Pros and Cons of a Health Technician Career
Health technology is a broad field with a range of career opportunities. A benefit of pursuing employment in this field is the short duration of training needed to qualify for a health technician position; however, some positions offer relatively low salaries and irregular work hours. Common health technician positions include health information, medical laboratory and psychiatric technicians. See below for a quick glimpse into these health technician careers:
|Health Information Technicians||Medical Laboratory Technicians||Psychiatric Technicians|
|Career Overview||Health information technicians manage medical records and information in healthcare facilities and physicians' offices.||Medical laboratory technicians collect, test and analyze samples for medical facilities.||Psychiatric technicians provide therapeutic care to patients with mental illnesses.|
|Education Requirements||Certificate or associate degree||Associate degree||Certificate; associate degrees also available|
|Program Length||One to two years||Two years||One semester to two years|
|Certification and Licensing||Voluntary certification offered by the American Health Information Management Association||Some states require certification and licensure/registration; voluntary certification offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology||Select states require licensure; voluntary certification is available through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||Faster-than-average growth (22%) compared to all occupations*||Faster-than-average growth (30%) compared to all occupations*||Slower-than-average growth (4%) compared to all occupations*|
|Median Salary (2014)||About $36,000*||About $38,000*||About $31,000*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Health Information Technician
Health information technicians work in healthcare facilities and physicians' offices to manage patient information and medical records. The technician ensures medical records are complete and accurate. She or he assigns codes for insurance billing purposes and enters the records into the facility's database. Patient information includes medical histories, treatments, symptoms and test results. Technicians may consult with medical professionals to clarify information in patient records.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employers usually require health information technicians to complete a certificate program to qualify for employment. Some health information technicians complete an associate degree program in health information technology. Courses in a health information technology program include medical coding systems, medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and reimbursement methods.
Below are some examples of health information technician positions, drawn from job postings available in December 2012:
- A community behavioral healthcare in Pennsylvania is looking for a medical records technician to oversee the facility's health records department. Applicants must have a minimum of a high school diploma and one to three years of experience as a medical records technician.
- An Oklahoma pharmacy is looking for a medical records technician to manage the medical data generated from pharmacy records. Applicants must have a minimum of a high school diploma and long-term care and pharmacy technician experience.
- A mental health organization in Ohio is searching for a medical records technician to maintain the organization's clinical records. The employer requires applicants to have an associate degree in medical records technology or two years of experience in a related position.
Voluntary certification from the American Health Information Management Association may help you stand out as a health information technician. The association offers the Registered Health Information Technician certification for medical records professionals. The credentials demonstrate to potential employers that you have the knowledge and skills to work in the position. Candidates for certification must have completed an accredited associate degree program in health information technology and pass an exam.
Medical Laboratory Technicians
Medical laboratory technicians perform tests on bodily fluids and tissue under the direction of laboratory technologists. Technicians collect samples from patients and operate lab equipment to test and analyze the samples according to the orders of physicians and healthcare professionals.
Laboratory technicians must have an associate degree that incorporates both scientific and clinical training. Students with a degree in another field may complete a one-year certificate program to qualify for positions as medical laboratory technicians. Some states require a license and certification to work in a medical laboratory. Licensing requirements vary by state and according to the technician's specialty.
See below for descriptions of medical laboratory technician positions available in December 2012, based on job postings:
- A drug and alcohol testing center in Kentucky is looking for a medical laboratory technician to perform toxicology work in an independent lab. Applicants must have a minimum of a four-year degree in medical technology and four years of experience or an associate degree and seven years of experience.
- A medical center in Alabama is seeking a medical laboratory technician to perform routine lab procedures. Applicants must have an associate degree in medical lab technology, national certification and a minimum of one year of experience as a lab technician.
- A healthcare facility in Texas is looking for a medical laboratory technician with an associate degree, national certification and at least three years of experience in a medical lab.
National certification, when not a requirement for state licensure, may help you stand out in the field. According to the BLS, employers prefer to hire medical technicians with certification. The American Society for Clinical Pathology awards the Medical Laboratory Technician credential to candidates with at least an associate degree who pass a certification exam.
Psychiatric technicians help with patients' therapeutic activities, dispense medications, observe patient behavior and monitor vital signs under the direction of a psychiatrist. A psychiatric technician works closely with patients, providing assistance with daily activities, such as eating and bathing. Technicians work in hospitals, psychiatric residential facilities and outpatient treatment clinics.
Employers usually require a certificate for work as a psychiatric technician, which can be earned through community colleges and vocational schools. Psychiatric technician coursework covers topics like biology, counseling, pharmacology, surgical nursing, developmental disabilities and psychology. Technicians also usually obtain on-the-job training that can last up to several months.
Arkansas, Colorado, California and Kansas are the only states that require these workers to be licensed, reported the BLS. Licensing requirements may include completing an approved education program and passing an examination.
Below are examples of psychiatric technician positions from advertisements posted in December 2012:
- A California correctional facility is looking for a psychiatric technician to provide administrative and basic nursing care to inmates. Applicants must have a California psychiatric technician's license and one year of experience to qualify for the position.
- An addiction and behavioral disorder treatment center in Arizona is seeking a psychiatric technician with a minimum of a high school education and one year of experience as a psychiatric technician. The employer also requires applicants to have CPR certification.
- A hospital in Wisconsin is looking for a psychiatric technician who has at least a high school education and certification as a nursing assistant. The employer also requires at least two years of experience in a psychiatric facility.
While not mandatory, certification as a psychiatric technician may help you stand out amongst the competition when seeking employment. The American Association of Psychiatric Technicians offers four levels of certification for technicians with different educational and experiential backgrounds. Level one certification requires only a high school diploma or a GED. The fourth level requires a bachelor's degree in a major relevant to mental health or developmental disabilities, as well as three years of experience in the field. All levels of certification require passing an exam.