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April 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

NRC's Institute for Biodiagnostics (NRC-IBD) in Winnipeg recently welcomed a new group of students enrolled in an innovative training program for MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technologists. The students are the 18th such group to study at NRC-IBD's facilities since the program's launch in 1995 and evidence of NRC's commitment to providing high-impact training opportunities. So far, the program has a 98 per cent placement rate for graduates, and has attracted students from every province across Canada.

Technologist students with Dr. Kamil Ugurbil (centre), Director of the University of Minnesota Centre For Magnetic Resonance Research and Pioneer of Functional MRI.
Technologist students with Dr. Kamil Ugurbil (centre), Director of the University of Minnesota Centre For Magnetic Resonance Research and Pioneer of Functional MRI.

Relatively unknown 25 years ago, MRIs have become an indispensable and valuable imaging tool for practicing physicians and researchers. In Canada, the number of MRI units has grown dramatically. According to statistics from the Canada Institute for Health Information, Canada had 147 MRI units in 2003 compared to 30 in 1993 and just 3 in 1983. But these machines are still a scarce commodity. As a result, MRI units get used literally around the clock and require skilled resources to get the most out of this valuable resource.

In 1995 NRC-IBD helped create the training program in partnership with Red River College after realizing the demand for skilled MRI technologists. The program remains unique in Canada, not only for the speed and intensity with which students tackle the coursework – it is the only 9-month program of its kind in Canada – but for its well-rounded approach. Students cover theory, are able to practice with hands-on usage of MR imaging equipment, conduct research and have the opportunity to work in a clinical setting. Other unique features of the course include a special one-week field trip (sponsored by companies such as GE, Siemens, Philips, and Bracco Diagnostics) across the border to Minneapolis & Rochester, Minnesota, site of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic and home to key research facilities, such as GE Medical Systems and the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research.


"Graduates of the RRC/NRC program are highly sought after because they have a strong background in MRI physics and advanced imaging technologies. In short, I believe this program consistently produces outstanding MRI technologists who have a foundation not only for MRI today, but where MRI will be tomorrow."
Program graduate Sara Sullivan of Halifax IWK Children's Hospital.

"Hindsight tells us putting together the MR Technologist Program was forward thinking."
Dr. Blake McClarty, Chief Radiologist at Winnipeg Health Authority


In 2003, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Paul C. Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield for discoveries surrounding magnetic resonance imaging.

According to Program Director Dr. Jonathan Lee, the trip provides students with exposure to a wide variety of machines and different clinical settings where they can learn more about MRI applications and operating procedures. There are 21 1.5T (Tesla) MRIs at the Mayo Clinic alone and a second higher-power 3T MRI has been ordered for clinical studies.

The course is divided into three equal sessions. After three intense months learning theory at Red River College, students then have the opportunity to put this to good use during a second three-month term at NRC-IBD. While at NRC-IBD students are able to use MRI equipment (3T & 1.5T) and have the opportunity to explore specific MRI applications, such as MRI of the breast and osteoporosis, MRI and Spectroscopy of tumours, Cardiac MRI and Functional MRI of the brain and spinal cord. Students are also given advanced lectures on the current state of the art in medical diagnostic technologies. The students finish with a three-month placement at a medical facility where they work as part of an MRI team among more than 30 clinical partners from across Canada and elsewhere.

In addition to meeting demand from prospective employers, effective MRI technologist training helps meet employment demand but is also imperative because of continual changes to MRI technology. Improvements focus both on applications and in the underlying technology.

For example, researchers are creating disease-specific imaging techniques and experimenting with larger and more powerful magnets used to generate the electromagnetic field used in the imaging process. Researchers are also working towards combining MRI with other diagnostic methods such as MR Spectroscopy to get a complete picture of disease as part of the major effort in moving towards molecular imaging. Students also receive training in MR Spectroscopy as part of the course which, like MRI 25 years ago, is one of the new and emerging imaging technologies.


"I've been overwhelmed with job opportunities. My phone doesn't stop ringing and e-mails keep coming in." Margaret Fehr, Program graduate, on the cover of the March 2004 issue of the ASRT Scanner, newsmagazine of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.

March 2004 issue of the ASRT Scanner

"Thank you for many excellent technologist students you have sent our way. We continue to appreciate the excellent training and support you provide to the MRI community."
Dr. Mary Ann Johnson of University of Alberta Hospital, Edmonton

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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