Dr. Sean Symons

Where have you lived?

I was born and raised in Toronto. I studied industrial engineering at the University of Toronto and then moved to New York City to complete my Masters of Public Health specializing in biostatistics at Columbia University. Then, I returned to complete my MD at the University of Toronto. Following that I completed a residency in diagnostic radiology at Queen’s University in Kingston, and a fellowship in neuroradiology at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. After that I was a staff radiologist at Queen’s University, and then returned to Toronto to work at Sunnybrook where I have been since.

What’s your favourite place to live?

I love living in Toronto – I live only five minutes from work. I also enjoyed working and living in Boston and New York City when I was younger.

What’s your role with ONDRI?

I screen all the MRI images and perform measurements on the images. I’m looking for abnormalities and use radiological measurement scales.

What excites you about ONDRI?

The participant cases are interesting and the mix of diseases is unique and have never been studied this way before. The special imaging analysis techniques are also unique. My main area of interest is diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) which we’re using with ONDRI. There are so many people involved in ONDRI which allows for collaboration on our other projects as well. It’s great to have these connections.

How has technology changed your profession?

The resolution and number of images has increased dramatically as scanner technology improves. When I started working as a resident, the scan slices were a centimeter thick and you received a total of 20 images per scan per person. Now, we can get more than 2,000 images per scan because we often scan each slice at 1 millimeter or less resolution. It’s a challenge now to look at the all the images but it helps accuracy. Since more subtle abnormalities are being picked up, you have to judge whether they are serious or just incidental. Before, with a centimeter slice, if you saw something you knew it was abnormal but now you see all kinds of little dots and you have to make a judgment call.

For some scans, there’s new “computer aided diagnosis” technology that may be able to sort through the images and pick out the questionable abnormalities before a radiologist looks at them. They’re already using this in some places for mammography and chest imaging. But, a radiologist is always the final judge. Similar programs are not yet available in neuroradiology. But, maybe in 20 years a machine will do it all.

Did you ever consider another profession?

I started out as an engineer/mathematician. People are sometimes surprised with my switch into this field. However, it’s not uncommon now for engineers to go into medicine and radiology, as they are attracted to the technology.

I considered radiology or ophthalmology. I always liked the neuroscience based specialties. I choose radiology because I was very much interested in the technological side of it.

What makes for a great workday?

When everyone’s scans are “normal.” Or when we successfully detect a very subtle abnormality early on and as a result can intervene with treatment early.

What were your interests growing up?

Math, science and academics in general. Golf was always my main leisure interest and I loved working at a golf course during high school.

What’s the last thing you Googled?

Hotels in Edinburgh, Scotland where I’m going on vacation. My daughter is going to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and we’re helping her move overseas.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

Golfing and travelling with my family. My son is a fantastic golfer. I don’t like to play with him anymore because he always beats me. I usually manage to golf when we travel.

Favourite place to travel?

For a big city vacation, Rome. For a relaxing vacation, Hawaii.