Pros and Cons of a MRI Technologist Career
MRI technologists, some of whom hold only a diploma or certificate, are responsible for administering magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams for doctors to use in diagnosing and treating illnesses, some of them life-threatening. MRI technologists are not necessarily restricted to performing only the MRI test - although they may be limited by the kind of training they pursue.
|Pros of a MRI Technologist Career|
|*Can enter career field with postsecondary diploma or certificate***|
|*Pursuing general radiography education could improve employability with a diversity of skills and abilities to perform multiple diagnostic modalities****|
|*MRIs utilize non-ionizing radiation, unlike other kinds of radiography modalities*****|
|*Strong job growth (24% increase) expected from 2012-2022*|
|Cons of a MRI Technologist Career|
|*Working with trauma and cancer patients can be stressful**|
|*Magnetic coils used in diagnostic procedures present non-radioactive hazards*****|
|*Pursuing MRI-specific training could limit your employability****|
|*Employers may require an array of licensing, certification and permit credentials****|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **University of Utah School of Medicine, ***American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists, ****Job postings viewed on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com in July 2012, *****U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Job Description and Duties
MRI technologists do much more than simply operate MRI equipment. They must also prepare patients for the procedure by reading patient records, alleviating patient anxiety by explaining the procedure and what it entails and properly maintain the MRI equipment. Conversations with patients determine any contraindications for the MRI, such as pregnancy, heart pacemakers or tattoos, before the exam gets underway. MRI technologists also monitor patients during diagnostic procedures. Technologists may also be required to do a fair amount of clerical and administrative work, such as keeping patient records, creating work schedules for themselves and their coworkers and consulting with doctors on the purchase of new equipment. Some employers expect MRI technicians to assist with other kinds of radiography exams or provide general office and patient transport support.
Some of the tools that MRI technologists may be required to handle include catheters, films, contrast materials, immobilization devices, portable MRI scanners and patient monitoring leads. Special emphasis is placed on the safety of the technologists, doctors, patients and anyone else within proximity of the MRI equipment because of the powerful magnetic coils used by the MRI equipment. As a technologist, you'll be required to take extra precaution when positioning the equipment, handling the exposure controls and using protective gear and spaces.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated in May 2014 that MRI technologists averaged about $67,000 annually. MRI technologists within the 90th percentile made upwards of $92,000 per year. The top five paying states for MRI technologists were Nevada, California, Hawaii, the District of Columbia and Massachusetts.
Opportunities for MRI technologists were expected to be good. The BLS reported that MRI technologists could expect a 24% job growth rate from 2012-2022. In July 2012, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) reported that The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study indicating that MRI use quadrupled from 1996-2010, possibly as a result of better MRI technology, demand from medical professionals and consumers or as a method of practicing defensive medicine (www.asrt.org). The University of Utah School of Medicine also reported that MRI technology may be utilized in surgery, mammography, nuclear medicine and interventional radiography (medicine.utah.edu).
What Are the Requirements?
There are essentially two career paths toward becoming a MRI technologist, and choosing the best one for you comes down to your overall career goals. A MRI technologist training program prepares you to perform only MRI work, whereas a more broad radiography or medical imaging degree program can provide you with greater potential for career advancement.
Primary Educational Pathway to MRI Technologist Career
Certificate, diploma, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in MRI technology can prepare you for a career as an MRI technologist. These are often highly-specialized programs that concentrate only on delivering MRI-related diagnostic care. Completion of one of these programs, along with sufficient clinical experience, can qualify you to sit for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) MRI Certification exam (www.arrt.org). The AART reported that in 2015, it will make the associate's degree the minimum educational requirement, although the degree field isn't required to be MRI or diagnostic imaging.
Post-Primary Educational Pathway to MRI Technologist Career
If you've already earned AART registration through education and experience in sonography, nuclear medicine technology, radiography or radiation therapy and you can document your experience in performing MRIs, you may be eligible to sit for the MRI certification exam.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Some employers seek candidates who have expertise in other radiological technology in addition to MRI testing. In states that require licensing of radiographers, this credential may also be required. Here are some sample job postings for MRI technologists from July 2012:
- A Providence, RI-based hospital sought an MRI technologist with three years' experience to perform MRI procedures according to physician's orders, including positioning patients and maintaining records and documentation, and help with other duties, such as transporting patients.
