CAT Scan Tech Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about a CAT scan tech's job description, salary and education/training requirements. Get the real facts about the pros and cons of a CAT scan tech career.
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CAT Scan Tech Career: Pros and Cons

CAT scan techs, also known as CT or radiologic technologists, use computerized tomography (CT or CAT) scanners to create diagnostic images of the interior parts of the human body. Reading the pros and cons of being a CAT scan tech may help you decide if this career is a good fit for you.

Pros of a CAT Scan Tech Career
Faster-than-average employment growth (expected 21% job growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Decent wage potential ($58,000 average as of May 2014)*
Associate's degree program sufficient for entry-level position*
Work available in various healthcare settings (physicians' offices, hospitals, imaging centers, etc.)*

Cons of a CAT Scan Tech Career
Heavy lifting may be required*
May be on your feet for long periods*
Certification and licensure required*
May be required to work unconventional hours*
Work may have potential for exposure to infectious diseases as well as radiation*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

CAT technologists are medical professionals who create diagnostic images of the body using computerized tomography. The images are cross-sectional x-rays of a specific area of the body. Through these x-rays, the techs are able to get 3-D images to help doctors diagnose and treat patients. Because the CAT scans use ionizing radiation, the techs and patients need to exercise precautions to limit radiation exposure. Other duties include maintaining and adjusting the imaging equipment, operating the image-scanning equipment, assisting the radiologists in reading the images and documenting the patients' records.

CAT scan techs take the patients' medical history and help prepare them for the procedure by answering any questions they may have. They also position the patient based on the area being scanned, making sure to protect the areas that are not getting scanned. Although they usually work 40-hour weeks, CAT techs may also be required to work evenings, weekends or on-call hours. They may also have to travel to other locations to provide their service in medical vans.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

Radiologic technologists can usually find work in healthcare settings, such as imaging centers and physicians' offices, although the majority are employed in hospitals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), radiologic technologists were predicted to see an employment growth of 21% between 2012 and 2022. The biggest contributing factor to the expected growth is the aging population. Radiologic technologists earned a mean annual wage of around $58,000 as of May 2014, stated the BLS.

What Are the Requirements?

To become a CAT scan tech, you're usually required to complete a formal training program, which is typically a certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree program. The majority of students opt for the associate's degree program. When pursuing the degree option, a candidate may complete a radiologic technology program that includes CT as part of the curriculum. The certificate programs are aimed at graduates of radiologic technologist programs who want to expand their knowledge or specialize in CT.

In addition to having high school diplomas, applicants must submit to criminal background checks and meet prerequisite course requirements. The curriculum combines didactic studies and clinical education so students obtain hands-on training performing CAT scans on various parts of the body.

Certification and Licensing

Most states require CAT scan techs to obtain certification or licensure. Certification can be obtained by completing an accredited radiography program and passing the American Registry of Radiologic Technologist (ARRT) certification examination. The exam must be taken within five years of completing the training program (three years as of 01/01/2013). Candidates can pursue a primary certification in radiography and a post-primary certification in CT.

Continuing education is required to maintain certification. For states that require licensure, the ARRT certification exam is typically a requirement. Individuals interested in pursuing CT as a career are urged to contact their state's health board to learn the licensing requirements.

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers are typically looking for motivated candidates who have completed formal training programs and are licensed and/or certified. Work experience is also considered a plus. CAT scan techs are expected to be knowledgeable in the topics of sectional anatomy, patient preparation, radiographic positions, components and functions of CT machines, radiographic exposure, medical terminology and digital imaging. Although the following is not a complete look at the job market for CAT scan techs, these are actual job postings from real employers as of April 2012:

  • A Florida medical center is seeking a CT scan tech with at least one year of hospital experience. Candidate will be responsible for preparing patients for tests, inspecting and monitoring films, performing radiologic exams and assisting the radiologist or doctor during the procedure. Applicants are expected to cross train in other specialty areas, help train new technologists and assistants and be able to work flexible hours that include weekends and on-call hours. Candidates must have American Registry of Radiologic Technologist (ARRT) certification and a Florida license.
  • An Arizona hospital is looking for an experienced CT scan tech to perform various radiological procedures, such as CT scans, invasive, vascular and interventional exams, as well as working on an on-call basis. Candidate must be knowledgeable of equipment operation and be able to perform in the role of an ARRT technologist when not performing CT duties. Two years of experience performing computed tomography is preferred.
  • A Phoenix healthcare provider is in need of a qualified CT technologist (as needed) to work in the Phoenix area and travel to other hospitals and outpatient imaging centers in the country. Candidates must have at least two years of post-training experience. They must also be registered with ARRT. Duties will include performing CT scans of patients' tissues and organs, preparing and operating the CT equipment and administering contrast materials.

How to Beat the Competition

Post-primary certifications will help to distinguish you from other CT scan techs. Once you've completed your education and have begun to gain some experience in clinical procedures, you may document that experience in order to apply for further certifications. These additional certifications are available through the AART in areas such as mammography, bone densitometry and sonography.

Other Careers to Consider

Respiratory Therapist

If you know you enjoy helping patients in a medical setting, but would rather work in a more hands-on position with patients, a career as a respiratory therapist may be a good fit for you. Respiratory therapists help care for patients with breathing difficulties or lung disorders. Patients range from young infants to the elderly with severe lung disorders, so this career could provide you with much variety.

As of May 2011, respiratory therapists earned around $56,000, very similar to CAT scan techs, according to the BLS. Another factor they both have in common is the faster-than-average job growth projection. The BLS predicted that respiratory therapists would see a job growth of 28% between 2010 and 2020. To become a respiratory therapist, you need to complete at least an associate's degree program and obtain licensure/certification.

Registered Nurse

Becoming a registered nurse (RN) can be accomplished by completing an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing or a nursing diploma program. As an RN, you provide care to sick and injured patients. You'll also help coordinate patient care, educate patients and their families about health issues and provide them with emotional support. RNs can work in various medical settings, including hospitals, home healthcare agencies, physicians' offices, nursing homes and schools. The BLS predicted registered nurses would experience a job growth of 26% between 2010 and 2020. They also reported that these workers earned around $69,000 as of May 2011.

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