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More full-time positions needed to fix MRI technologist shortage, says local OPSEU president

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When it comes to MRI technologists, hospitals are falling short.

This has led to even longer wait times for patients across the province and here in London, Ont.

But the pandemic hasn’t helped, said Dr. David Jacobs, president of the Ontario Association of Radiologists, as technologists were pulled away to perform other healthcare duties.

Now they’re in short supply.

“And we’re still not caught up, we’re not even close to being caught up, so there’s been a tremendous amount of stress for technologists across the board and MRI technologists in particular,” Dr. Jacobs said.

With fewer people entering the field, hospitals across the country are struggling with the number of technologists available. But the need for scanning for brain injuries, heart diseases, tumours, and cancers doesn’t stop.

“What we need to do is get people interested in this career. This is a lifetime career, you get this job you are set for life,” Dr. Jacobs added, pointing to high salaries and a rewarding job for MRI technologists.

The London Health Sciences Centre currently has 25 medical radiation technologists and plans to train eight more of their current technologists by September, in addition to adding a fifth MRI machine to Victoria Hospital.

Steve McCaw, local president of OPSEU 106 and a medical radiation technologist, believes the solution is to offer more full-time positions at the LHSC.

“The shortage could’ve been prevented in the last year or so,” he said. “There are people who are trained that already have the skills that would be interested in working there but the management has refused to post regular full-time jobs. They’ve opted to post part-time jobs and so therefore people aren’t interested in part-time jobs.”

According to Ontario Health, the average wait time to get an MRI scan in London ranges from 3-248 days depending on the patient’s priority level.

“We always aim to image our emergent or urgent cases within 24-48 hours,” said John French, corporate executive for diagnostics at the LHSC. “There’s also scheduled appointments that we want to do, for example, after a procedure to evaluate something, those are routinely scheduled and then the less urgent cases unfortunately have to be put on the waiting list to schedule them as quickly as they can.”

In December, the province announced its $20 million investment to support 27 new MRI machines. But with not enough technicians to operate them, patients could still be expected to wait months.

Dr. Jacobs said part of the emergent solution is colleges creating new or expanding programs to meet the demand, whether that includes training existing technologists or hiring new people out of school.

To address the problem, “What we did is, in partnership with Mohawk College, put forward a program of accelerated learning for MRI technologists and we were able to fast track that and get it funded,” Jacobs explained. “It takes existing technologists and trains them online and in hospitals in order to backfill a number of technologists. That’s been able to fit some of our more urgent needs.”

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive medical imaging technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to capture pictures of organs and tissues inside the body. It’s often used to diagnose several health issues including brain injuries, heart disease, tumours, and cancers.

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