By David Chilton
Special to The Sun
A total of 222 new nuclear medicine technologists will be needed over the next three years in Ontario, says a new study from the only institution in the province that trains them.
Photo courtesy of the Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences
Paul Gamble, president and CEO of the Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences in Toronto, says the study found that there are more job vacancies in nuclear medicine than trained staff to fill them.
"There are more opportunities than there are technologists to fill those opportunities," Gamble says. "There is an absolute shortage at the moment and in fact over the last couple of years that vacancy rate, if you will, is in the neighbourhood of about 7% of the workforce.
"What we also discovered when we began to ask the participants (in the study) to project their expectations and their needs over the next several years (was) that the current vacancy trend would not only continue but would accelerate."
The report also found differences in job openings in different parts of Ontario; outside the greater Toronto area, the vacancy rate is higher than it is inside it.
In the study, the Michener Institute also balanced the number of projected staff needed and the number of graduates the institute produces against the attrition rate and the long-term vacancy rate in the profession. It found that annually the projected shortfall is about 30 positions, but when vacancies and attrition are factored in, that number climbs to 74.
Gamble says while more spending is needed to address the vacancies in nuclear medicine and other allied health-care professions -- and there has been some -- it's not quite that simple. Nuclear medicine technologists in training need to spend a year in clinical placements, he says, so when hospitals and clinics say they can no longer afford them, valuable training places are lost.
To compensate for the decrease in placements, Gamble says the Institute is reconsidering its nuclear medicine technologist program by providing more hands-on training before students are sent on clinical placements. That way, he says, placement periods can be shortened so those placements that remain open can accommodate two students instead of one.
The report, Nuclear Medicine Technologists in Ontario: Provincial Labour Market Analysis and Human Resource Study, is part of the Michener Institute's regular cycle of health labour market studies, which it began commissioning in 2001.
Michener's research department began its survey last fall. A questionnaire, developed in consultation with Michener's Nuclear Medicine Technology Program, was sent to 103 nuclear medicine facilities in Ontario, 21 private clinics and 82 hospitals. During the survey, additional sites were added and some closed, resulting in an adjusted sample size of 107 sites in all. The overall response rate was 88%.
Nuclear technologists use radiopharmaceuticals and the gamma rays they emit to capture detailed images of internal organs and to destroy tumours. The radiopharmaceuticals are administered orally, by injection or by inhalation. The gamma rays they emit are picked up by advanced camera-computer systems and converted into digital images.
The study also found that three out of four nuclear technologists were women, and that 59% of them are aged between 31 and 45.
Unsurprisingly, given the composition of the profession, maternity and parental leaves of absence are high. Gamble says that creates a further complication, because nuclear medicine technologists prefer full-time, long-term employment to filling in for their colleagues.
If there is any upside to Ontario's having too few nuclear medicine technologists, it is that those in the profession can expect their salaries to reflect demand, Gamble says. That will be another headache for hospital administrators and makes the 222 figure look rather too symbolic for comfort.
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