Head Office: 0845 519 5971

SyncThermology Blog

6 Lessons of a Sync Trainee

Thursday, April 25, 2019  ‹ Back To Latest News List

Training to be an imaging technician with SyncThermology is both technically challenging and extremely rewarding. Our technicians have to demonstrate a high level of competence in many areas before they pass training and embark on the next step....becoming operational and delivering our clinical service to the industry. Training is full of learning curves and one of our technicians Gemma Monk-Hartley has shared some of her training experiences. Gemma is based in Shropshire and has been an absolute pleasure to train and work with. We are very proud of the calibre of imaging technician we produce and Gemma is set to be a great asset to the SyncThermology team. We hope you enjoy reading more about her experience and follow her Sync journey.

Lesson 1 - controlling your environment

We were taught on our first day of training that amongst other factors, the use of thermography is limited by the quality of the environment. The ideal is clinical conditions but failing that it needs to be controlled as much as possible. The temperature can’t be too cold (or hot), you need to be out of direct sunlight as does the horse before scanning, away from overhead lights, rugs need to be removed with enough time for the horse to acclimatise, the horse needs to be clean but not recently brushed, completely dry, and should be clipped right out (but not recently)...there is quite a list.

I learnt first hand how this affects scans after scanning in a storm.

I took precautions shutting the doors to the barn in which I was scanning but there was obviously a draught. I was reasonably happy with my first attempt at a baseline scan...until I saw the images. They were completely skewed by the draught on one side of the area I was scanning in - each time the limb on that side was so cold you could hardly even see it!

So no scanning in storms unless you can be sure you can avoid draughts.  

Lesson 2 - 90 degrees is hard to find

To get accurate scans we need to position ourselves at 90 degrees to the area we’re scanning - in just the same way as you would when x-raying. We also need to make sure that the area we’re scanning is in the centre of the image frame. Centre and square on. How hard can that be?

Pretty darn hard. I can’t even tell you why. Horse is standing still, framing is all good and then you look back at the images and see you were positioned just slightly too far in front or behind to be 90 degrees. Or you’ve tilted the camera very very slightly when taking the picture so now you look like you’ve got a lopsided horse.

Positioning the horse against a wall helped me to remain square on and constant checking that the camera is held tightly onto the tripod so it didn’t tilt. Keep checking and re-checking the camera position for every single shot. And then practice, practice, practice.

Lesson 3 - check auto save and then check again

I decided to just have a play with the camera and kit with two of my horses. No real plan in mind, just practising framing some shorts, moving around freely, finding the allusive 90 degree angle a bit quicker and generally getting more comfortable with the kit.

And it was a good job I wasn’t setting out to collect case studies.

I set up as normal, and felt like I actually knew what I was doing (bonus!) however the computer didn’t want to talk to the camera. I closed the software and reopened. Nope, still not talking. Restarted the computer (that always works), not this time. Then out of nowhere the lines of communication were up and running again so I set to work and really enjoyed myself. Horses were good and I was relaxed as I was just playing. It all felt quite easy. I packed up and headed home looking forward to seeing the shots that i’d taken.

I shall just have to imagine the shots as after creating my folder for the day I didn’t check autosave again after the start up issues so no images saved. Schoolboy error. Make sure you check autosave.

Lesson 4 - use the scanning sheets

A full equine scan is around 50 images. We’re provided with a scanning sheet that shows all of the images in the advised order so that A. We have a perfectly framed shot as reference and B. We don’t forget any of the images.

It’s very important that you keep looking at these scanning sheets. After you’ve completed around 8 scans you’re feeling pretty confident. You’re moving around the horse relatively quickly, you get into a natural flow moving from one section to the next, you stop relying on your scanning sheet. Twice I missed the same set of 6 images. Twice! So don’t get too cocky, keep referring back to your scanning sheet and always check your images before you leave (I didn’t do that either).  

Lesson 5 - controlling dogs for scanning is tricky, prawn crackers don’t really help and handling the handler is the biggest task of all

I was warned about all of these. Well treats not specifically prawn crackers. In fact, I was told that if I had any sense i’d stick to horses for a good few months before I even contemplated scanning dogs as you actually have half a chance of a horse standing still.

