A Career in Medical Diagnostics... the Prognosis is Good
Like so many careers in the medical services industry, jobs in diagnostic health are booming. Experts in this expanding career are trained in the use of diagnostic imaging technology, an increasingly vital set of tools that helps doctors diagnose and determine patient care faster than ever before. The seemingly unstoppable forward motion of technological advancements, high demand for care, and increased emphasis on personalized medical service means techniques in ultrasound, X-Ray, MRI (and the experts who know how to use them), are now more in-demand than ever before. Two promising careers in this rewarding and expanding industry include radiology technician and medical sonographer.
Educational requirement: An associate's degree is the most common, and you may be required to obtain certification depending on your state.
Average Salary: $54,620 per year (BLS)
Radiology technicians take X-Rays of patients for diagnostic purposes. Their daily duties may include preparing the patients for X-Rays, operating X-Ray equipment and maintaining patient records. Also called radiographers or X-Ray techs, these professionals are often responsible for explaining the procedure, positioning the patient and the machine, and controlling the equipment so that the radiographs are of the correct contrast, detail, and density.
They work under the supervision of a physician, usually in hospitals or diagnostic imaging centers, and generally work 40-hours per week, though schedules may fluctuate according to your employer. For example, some radiographers work for multiple employers, or travel to patients with their equipment.
This job can be quite physical, requiring you to be on your feet most of the day and to help lift disabled patients or heavy machinery, so it is important that you are capable of these kinds of tasks if you're considering this career path.
You will need some education and training to take advantage of this career. The most common way is by earning a 2-year associate degree in radiography accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). Bachelor degrees are also available, but take longer and are much less common.
Certification may or may not be required depending on state law but many employers ask for certification regardless, and being certified can certainly help give you a competitive edge. You can get your certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) if you meet their educational and ethics requirements and pass a certification exam. You will need to have at least an associate degree in radiography from an accredited educational program, and be free of any felony or misdemeanor convictions.
Medical Sonographer (Ultrasound)
Educational requirement: An associate's or bachelor's degree is the minimum, though some employers may ask for certification.
Average Salary: $65,860 per year
When most people hear the word "sonography" they think of ultrasounds, the technology doctor's use to take images of fetuses during pregnancy. Actually, sonography has many applications in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. The technique, which uses sound waves to produce medical images, is also often used in the abdomen, chest, heart and in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal problems.
As well as being responsible for operating the necessary machinery, sonographer's help doctors by preparing patients for the procedure, keeping medical records, and helping read images to determine if consult by a physician is necessary. Some sonographers even offer assistance to physicians and surgeons during surgery. They typically work a regular 40-hours-a-week schedule and are employed by hospitals, physician's offices and medical and diagnostic laboratories. Similar to the above X-Ray technician position, this job can be physically demanding, keeping you on your feet and requiring you to help lift patients or machinery.
The sonography education track requires two to four years of study with hands-on training in operating the necessary equipment. It's true that some employers prefer a bachelor's degree, but that doesn't mean you can't get started with an associate degree and work your way up from there. For those who already work in healthcare and simply want to expand their skillset, 1-year certificate programs are also an option. Employers tend to seek out recruits from accredited institutes or hospital programs, and while you do not need to be licensed to work as a sonographer, getting your certification from a recognized institution such as The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) can help set you apart from other applicants in your field.