- In San Antonio, TX, a university health system wanted to hire an ARRT-registered and Texas Department of Health-registered MRI technologist to conduct MRI exams and provide general department support through teamwork and excellent customer service skills. The job required two years of experience working in radiology. The MRI technologist was required to earn ARRT-registration in MRI within four years of employment.
- A DuPage, IL hospital sought to hire an MRI technologist with at least one year of RT experience. Candidates with a bachelor's degree were preferred. ARRT registration was required, as was MRI certification.
- An outpatient imaging center in Santa Rosa, CA, was hiring a MRI technologist with at least one year of MRI experience to perform MRI exams and assist with X-ray and CT exams when necessary; training in CT examinations would be provided. The MRI technologist would also assist radiologists with MRI- and CT-guided biopsy procedures, maintain paperwork as required and interact directly with patients by answering their questions and monitoring their comfort and general health during exams. ARRT-R certification, CA state license in radiography, CPR certification and venipuncture permit were required.
- A Vallejo, CA-based health care company sought to hire a MRI technologist. In addition to providing diagnostic care, responsibilities included training new MRI technologists. The employer required two years of experience performing CT exams, two years' experience as a registered ultrasound technologist, one year of experience as a MRI technologist, a CA venipuncture certificate and a California Radiologic Technologist license.
How to Stand Out
Based on job postings from July 2012 found on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com, some employers seek MRI technologists to perform only MRI exams, while others prefer candidates who possess more broad radiography training, experience and credentials. The decision to pursue a full degree program in radiography instead of a more limited MRI-specific program could make you a more versatile candidate in the eyes of an employer - even though some might offer training outside of MRI roles, others expect candidates to bring more than MRI skills to the interview table. Exploring what licensing, certification and permit options are open to you based on your training, experience and location, such as a venipuncture permit, can demonstrate your preparedness to prospective employers.
Voluntary certification through professional organizations can help you stand out; the University of Utah School of Medicine reported that employers generally prefer to hire candidates with certification than those without. Professional certification is available through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT). Typically, you need to meet minimum education and experience requirements in order to qualify for the certification exam. Re-certification usually requires continuing education.
Other Careers to Consider
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
If you're interested in a career in medical imaging but not sure that magnetic resonance imaging is the right specialty for you, you could become a diagnostic medical sonographer, which has a similar education requirement and does not use strong magnetic fields. A diagnostic medical sonographer requires an associate's degree. This type of diagnostic exam work utilizes sound waves to make pictures of the body's soft tissue to examine and assess patients for illness, injury or disease.
Employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to increase 44% from 2010-2020, a significantly better than average rate, according to a 2012 BLS report. According to a July 2012 PayScale.com report, diagnostic medical sonographers with 1-4 years' experience who earned salaries within the 10th-90th percentiles made $30,620-$65,003, those with 5-9 years' experience and salaries in the same range earned $41,015-$75,267, those with 10-19 years' experience and salaries in the same range earned $44,042-$90,527, and those with 20 years' experience or more earned $47,508-$105,000. The upper limit of these salary figures is roughly equal to or higher than the reported pay rates for MRI technologists with the same number of years' experience.
Maybe you'd like to have similar interactions with patients but earn a higher salary. If so, a career as a radiation therapist might be a good fit for you. An associate's degree in radiation therapy is typically the minimum education requirement, as it is for MRI technologists; however, there is a small risk of radiation exposure. Radiation therapists may perform X-rays and deliver radiation treatments to patients using specialized machines.
The BLS reported in 2012 that radiation therapists could expect an employment increase of 20%, a higher-than-average rate, between 2010 and 2020. PayScale.com reported in July 2012 that radiation therapists with 1-4 years of experience and salaries within the 10th and 90th percentiles earned $40,123-$80,711. Those with 5-9 years of experience and salaries in the same range earned $50,359-$88,780, and those with 10-19 years of experience and salaries in the same range earned $51,064-$100,836.