Ibrahim seems certain of the march of MRI. Ibrahim, who graduated from the Michener last year after working some years as a medical sonographer, says, "I think it's the technology of the future. You can produce very precise diagnoses with MRI."
Rosemary Campitelli, who will write her MRI certification test next January, says she chose MRI to broaden her horizons: there's so much more to learn with the technology, she says. "As a radiographer the challenges kind of stop."
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