Polysomnographer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in polysomnography? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a polysomnographer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Polysomnographer

Polysomnographers, also known as polysomnography technologists or sleep technologists, provide valuable assistance to sleep specialists by way of investigating, diagnosing and treating sleep and wakefulness disorders. Have a look at the following pros and cons to see if polysomnography might be a good career fit.

Pros of a Polysomnographer Career
Relatively short education requirement (1-2 years of formal training)*
Rewarding work**
Decent salary (median around $47,000 as of 2015)***
Possibility of advancement*****

Cons of a Polysomnographer Career
May work long, irregular hours (studies are done day and night)**
Must remain alert and detail oriented, taking extensive notes during the shift**
Certified technicians must become registered technologists within three years****
Instant recognition, documentation and characterization of sleep stages and disorders can be stressful*

Sources: *American Association of Sleep Technologists, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *** PayScale.com, ****Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists, *****Advance for Respiratory Care and Sleep Medicine, 2011.

Career Information

Job Description & Duties

Polysomnographers work under physician supervision, testing patients to determine sleep-related conditions; they also provide follow-up care. Many of these professionals work in hospitals or sleep centers, some of which are accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

As a polysomnographer, you start by interviewing a patient to determine physical and mental histories, limitations and needs. After calibrating the necessary equipment, you explain the procedure and attach electrodes and sensors to the patient. Once the patient is situated and prepped, various protocols and tests are performed to establish baselines; this ensures that all data collected is accurate.

After the patient falls asleep, you record all incidents, including body position, movement, sleep stages, heart rate and respiratory functions. The information you gather is used to diagnose the sleep disorder, determine its cause and arrive at the appropriate treatment.

Employment Projections and Salary Info

PayScale.com reports that most polysomnographers earned between $33,000 and $63,000 per year as of 2015, with the median salary being about $47,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical and clinical laboratory technologist industry is supposed to grow much faster than average (22%) from 2012-2022, when compared to all other industries.

Education Requirements

The American Association of Sleep Technologists (AASM) defines three professional levels for polysomnographers. Each level has different education requirements:

  • Polysomnographic Trainee: High school diploma or equivalent plus six months of patient care experience or one year of postsecondary education. Alternatively, a trainee can be currently enrolled in a polysomnography associate's degree program.
  • Polysomnographic Technician: Completion of at least a 1-year polysomnography program from an accredited school or six months of experience as a polysomnographic trainee, with proficiency in all requirements.
  • Polysomnographic Technologist: Associate's degree or completion of an accredited 1-year program in polysomnography. Equivalent documented experience and proficiency as a polysomnographic technician is also acceptable. Both paths require certification by the American Board of Sleep Medicine as a Registered Sleep Technologist or its equivalent.

The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) maintain online directories of schools that offer accredited programs lasting one or two years. These programs can lead to certificates or associate's degrees in polysomnography.

What Employers Are Looking For

Though postsecondary education can be important, many employers place more emphasis on experience. You'll often be required to hold a current CPR certification. Most employers prefer applicants who are certified or registered polysomnography technicians. Below is a sampling of job postings submitted by employers during April 2012:

  • A pulmonary clinic in Oregon is looking for CPR-certified sleep technicians who hold an associate's degree in respiratory therapy or electroneurodiagnostics and have completed a formal program in sleep training. Applicants should have at least one year of experience in sleep study technology. The technician is responsible for set up and administration of procedures and post-procedural functions.
  • An Arizona sleep center is looking for registered polysomnographic technologists. Prior experience is required. Applicants must be motivated, self-reliant and have the ability to troubleshoot. Part-time and full-time positions are available. Applicants must be willing to work 12-hour overnight shifts.
  • A health and wellness center in Michigan seeks a registered polysomnographic technologist. Though the only education requirement is a high school diploma, applicant must have 1-6 years of work experience. Duties include polysomnographic, diagnostic and therapeutic services as well as patient care and education. Applicants must pass background and drug screening tests and hold a current BCLS certification.
  • A sleep center in North Carolina is advertising for experienced registered polysomnographic technologists who have completed some amount of postsecondary education. Applicant must hold current CPR/BCLS certification. Positions are available either on a full-time or fill-in basis. All positions require 12-hour night shifts.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Become Credentialed

As stated by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT), getting credentialed is one of the surest ways you can distinguish yourself from other sleep techs. While credentials are technically voluntary, many employers require them. Credentials can stand as proof of your dedication and commitment to the field, as well as a testament to the quality of your training. The BRPT administers examinations leading to two credentials: Certified Polysomnographic Technician (CPSGT) and Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT).

CPSGT is an entry-level credential. You may qualify to sit for the CPSGT examination by meeting experience requirements, completing an accredited program and holding a current CPR or BCLS certification.

Once you earn a CPSGT credential, you have three years to fulfill the requirements and sit for the RPSGT examination. You must become an RPSGT within that time period or you lose your credential entirely. You can become eligible to sit for the exam by accumulating 6-18 months of clinical experience, depending on whether you hold another allied healthcare credential. You may also qualify by earning an associate's degree via a CAAHEP or CoARC-accredited polysomnography program.

Should I Be Licensed?

There is no national licensure requirement to practice as a polysomnographer. However, some states require certification and also have their own additional licensure requirements. While licensure may not transfer from state to state, it may attest to the legitimacy of your standing in the profession.

Alternative Career Paths

Radiation Therapist

Another career path that involves the treatment of debilitating conditions is radiation therapy. Dealing primarily with cancer patients, a radiation therapist uses a device called a linear accelerator to administer high-energy X-rays to a pre-determined target area in the patient's body. The goal is to shrink or eradicate the cancerous cells. Radiation therapists monitor the patient, record the treatments and take note of all patient reactions. They also explain the procedure to the patient and answer any questions.

Radiation therapists work on their feet for long periods of time. They must have good stamina and must be strong enough to lift and position disabled patients so that the treatment can take place. Because they're working with radiation, they must follow safety procedures.

Though you may qualify to become a radiation therapist with a 1-year certificate, employers usually insist on applicants holding at least an associate's degree in radiation therapy. Most states require radiation therapists to be licensed, which involves completing a radiation therapy program accredited by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Most states also require you to sit for an ARRT-administered certification examination.

The BLS expected job opportunities for radiation therapists to increase 20% from 2010-2020. In 2011, the BLS determined that radiation therapists earned a mean annual wage of about $75,000.

Respiratory Therapist

A career similar to polysomnographic technologist is that of respiratory therapist. These professionals work with patients who have trouble breathing due to diseases, such as asthma or emphysema, or because of heart attacks or strokes. Respiratory therapists work under physician supervision, performing diagnostic tests and administering various treatments. They record the progress of treatments and evaluate the results and the condition of patients. They often instruct patients how to use equipment so that they can administer treatments to themselves.

Because patients may be incapacitated to various degrees, respiratory therapists must be physically capable of lifting, turning and positioning patients so that examinations and treatments are possible. Because they may also spend a lot of time on their feet, respiratory therapists should have good stamina.

You can qualify to become a respiratory therapist by way of a CoARC-accredited program leading to an associate's or bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy. Most states require you to be licensed, and certification may be necessary as well. Certification exams are administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care.

The BLS projected that employment opportunities for respiratory therapists would increase 28% from 2010-2020. In 2011, the BLS determined that respiratory technicians earned an average salary of roughly $56,000.

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