How to Become a Medical Instrument Technician

Learn how to become a medical instrument technician. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in medical instrument technology.

Do I Want to Be a Medical Instrument Technician?

This job title refers to a specific position outlined by the U.S. government. Medical instrument technicians perform exams and procedures on research or clinical patients, and they may give the doctor technical information used to diagnose and treat diseases. Most of these technicians' work is performed in clinics, hospitals or research facilities using medical diagnostic and treatment equipment. Many work hours might be spent standing, and techs may need to lift or move patients.

Job Requirements

To work as a medical instrument technician, one must qualify to work at the GS-3 grade level, which requires a certificate, degree or completion of coursework in a postsecondary training program, along with work experience. The following table contains the main qualifications needed to become a medical instrument technician listed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM):

Common Requirements
Degree Level Certificate, degree or partial completion of postsecondary program required for entry-level work; education requirements increase with advancement
Degree Field Dependent on the medical field; practical nursing, operating room technology and surgical technology majors are common at the entry level
Experience At least six months of experience required for GS-3 employment
Key Skills Ability to work as part of a team, sense of personal responsibility, communication skills, sensitivity when dealing with patients, strong attention to patient response
Technical Skills Knowledge of specific medical instruments and devices, like ultrasound and Doppler devices, spirometers, dialysis machinery and endoscopic instruments
Additional Requirements Basic understanding of medical sciences

Step 1: Obtain an Education

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has specific education and experience requirements for each level of medical instrument technician. To work at the initial level, GS-3, applicants must have completed a 9-month (or longer) program in surgical technology, operating room technology or practical nursing. Alternatively, candidates can qualify with completion of one year of education that includes six or more semester hours of relevant science courses, such as biology, chemistry or anatomy. An internship of at least three months can also fulfill the requirements for the GS-3 level, according to the OPM.

Programs in surgical technology and related allied health fields are widely available at community colleges and universities and may yield a certificate or degree, depending on the program length. Students who complete 2-year degree programs are eligible for the next level of medical instrument technician work, GS-4. Common course topics in these allied health programs include human anatomy, medical terminology, surgical theory and patient interaction.

Success Tip:

  • Find a school that offers certification training. Some colleges and universities train students to pass certification exams, like the National Certifying Examination for Surgical Technologists and Surgical First Assistants, which leads to the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) designation.

Step 2: Apply for a Job

To find a medical instrument technician job at any level, including entry levels like GS-3 and GS-4, candidates might check the Federal government's job listings. Beyond the indicated education and experience requirements, candidates must be U.S. citizens and pass a background check. A drug test may also be administered.

Success Tip:

  • Earn life support certification. While such certification is not mandatory for this career, some employers prefer applicants to have Basic Cardiac Life Support and Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification prior to submitting an application.

Step 3: Gain Professional Experience

Upon entry into the field, medical instrument technicians must understand how to use the various pieces of equipment to run procedures on patients. After gaining more knowledge and experience, technicians must be able to make detailed technical adjustments to the machinery and understand the physiological reactions of patients under examination and treatment.

On the job, a technician can learn how to operate various therapeutic, diagnostic and surgical support devices. Commonly used equipment include fluoroscopic biplane x-ray devices, which produce radiographic images on fluoroscopic image intensification devices. Technicians will also become familiar with arterial blood gas analyzers, which measure carbon dioxide, blood pH levels and oxygen to determine potential lung deficiencies.

Step 4: Become a Specialist

There are seven different specializations available for medical instrument technicians. Those working in perfusion assist in heart-lung surgeries, while technicians who specialize in pulmonary function work chiefly with lung-related equipment and testing. A cardiac catheterization medical instrument technician does lung and cardiovascular testing on patients.

With an EKG specialization, technicians operate electrocardiographs; EEG-specialized technicians focus on the electroencephalograph, which monitors brain activity. Those with a diagnostic ultrasound specialization use ultrasound and sonography equipment. Finally, medical instrument technicians in hemodialysis work with patients who have kidney disorders.

Medical instrument technicians can start training in one of these specializations while on the job. Specialized positions are at the GS-4 level and above, and at least six months of focused training in the candidate's chosen area is required to attain one of these specialty positions.

Step 5: Advance with Additional Training

To move up to the GS-5 level, medical instrument technicians must earn bachelor's degrees in fields related to their specializations. For example, a technician working in diagnostic ultrasound might choose to earn a Bachelor of Science in Sonography. Alternately, students can qualify by completing a minimum of 24 semester hours of relevant coursework - half of which should be in the area of specialization - even if they don't finish a full degree. Further education at the graduate level can apply toward reaching GS-6 and above.

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