Becoming a Clinical Imaging Specialist: Salary & Job Description

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When becoming a clinical imaging technician or technologist, you can specialize in such areas as sonography, radiology or nuclear medicine technology. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for these occupations ranged from about $57,510 to $73,230 as of 2014. Are the earnings worth the training requirements? Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a clinical imaging specialist.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Clinical Imaging Specialist

If you're interested in becoming a clinical imaging specialist, you'll have many choices to make about education, training and area of specialty. Although there's steady job growth in this field, check out these pros and cons to make sure that you're ready to face competition for jobs.

PROS of Becoming a Clinical Imaging Specialist
Faster-than-average job growth expected from 2012-2022*
Various career paths available, with programs ranging from 1-4 years*
Help others by assisting in diagnosing their ailments*
Flexible and nontraditional schedules available*

CONS of Becoming a Clinical Imaging Specialist
Heavy job competition in some areas, especially nuclear medicine technology*
Physical demands include lifting and working on your feet for long periods*
Radiation a potential risk in nuclear medicine technology*
Possible on-call hours, weekends or evenings*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career and Salary Information for Medical Imaging Specialists

Workers in the field of clinical or medical imaging use various techniques and machines to produce pictures of the inside of the human body to diagnose problems or evaluate changes. Some procedures are also used to treat diseases.

Radiologic Technicians or Technologists

Radiologic technicians and technologists perform radiograph (x-ray), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. Mammography imaging is also within their jurisdiction. Working in radiology, you would take measures to prevent unnecessary exposure, as most of these procedures involve radiation. As of 2014, the BLS reported that the approximate mean wage for this field was $57,510 per year (www.bls.gov).

Sonography Technicians

Sonography, or ultrasonography, uses high-frequency sound waves to form echoes that are then recorded and viewed. In addition to obstetrics and gynecology, sonography has other specialty areas in which you could earn certification: abdominal, vascular, cardiac, mammography or neurosonography. The BLS noted that the approximate mean salary for this career was $68,390 as of 2014.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists create images that track metabolic changes instead of organ structures. You'd administer radioactive drugs to patients and then scan for images created by signals emitted from their bodies. The images show on film or a computer screen. You can choose a specialty in either nuclear cardiology or positron emission tomography (PET). The mean salary for this field was about $73,320 as of 2014, per the BLS.

Requirements

Education

There are various career paths in clinical or medical imaging. You can find programs in hospitals, vocational-technical schools, community colleges and universities. Check with the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) for accredited programs. They vary in length from 1-4 years. Most students choose associate's degrees for training in sonography and radiology. One-year programs in most specialty areas are available to health professionals with a degree in a different healthcare occupation or another area of clinical imaging.

Licensure and Certification

Most states require licensing for technologists working with radiation. Certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) or Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) is voluntary, but something that many employers seek. In addition, the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) offers testing in various specialty areas, so that you can earn various credentials. You can find out more information on any area of imaging through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

What Are Employers Looking For?

The BLS expected faster-than-average job growth for professionals in this field from 2010-2020. However, as trained workers continue to enter the imaging job market, competition will become keener. Read the following excerpts from real job listings posted online in March 2012 to find out what employers wanted:

  • An imaging center in North Carolina advertised for a full-time ultrasound technician. This employer required a 2-year degree in radiography, with certification in ultrasound, or completion of a medical sonography program and current ARRT registration. This position included communicating with patients, performing scans and keeping records.
  • An imaging service in Texas was looking for a multiprocedures technologist to perform both x-ray and MRI. This employer required a minimum associate's degree in applied science or completion of an accredited hospital program, along with ARRT certification and state licensing. However, a bachelor's degree was desired, with at least a year's experience as either an MRI or CT technologist.
  • An imaging company in California advertised for a part-time PET/CT technologist with dual certifications from NMTCB and ARRT, in addition to state licensing. An associate's degree from a CAAHEP accredited program was required, along with certification for cardiac sonography and one year's experience in echocardiography.

How to Beat the Competition

You might have the best job prospects if you further specialize within your imaging field. For example, the BLS reported that there is less competition among cardiovascular technicians and technologists, who can anticipate job growth of 29% from 2010-2020, which offers more potential opportunities than the general field of sonography imaging. Having at least one certification from the ARRT or NMTCB may make you more valuable to employers. Choosing additional, niche certifications from the ARDMS also gives you more room to look for work in multiple areas.

Related Careers

Radiation Therapist

Another medical position with a higher average salary than medical imaging specialists receive, but equal or less entry-level training, is a radiation therapist. These professionals treat diseases, such as cancer, with radiation treatments. The BLS reported that the mean annual wage in May 2011 was about $79,000. Although you can get started with only a 1-year certificate, employers may prefer candidates with either an associate's or bachelor's degree, per the BLS. Most states also require a license.

Medical Lab Technician

If you'd like to work in a lab rather than an imaging environment, and work with data and samples rather than patients, you may wish to become a clinical or medical lab technician. You only need an associate's degree to enter this field, although you can go on to become a medical lab technologist with a bachelor's degree. These professionals earned a median of about $37,000 as of 2011, while technologists earned about $57,000, according to the BLS.

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