College, 3D Lab Partner in Web-based Advanced Visualization Training

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The nation’s first curriculum-based program for volumetric imaging began as do many collaborations between local businesses and technical colleges: a local start-up in search of a steady stream of skilled employees approached a local technical college.

Robert Falk, MD, founding manager director and chief medical officer for 3DR Laboratories, Louisville, Ky, says, “When we formed the company, our business plan called for, 5 years out, between 150 and 170 skilled technologists.” 3DR supplies 24/7 access to postprocessing and image reconstruction by trained technologists. “From a selfish standpoint, we needed a supply chain of technologists who were highly trained and highly skilled to help us out at 3DR,” Falk adds.

What turned this local success story into a nationwide educational opportunity was the convergence of new technology in the form of thin-client postprocessing, a compelling need, and a unique collaboration between education and commerce that resulted in the launch of the online 3DR Academy this month.

The Birth of a Program
When Falk and 3DR Laboratories cofounder Michael Lillig visited the president of Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC), Louisville, in 2005, with the proposal to add an advanced visualization certificate to the school’s radiologic technologist program, he was intrigued. “Community/technical colleges have a mission to work with industry and companies, continually updating our curriculum and modifying existing programs to try to meet the needs of the emerging economy,” Anthony Newberry, PhD, JCTC president and CEO, explains.

Initially, Newberry tapped newly hired associate professor Heather Brown, PhD, who was simultaneously developing a program for biomedical laboratory assistants, to head up the needs assessment for advanced visualization and develop the curriculum. Brown earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, but after becoming disenchanted with computer-aided design for the automotive industry, she studied neuroelectrophysiology of the visual system, earning a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University.

Working with the instructors in the JCTC RT program as well as a statewide curriculum-review committee, Brown crafted a four-course, 16–college-credit program to be completed in two semesters.

Cross-sectional anatomy: “The technologists have gotten basic anatomy and physiology in their associate’s degree, and they should be familiar with x-ray views,” Brown says, “but they haven’t necessarily learned cross-sectional anatomy, in which you look at different planes through the body and are able to identify the various anatomy. We do a full course in that from head to toe, with emphasis on the vasculature, because so much of postprocessing is done for CT angiography work.”

Volumetric medical imaging: The emphasis of the second class is the physics of processing principles that a technologist needs to understand to be accomplished at postprocessing, familiarizing students with the various software, available tools, pitfalls, and best practices. “I try to give them a deeper understanding of what they are doing, beyond the button pushing taught in many vendor applications classes,” Brown says. “When they create a curved planar reformat, for instance, they have to make sure they are putting the points in the middle of the vessel or they can create a false appearance of a stenosis.”

Pathology: “The second half of the program is more of the practical aspects,” Brown says. “You’ve learned all of the basics, the tools, and the anatomy, and now we are really going to use them and produce the images you will be completing for the physicians.” The first course in the second semester delves deeply into the pathologies requiring postprocessing, such as atherosclerosis, diseases within the vessels, and other general disease processes likely to be encountered.

Case studies: The second course in the second semester is entirely practical, based on case studies. Students are taught a protocol for a given study and then given five case studies to complete. Each week, students are taught a different case, beginning with the carotid arteries and all of the associated pathology and working through the peripheral circulation, the renal vessels, stroke work, the circle of Willis, abdominal aortic aneurysms, orthopedic studies, neurological studies, and kidney- and liver-donor cases.

Modular and Internet-ready
Brown graduated nine students from