After about 4 hours total time scanning horses I thought it was time to practice on my 2 pooches using my boyfriend as handler. My boyfriend adores our dogs and has done quite a lot of training with them which has taught him patience. To an extent. I will point out now that they’re both Gordon Setters. A 4 year old and an 18 month old. For those that don’t know what they are they’re the black and tan, slightly bigger version of the Red Setter. Same exuberance being a working dog, willful, independent, they never grow up and are massive wimps. Oh and they have a long coat with lots of feathers. Perfect!

Armed with my scanning sheet we set to work starting with the younger one. So there’s me instructing my handler (boyfriend) that Rufus (the dog) needs to stand square without him in view. ‘What’s square?’ Hmm this was going to be tricky. We did manage this, despite Roo’s constant desire to sit down (that’s obviously what you do to get a prawn cracker, right?) but each shot was taking a long time. I got set up, was ready to go, he moved, I set up again, he moved again, on and on this went. I think we probably took about an hour to get a handful of shots.

The next one provided his own set of challenges - starting with being terrified of the camera.  As soon as it approached he cowered with his tail between his legs (I’m pretty sure that’s not on the image sheet). We did get him to relax a little but he was very suspicious. Again standing square wasn’t too bad but he would not stand with his legs separated - we moved a leg, he moved it back square, we moved it again, he moved it back. He would not do it. At all. Back scanning was equally unsuccessful. “He needs to be straight” I’m not sure how many times I said that. Even when square he resembled a bendy bus!

So lots more practice required. My boyfriend can’t wait.

Lesson 6 - all feedback is useful

To pass our training we need to submit 15 case studies that demonstrate our scans reach the high quality standards set by SyncThermology. These standards are in place for a reason. Sub-standard scanning results in poor reports so if our scans don’t make the grade they won’t be interpreted by our vets.

We were warned that scanning is harder than it looks, our first case studies would likely score 1’s or 2’s out of 5 and a lot of feedback would be provided. We were also told that Kat (who grades and provides feedback) doesn’t mince her words.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a perfectionist (although apparently there are others out there that would) but I really really don’t like being bad at something. 1’s or 2’s were not an option for me. I would be getting at least 4’s - hah!

You very quickly realise that the scores really aren’t what’s important. My first set of case studies got me a 2, 3 and 4 but more importantly I got a lot of really useful feedback. From that point on my scores went up and back down as I made mistakes and corrected them. I’m not gonna lie, the 2’s and 3’s hurt a little. I had to remind myself I was learning something new and to think I would be great at it with just a few hours of practice was not only foolish but a little insulting. Over time I started to be able to spot my own mistakes and had a good idea of what the feedback would be before I received it - that’s when I really knew I was learning how to be a good Imaging Technician.

End of training

I’ve passed my SyncEquine training - yay! I can’t reward myself too much just yet as still have SyncCanine training to complete but this is a good time to pause and reflect on my experiences so far and offer some pearls of wisdom to anyone else embarking on their SyncThermology training.

  • Absorb as much information as you can on the training days - there’s a lot to take in and you won’t remember half of it (probably not even a quarter) but you are given all the information you need.

  • Hire a camera kit asap - ideally right after your initial training days. At this point the minimal information you retained is fresh in your mind and you’re motivated to make a start. Don’t just hire it for a day. Hire it for a month. Yes it’s costly and you might need to take some time off work to get the most benefit from it but it’s worth it. You need to practice, practice, practice.

  • Don’t expect to just plan in 15 case studies. The best thing I did was regularly play with the kit. Practicing setting it up and taking it down. Take lots of shots of any horses you can get access to. Don’t put pressure on yourself right away trying to complete case studies just get comfortable using the kit. You’ll be all fingers and thumbs initially but that will go away.

  • Make it easy on yourself - start with region of interest or half body scans before you progress to baselines. And don’t do full bodies until the end. They take a lot of time and concentration and you won’t be ready for that for a while.

  • Use the very best environment you can for scanning. When you’re learning it’s hard enough to get the right images without having to worry about your scanning location. You will have friends that will offer a horse to be scanned and then you’ll find out that all they have is a small field shelter with a wonky floor. Say ‘No’. It’s hard but you need to set yourself up to win otherwise you’ll be very demoralised.

  • Expect to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of learning. You remember what you were told about the number of times you need to fall off a horse to be a good rider? This is the same. The mistakes you make in training will make you a good technician not a bad one so make the most of the feedback you receive - however brutal

First 3 months in business coming soon! If you would like to contact Gemma visit her profile page.