Neuromonitoring graduates help surgeons perform safer operations
ANN ARBOR—Not long after Joshua Mergos started his career as a neuromonitorist, he was assisting in a back surgery when his neurophysiological tests showed that a 12-year old girl would lose function in her legs if the surgeon did not modify his approach.
Mergos is the director of the Intraoperative Neuromonitoring Program at the University of Michigan, which recently became the only accredited IONM program in the world. The program, one of only three in the U.S., is a partnership between the U-M Health System Neurology Department and U-M School of Kinesiology.
When Mergos informed the orthopedic surgeon of the potentially catastrophic injury, the surgeon adjusted the screws and rods in the girl’s spine to correct the problem.
“You realize this job really does matter, this really does improve patients’ lives,” said Mergos, a clinical assistant professor of kinesiology.
Intraoperative neuromonitoring (IONM) is a fast-growing field with annual starting salaries for U-M grads of $70,000 to $80,000. Neuromonitorists assist during surgeries by monitoring the central and peripheral nervous systems of patients undergoing procedures such as scoliosis correction. The neurophysiologic information helps the surgeon perform a safer operation.
The accreditation means U-M graduates can immediately sit for the certification exam, having completed extensive coursework in intraoperative neurophysiology.
This also saves companies thousands of dollars of in-house training costs. Currently the only way to qualify for the test is through extensive, on-the-job training that can take up to 18 months.
Most companies require the certification before they’ll allow neuromonitorists to work independently.
“If they can hire one of our students, we save them a year-and-a-half of training somebody and paying them during that time,” Mergos said. “There is a lot of competition for our students. I get emails weekly now asking when our students are going to graduate.”
Neuromonitorists work in hospitals or private companies that contract out neuromonitoring services nationwide. Students in the last graduating class had 100 percent job placement, Mergos said, and many received multiple offers.
The next phase is partnering with other hospitals nationally and globally to give students a broader perspective while fulfilling the surgical rotation of 75 cases. Japan, Germany and the Netherlands have excellent neuromonitoring programs, Mergos said. Kinesiology also plans to build a simulated neuromonitoring lab.
Student Stephanie Schwartz wanted to be a doctor when she came to U-M but changed to the IONM program after Mergos spoke to her class.
“By the end of my sophomore year, I knew I wanted to be involved in the program because it was so unique, and I’ve always enjoyed neuroscience, so it gave me an outlet for my medical interests,” Schwartz said. “This field has changed my life, my perspective, and also makes me super excited for what comes next for me, post-graduation.”
The IONM program hosted a recent Twitter chat and a full recap is scheduled to be published this week. Tweeters include Mergos, Schwartz and Emily Matthews, director of marketing and communications for the School of Kinesiology.