In 2023, healthcare workers are still in high demand. One of the best healthcare careers you could choose is as a radiology, ultrasound, or MRI technician or technologist. Why? Because it’s relatively easy to get started, you’ll make competitive wages, always be in demand, and have a more regular schedule than other healthcare jobs. This blog will tell you everything you need to know about this very lucrative career path.
Here’s one important thing to note before we get started. There are medical imaging technicians and medical imaging technologists. In general, technicians receive on-the-job training, and technologists are trained before beginning a job. We will use the abbreviation “tech” throughout this blog to cover both positions unless we are specifically talking about one or the other. Let’s get started.
The General Duties
These jobs use technology to scan patients’ bodies for health diagnostics. Radiologic techs perform X-rays and other diagnostic imaging examinations on patients. X-rays, a form of radiation called electromagnetic waves, are the most common diagnostic imaging test. Doctors use X-rays to diagnose fractures, dislocations, tumors, and infections. Some radiologic techs specialize in a particular technology, such as mammography or computed tomography (CT) imaging.
MRI techs perform a specialized form of radiology using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images. MRI scans diagnose bone or joint conditions, brain problems, and reproductive issues and assess treatment progress.
Ultrasound techs, or diagnostic medical sonographers, create images of the body’s internal structures using high-frequency sound waves. Ultrasounds are often used in obstetrics but can also diagnose stomach, heart, reproductive organ, muscle, and bone conditions. Ultrasounds provide more detailed images than an X-ray.
In general, medical imaging techs do more than just perform scans during a normal workday. They also educate patients about their medical procedures and work with doctors to assess test results. Some other daily tasks include completing patient intake processes and histories, reviewing and updating charts, monitoring patients during tests, and maintaining equipment.
Salary and Growth Data
There will be plenty of new job opportunities at great wages in the next few years. For radiologic and MRI techs, the projected national job growth is 7%. The projected national job growth for ultrasound techs is 12%.
In Arizona, the median annual wage for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists was $81,140 in May 2022. Also, the median annual wage for radiologic technicians and technologists in Arizona was $71,770 in May 2022. For diagnostic medical sonographers, the median wage was $89,980. As demand increases, salaries are sure to increase as well.
Work Environment and Schedule
Medical imaging techs are employed by a variety of organizations, including:
- State, local, and private hospitals
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories
- Doctors’ offices
- Outpatient care centers and clinics
- Federal government facilities
There is a benefit to working for some of these organizations because they may keep more regular business hours, limiting the number of nights and weekends you will work. However, if you are looking for a job with non-traditional hours, many hospitals employ techs 24/7. Also, some settings may be less hectic and unpredictable than others, making for a more stable work environment.
You can also start a tech job on a temporary and/or part-time basis, giving you the flexibility to go to school, take care of kids, or do other things while working. Temporary tech jobs allow you to pick your schedule and location and get paid weekly. Many seasoned techs are becoming traveling techs, using temporary jobs to move from place to place, depending on their needs. They do this to avoid burnout or to enjoy other parts of their lives.
Education and Certification Requirements
Most medical imaging techs only need an associate degree to be licensed or certified in most states. Two two-year associate degrees in radiography or radiologic technology are available for X-ray techs and will include some clinical experience. Students learn how to administer X-rays safely to protect themselves and their patients from exposure to excessive radiation. Classes include X-ray positioning, medical terminology, and radiographic physics.
In addition to an associate degree, most states require X-ray techs to be licensed by passing the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) 4-hour, 200-question certification exam. Some states also require techs to pass a different state-administered exam. Then, X-ray techs will need to take continuing education classes to maintain their license or certification. Techs can also get certified in a radiologic technology specialty, like CT or mammography.
At a minimum, an MRI tech must graduate from an accredited certificate program at a community college or hospital, lasting anywhere from a few months to a year. There are also associate’s or bachelor’s programs in MRI technology. The highest MRI tech certification is also through the ARRT. There is another certification available from the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT). In some cases, clinical experience may be enough to get certified.
Most ultrasound techs need an associate degree. There are also bachelor and 1-year certificate programs available. Certification is available with required clinical education from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Certifications are offered in various specialties, including breast, abdomen, and vascular sonography. In Arizona, ultrasound techs do not need a license or certificate, but other states like New Mexico do.
Typically, having a license and certification in any medical imaging tech field can increase your salary and choice of job opportunities.
Transferable Skills Needed
Aside from education and on-the-job experience, you will need several soft skills to succeed as a medical imaging tech.
Listening, compassion, and empathy – Diagnostic testing can be stressful for many patients. Good techs know how to listen to and treat patients with compassion and empathy.
Self-confidence – A calm and self-assured nature is essential to put patients at ease while administering X-rays, sonograms, and MRIs.
Detail-oriented – The equipment that techs use requires following precise instructions and attention to detail to take and diagnose the best possible test results.
Math skills – Techs often need to calculate the proper amount of radiation or magnetic resonance utilized in testing procedures.
Physical stamina –Medical imaging techs are on their feet for long periods of time and must be able to lift and move patients. There is also the risk of injury due to repetitive motions and dealing with bulky machinery.
Trends in Medical Imaging
Advances in technology and research will affect the medical imaging job outlook in the next ten to twenty years. Some of these changes are:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI aids in detecting and quantifying different clinical conditions that lead to more accurate diagnostics. The ability to sift through large volumes of scans and quickly return accurate insights can be crucial for healthcare facilities.
- Virtual and 3D Imaging: New technologies will enable techs to create 3D MRI images examined through 3D glasses or a virtual reality headset. The 3D images can be rotated or bisected into cross-sections for better visibility. 3D imaging is particularly useful in orthopedics. For example, it can help with the placement of prosthetic joints and the treatment of bone fractures.
- Augmented reality (AR): AR technology combines 3D images and machine learning to help medical professionals use imaging to diagnose and treat patients more effectively. For example, AR can enhance the visualization of an MRI by superimposing the image onto the patient in real time. This can help medical professionals see the exact location of organs inside the body, making it easier to perform specific procedures.
- Wearables: Wearable devices have the potential to revolutionize medical imaging by providing continuous monitoring of patients in real time. For example, wearables could monitor recovery after a bone injury or make MRIs more comfortable for patients.
No matter the new technology developed for medical imaging now and in the future, there will still be a need for techs to perform the tests. It will be necessary for anyone interested in this emerging field to keep up with the latest trends to stay competitive in the job market.
Medical imaging is a lucrative healthcare field for anyone looking to start a new career. At Desert Medical Careers, we have years of connections and have placed hundreds of individuals in medical positions. We review resumes, ensuring your resume matches what employers are looking for to find you the ideal medical imaging technician or technologist job.
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a medical imaging technician or technologist, check out these articles: