Polysomnographic Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about a polysomnographic assistant's job description, salary and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a polysomnographic assisting career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Polysomnographic Assisting

Polysomnographic assistants, better known as polysomnographic technicians or sleep technicians, monitor patients while they sleep as a way to help diagnose sleep disorders. This career comes with upsides and downsides, which is why it's important to examine the pros and cons of becoming a polysomnographic assistant before making a final choice.

Pros of a Polysomnographic Technician Career
Relatively short education/training requirements (1-2 years of formal education)*
Polysomnographic professionals face positive job security prospects**
Opportunities for promotion, including managerial positions***
Position allows for helping others on a daily basis*

Cons of a Polysomnographic Technician Career
Requires working irregular hours (most sleep studies are conducted overnight)****
Meticulous attention to detail is essential (one sleep study can generate 1,000+ pages of data)****
Possible exposure to pathogens or hazardous chemicals*
Certified technicians must obtain an advanced credential within 3 years*****

Sources: *American Academy of Sleep Medicine, **Advance for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine, ***I Have A Plan Iowa, ****U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *****Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists

Important Career Info

Job Description

Polysomnographic technicians typically work in a sleep center or hospital. They prepare medical equipment used to assess patients for possible sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, sleepwalking or breathing problems that occur during sleep. Sleep techs must have a thorough understanding of the stages of sleep to help them pinpoint abnormalities in a patient's data. The job requires careful, detail-oriented attention to both the patient's activity and the stream of data coming in. During the night, techs remain in another room, but can see and communicate with patients through monitoring equipment. After the study is complete, the technician assists with reviewing data records for scoring purposes. Observations made during the sleep study, coupled with the polysomnographic scores, are used to make a diagnosis.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for polysomnographic technicians was about $52,000 as of August 2015. Advance for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine, an industry publication that conducts career surveys and analysis, revealed that 42% of respondents worked in the profession for 21 or more years as of 2014, showcasing positive job security prospects.

Requirements

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), one way to become a technician in this field is to complete an accredited postsecondary program that's at least a year in duration. As of April 2012, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredited only 42 programs across the nation. Associate degree programs typically include some clinical experience along with the coursework in polysomnography. Some schools offer certificates as well, but already possessing an allied health degree is usually a condition for admission to such programs.

Another path to becoming a sleep technician is working as a polysomnographic trainee for a minimum of 6 months. Trainees do similar work, but at a more basic level and under the supervision of a polysomnographic technician or technologist. To become a trainee, you should have a high school diploma or GED and 6 months of experience working directly with patients. Having completed a year of postsecondary education or being a current student in an associate degree program are other ways of getting to trainee status.

Skills

Regardless of what path you take, there are certain additional qualifications you need. CPR or basic cardiac life support (BCLS) certification is a standard requirement for employment in this line of work. Some schools with allied health programs offer these training courses onsite, but they are also easily found through organizations such as the American Red Cross. Some other qualifications you'll likely need include:

  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Good math skills
  • Ability to differentiate between colors (for data analysis)
  • Good hand-eye coordination (for using equipment)
  • Ability to lift 25-50 lbs. and sit, stand or move about with ease

What Do Employers Look For?

Prior experience in the field is perhaps the most common expectation employers have when looking for a technician. Polysomnography certification is typically preferred. Review the following job announcements that real employers posted in April 2012 to gain insight into what they were looking for.

  • A rehabilitation hospital in Colorado was looking for a sleep center technician to work nights on an as-needed basis. Under supervision, the tech would evaluate sleep disorders in addition to providing patient care. The position also could involve supervision of a polysomnographic trainee. The employer required the technician to have completed an accredited or licensed year-long training program and possess CPR certification.
  • A sleep and epilepsy center in Memphis, Tennessee, advertised for a polysomnographic technician with one year of experience. The tech would perform overnight sleep studies and polysomnographic scoring. This position was part-time with the possibility of becoming full-time. A credentialed technician was preferred, and BCLS certification was required.
  • A New York sleep center was seeking both polysomnographic technicians and technologists to perform sleep studies during the 7 p.m.-7 a.m. shift. Previous experience in this line of work was required. Candidates should be certified or willing to obtain certification as a condition of employment at the center.

How to Stand Out Among the Competition

Get Certified

Voluntary certification can help demonstrate your professional competence to future employers. The Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT) offers the Certified Polysomnographic Technician (CPSGT) credential. After verifying completion of an approved educational program or clinical experience, candidates must pass an examination to become certified.

Get Registered

Becoming a registered technologist is mandatory if you want to stay credentialed. CPSGTs must obtain BRPT's Registered Polysomnographic Technologist credential within three years of being certified. Eligibility includes having an accredited college degree in polysomnography or completing another approved training program. More extensive work experience is required, ranging from 6-18 months, depending on your academic background. CPR certification and passing an exam are required to become registered.

Polysomnographic technologists perform similar work to technicians, but they may work more heavily with physicians. They also can have leadership roles involving the management of technicians and trainees.

Other Careers to Consider

Respiratory Therapist

An alternate occupation related to polysomnographers is that of respiratory therapist, which involves working with patients who have certain health conditions affecting their ability to breathe. Asthma, chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease and trauma are among such conditions or issues. Respiratory therapists also work with those dealing with sleep apnea - a health problem familiar to polysomnographers. They examine patients, test lung capacity and administer respiratory treatments. An associate degree in respiratory therapy is required, although pursuing a bachelor's degree is also common. Employers prefer to hire those with certification. State licensure is required for all therapists outside of Alaska and, in some cases, passing the certification exam is counted toward license requirements.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job growth in this occupation is expected to be faster than average at 28% from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). BLS data from 2011 reveals respiratory therapists earned a mean annual wage of about $56,000.

Cardiovascular Technologist

If you're looking for another healthcare career that allows you to work directly with a patient and physician, you could consider becoming a cardiovascular technologist. You can thank more cost-effective advances in imaging technology for the 2010-2020 faster-than-average job growth of 29% in this field, according to the BLS. Cardiovascular technologists provide services to patients dealing with heart or blood vessel conditions. They monitor patients' cardiac activity, perform non-invasive procedures, assist physicians with invasive procedures and prepare reports of test results. Bachelor's programs are available, but most in this field earn an associate degree. As with many healthcare careers, certification is preferred by employers. Most techs work in hospitals, so expect irregular hours. BLS data shows that cardiovascular technologists and technicians earned a mean annual salary of about $52,000 as of 2011.

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