MRI Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an MRI assistant? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming an MRI assistant is right for you.
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A Career in MRI Assisting: Pros and Cons

A career in the growing field of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) assisting focuses on helping patients obtain specialized diagnostic imaging in hospitals, doctors' offices and out-patient care centers. Scan the following pros and cons to see if working as an MRI technologist is right for you.

Pros of a MRI Assisting Career
Can break in with a certificate, diploma or associate's degree**
Above-average employment growth predicted (21% from 2012-2022)*
Diversity of employment settings, from hospitals to physician offices and out-patient care settings*
RRA jobs allow expanded leadership and care management opportunities***

Cons of an MRI Assisting Career
Advanced positions may have hazards of radiation exposure from diagnostic imaging equipment*
MRI technologists must exercise care in environments with strong magnetic fields****
Some states require professional certification or licensing for employment*
Career advancement to RRA requires bachelor's degree and additional training***
Physical fitness needed to meet job requirements of frequent standing and lifting and positioning patients*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists, ***American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, ****University of Utah School of Medicine.

Essential Career Information

Career Options and Job Descriptions

Both MRI technologists (also known as radiologic technologists specializing in MRI) and registered radiologic assistants are considered MRI assistants; however differences in education and training prepare you for differing levels of diagnostic imaging patient care and professional responsibilities.

As an MRI technologist, you take patient histories and answer patient questions about the testing procedures. You prepare patients for diagnostic MRI exams, which includes providing them with protective shielding prior to the exam, and operate highly-specialized imaging equipment. These exams are performed according to the direction of a physician. MRI technology uses radio waves and magnetic fields to create cross-sectional looks at patients' internal anatomy and pathology at any given plane.

RRA education and training provides you with an expanded ability to provide MRI assistance, such as fluoroscopy. organ biopsies, PICC and central venous lines, arthrograms and lumbar punctures. You may make preliminary observations of MRI images for radiologists but you cannot make formal diagnoses or prepare formal reports of findings. RRAs provide patients with a bridge in care between MRI technologists and radiologists, intended to meet the need for care in light of a shortage of radiologists, according to the American College of Radiology.

Salary Info

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the average annual salary of MRI technologists was $67,300 as of May 2014. However, the range of salaries is diverse depending on factors such as experience, specialty and industry. The bottom 10th percentile earned less than $46,310 while the top 90 percent took home over $92,220 in 2014. The highest concentration of employees was reported in general medical and surgical hospitals (19,280 workers, or 58% of the total job pool).

Job Outlook

The BLS reported that radiologic and MRI technologists could expect to see faster-than-average job growth from 2012-2022, at a rate of 21%. This increase is expected to be attributable to an increasing population of aged and elderly patients needing diagnostic imaging to assess injury or illness. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) reported in July 2012 that The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that indicated MRI use jumped dramatically from 1996 - 2010 , from a rate of 17 in 1,000 patients to 65 in 1,000 patients.

Education, Training and Licensing Requirements

The education required of an MRI assistant generally includes study in anatomy and physiology, medical ethics, healthcare legal issues, diagnostic imaging machine operation and pharmacology. A clinical requirement is usually required as well. Radiology assistant programs generally require more advanced study of these concepts, in addition to advanced imaging and patient care skills, pathology and more extensive clinical work. Some states may require that MRI assistants hold professional certification or earn state licensing, the qualifications for which can vary by state.

MRI Technologist

To become an MRI technologist, you need to complete at least a certificate, diploma or associate's degree program in magnetic resonance imaging that includes classroom and hands-on training, although it's possible to earn a bachelor's degree. Professional certification is available through the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT) and AART. These programs are quite targeted and the curriculum does not typically go beyond performing MRI-related diagnostic and patient care tasks. If you've already earned AART-registered credentials in radiography or nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy or sonography and you have clinical experience in performing MRIs, you may be eligible to sit for the certification exam.

RAA

An associate's degree in radiography or medical imaging - which includes MRI technology - is the minimum educational requirement to become an RRA. Demonstrated, documented clinical competency in patient care and medical imaging procedures is required prior to sitting for the ARRT radiography certification exam, which allows use of the Registered Technologist (RT) title. In order for RTs to qualify for the RRA credentialing exam, a bachelor's degree in any field is required, plus at least one year of post-certification work experience and completion of an RA education program. RA education programs include bachelor's and master's degrees in radiography and medical imaging or radiologist assistant.

What Employers Look For

Effective interaction with doctors and patients and providing accurate implementation of diagnostic imaging procedures are crucial for delivering effective patient care, so employers generally look for MRI assistants with strong interpersonal communication skills, math skills and knowledge of biology,. Physical fitness is also important, as MRI assistants may spend many hours standing and helping patients maneuver into the proper position for the MRI screening. Here is a sampling of job postings reviewed in July 2012 :

  • A federal agency in South Carolina sought a diagnostic radiologic technologist (RT) specializing in MRI with least two years of education and four years of experience as a registered RT. Required skills include IV placement, basic first aid and life support, knowledge of common exam contraindications and guidelines, ability to operate related equipment like blood pressure monitors and knowledge of alternative scan options.
  • A federal agency in Nevada sought a diagnostic radiologic technologist to provide pre-exam care for patients, including screening for contraindications. Duties include maintaining the cleanliness and operation of MRI equipment, venipuncture for diagnostic purposes and cross-training radiologic technologists in MRI-specific techniques. Two years of formal education is required; ARRT credentials in radiologic technology are required, and credentials in MRI are preferred.
  • In Denver, CO, a federal agency, whose responsibility includes direct healthcare, sought a diagnostic radiologic technologist to perform CT, MRI and interventional radiography (IR) exams. Assisting the radiologist with catheters and biopsies is also expected. Duties also include monitoring examination for conditions that require immediate attention from the radiologist and training doctors and other RTs in proper exam procedures. Candidates must hold ARRT and basic life support certifications. At least one year of graduate-level education in radiography, diagnostic radiography or imaging is also required.

How to Stand Out in the Field

As the field of medical imaging continues to grow, taking continuing education courses can help you stay abreast of new diagnostic imaging methodologies and standards for patient care and MRI assistant safety. Membership in organizations like the American Society of Radiologic Technologists can provide you with opportunities for professional networking and continuing education and give you a heads-up on changes and trends in the field you may want to take action on.

Other Careers to Consider

Other careers related to diagnostic medical imaging, include nuclear medicine technologist and radiation therapist. These jobs typically require at least an associate's degree, and professional organizations may offer specialized certification; state licensing may also be required. While median pay in 2010 for these jobs was higher, according to the BLS (nuclear medicine technologists earned $68,560, and radiation therapists earned $74,980), these jobs may expose practitioners to higher exposure of hazardous materials than MRI assistants, which typically use non-ionizing technology.

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