Medical Imaging Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
A medical imaging technician's median annual salary is between around $56,000 and $68,000, depending on the type of imaging. Is it worth the requirements? Learn about the job duties and career options and get the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a medical imaging technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Medical Imaging Technician

Medical imaging technicians are professionals who perform imaging examinations to assist in the diagnosis of illness and treatment of patients. Reading about the pros and cons of being a medical imaging technician may help you decide if this career position is right for you.

PROS of Being a Medical Imaging Technician
Faster-than-average employment growth (expected 21% increase for radiologic technologists and 46% increase for sonographers between 2012 and 2022)*
Can work in various medical settings*
Technical training and associate's degree programs sufficient for entry-level positions*
Specialization options*
Opportunities for advancement*
Allows you to help others*

CONS of Being a Medical Imaging Technician
Low-to-average salary (around $56,000 median annual salary for radiologic technologists)*
Demand for technicians may be regional*
Work hours may include evenings, weekends and holidays*
May require lifting or turning heavy patients*
Possible exposure to radiation (for radiographers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A medical imaging technician's main job is to perform diagnostic imaging examinations. Although radiographers and sonographers may both work in this profession, their duties are slightly different. Radiography technicians work with radiation and may perform exams using x-rays. Sonography technicians carry out tests or ultrasounds with the use of sound waves. Whereas radiography relies more on the imaging equipment, sonography is more hands-on and operator-controlled.

First, the technician prepares the patient for the procedure by positioning the body on the table so the imaging can be done correctly and efficiently while ensuring the patient's comfort. The radiography technician also removes jewelry and other items that may restrict the x-rays from working correctly. She or he assures the patient by explaining the procedure and answering any questions. Before, during and after the procedure, the medical imaging technician keeps the patient's medical records and ensures that the imaging equipment is functioning correctly.

You should know that the radiography technician might also be called a technologist. There are no significant differences in education or job duties, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Some people may be more willing to call someone a technologist if they specialize in a specific type of medical imaging, like MRI or CT tests, or if she or he has a bachelor's degree.

Salary

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), radiography technologists earned a median annual wage of around $56,000 in 2014, while diagnostic medical sonographers earned around $68,000. Wages often vary with experience and location.

Career Paths and Specializations

Although the largest numbers of medical imaging technicians are employed in hospitals, they may also find positions in clinics, medical and diagnostic laboratories, physicians' offices and outpatient care centers. Some may also travel in medical-equipped vans to perform the procedures on patients in their homes.

Radiographers may learn sophisticated imaging procedures, such as fluoroscopies, or perform specialty-imaging procedures, like MRI, CT scans and mammography. Sonographers may specialize in various areas, including obstetric and gynecological, vascular, cardiac, abdominal or breast sonography. Medical imaging technicians who are trained in and knowledgeable of various specialized areas typically have better employment opportunities.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

Individuals interested in pursuing careers as medical imaging technicians must meet certain requirements for admission to the programs. They must have high school diplomas or GEDs and must demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. Applicants should possess a strong aptitude for science courses; some programs may require 75% or higher grade in high school science courses.

To become a medical imaging technician, you need to complete a training program that leads to a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. These programs are usually found in technical schools and community colleges. The program's curriculum combines classroom studies and laboratory work. Additionally, clinical education components provide you with hands-on experience interacting with patients and becoming familiar with imaging equipment. Prior to starting clinical education, students are required to submit to criminal background checks.

Radiography courses teach you about radiation biology and radiation protection, while sonography programs provide training on sonography physics and superficial structures. Both programs cover subjects such as patient care, anatomy and physiology, cross-sectional anatomy, equipment operation, medical care ethics and medical terminology. Students enrolled in bachelor's degree programs may be required to meet residency requirements.

Career Skills

In additional to completing formal training, medical imaging technicians should also possess the following qualities or skills:

  • Physical stamina
  • Communication skills
  • Ability to follow directions
  • Critical thinking
  • Ability to assist and care for others

What Employers Are Looking For

Although not all states require medical imaging technicians be licensed, those that do typically require them to pass a test. Employers in other states may prefer registration or certification. Sonographers can pursue registration through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), while radiographers go through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

Typically, the most important thing to employers is that potential technicians have successfully completed training and are knowledgeable in this profession. Below are some examples of job postings open during March 2012.

  • A medical service provider advertised for a diagnostic imaging technician interested in working at an air force base in Mississippi. Requirements include being a graduate from a JCERT (Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology)-accredited radiography technologist program, at least one year of experience in mammography and ARRT certification.
  • A healthcare provider in California is seeking a radiography technician willing to work three 12-hour shifts in multiple locations. Applicants must have at least one year of experience. The technician will prepare patients for examinations, produce scans and perform administrative duties.
  • A medical center near Boston advertised for a medical imagining technician with an associate's degree and at least one year of experience. Candidate will be responsible for obtaining patient medical history, training students, performing ultrasound scans, maintaining equipment and performing clerical duties.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Employers typically look for ambitious individuals who demonstrate their proficiency in and commitment to the profession. Obtaining available certifications and keeping up with continuing education and recertification can help keep you ahead in the field. The ARRT offers credentials for both radiographers and sonographers, and the ARDMS provides additional sonography certification options.

Radiographers can obtain focused training and certification in various areas, including MRI, CT, vascular-interventional radiography, cardiac-interventional radiography, mammography or bone densitometry. Sonographers may concentrate on fetal echocardiography, neurosonology, musculoskeletal sonography, vascular sonography or breast sonography and take the corresponding exam to earn the specialty credential. To be eligible for certification, candidates must meet educational, ethical and examination requirements. Additional clinical experiences are commonly required for the advanced practices.

The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) is a professional organization medical imaging professionals can join to obtain useful information on the profession. It also offers continuing education courses.

Alternative Career Paths

If you're interested in working in a medical setting and helping others but would like a career that involves less hands-on work with patients, there are other career options you may consider.

Clinical Laboratory Technician or Technologist

Clinical laboratory technicians must have an associate's degree, while a bachelor's degree is typically required for technologists. Applicable degree programs may be in medical laboratory science or a life science. As a clinical lab technician or technologist, you'll perform tests and lab procedures related to the diagnosis and prevention of diseases and illnesses. According to the BLS, laboratory technicians earned a median annual wage of around $36,000 in 2010, while laboratory technologists earned about $56,000. This profession may also require evening, weekend or holiday work.

Administrative Medical Assistant

Although some people think of medical assistants as just being the professionals helping doctors with patient care, they can also focus on the business part of medical assisting. They may handle bookkeeping and billing, patient scheduling and office correspondence. You may still have to complete formal training for this career, although on-the-job training may be an option. Some states also require medical assistants to be certified. As of 2010, medical assistants earned a median annual wage of about $29,000. Although the wage is less than medical imaging technicians, there may also be less training required.

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