PET-CT scanner on the Worcester Campus.
Academic Innovation | 3/23/2023

Shields Donates Cutting-Edge Scanner to Enhance Nuclear Medicine Technology Education

PET-CT scanner on the Worcester Campus.

The PET/CT scanner will allow students to enter the workforce confident and ready to meet a growing need for technologists in the area of molecular imaging.

A PET/CT scanner now resides on the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) campus in Worcester. The system– a generous donation from Shields Health – will help the University attract and educate Nuclear Medicine Technology (NMT) students as demand for licensed and registered professionals in this field continues to grow.

“We are the first university or college system with its own PET/CT scanner,” said David Gilmore, EdD, CNMT, NCT, RT(R)(N), FSNMMI-TS, director of the NMT programs. “With this gift, Shields is showing its dedication to investing in education and training for nuclear medicine technologists.”

Shields Health is a leading imaging and surgical services provider with more than 50 locations across New England. For years, the family-owned company has had a close relationship with MCPHS. It serves as a clinical rotation site for many NMT students.

“MCPHS is a great cultural and qualitative partner for Shields,” said Lou Masella, Vice President of PET/CT and Radiation Oncology at Shields. “The reputation of the University and this program are growing, so giving MCPHS access to another educational tool to help students be successful is beneficial for everyone.”

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A Nuclear Medicine Technology student demonstrates how they would prepare to inject the radioactive tracer into a patient before performing a PET/CT scan.

The scanner combines positron emission tomography (PET) and computerized tomography (CT) to pinpoint and more accurately diagnose conditions. Small amounts of radioactive materials – called a tracer – are injected into the patient. The tracer then travels to specific parts of the body and is visible on the scan, giving providers a look at what’s happening inside the body on a molecular level. A commonly used tracer is a glucose molecule that is useful for locating tumors, which feed off glucose to survive and grow. That’s why PET/CT scans are the go-to imaging method in oncology.

All 50 states require an NMT to operate the machine, but providers are struggling to attract and retain talent in the aftermath of the pandemic. Many have left the field or retired, while others have pursued opportunities in business instead of providing direct patient care.

“The challenge in providing lab and clinical time in molecular imaging is because PET/CT is growing so fast with the volume of studies and there’s such a shortage of technologists, there’s no time for students in clinical rotations to practice or work on the scanner by themselves to practice and explore the capabilities or to do controlled studies,” Dr. Gilmore said. “Having this system on our campus in a controlled environment where they are able to make mistakes and practice their skills—without any risk to a patient—has changed everything.”

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David Gilmore, EdD, CNMT, NCT, RT(R)(N), FSNMMI-TS, instructs a small group of students on how the PET/CT scanner works, with the equipment off and another standing in for a patient. Scans are not performed on people for practice. Instead, they use a tissue-mimicking device called a phantom.

The scanner is inside a mobile trailer at the Lincoln Square Academic and Student Center at MCPHS in Worcester. NMT students in the professional phase of the program convene on campus two or three times a semester to train on it. They learn how to operate the machine while practicing injections and imaging on a phantom, which is a device filled with materials to mimic human tissue.

During the trainings, no question is off-limits. Students are encouraged to try different injection doses, move the phantom in different positions, vary the speed of the imaging, and more. Then, they analyze the results and consider how their actions would impact a diagnosis or course of treatment for a patient.

“This training model is propelling our students along the learning curve,” Dr. Gilmore said. “When they get into the clinic and are working with patients, they have already learned the basic operations and can focus on seeing the scanner in practice. This allows them to have a more advanced dialogue with the technologists.”

For Shields, donating this scanner opens multiple avenues to attract and educate future NMTs, not just for their company, but for the field as a whole. MCPHS students will gain hands-on experience, build confidence in their abilities, and go on to set the standard of care across the field.

“There’s a strong culture that leaders at Shields got into healthcare to be caregivers, and we all strive to give the best care we possibly can,” Masella said. “That means providing students with a well-rounded, ready-for-life education, and this equipment will help MCPHS do that.”