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.

Should I Become 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.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Postsecondary certificate, 2-year or 4-year degree depending on job level
Degree Field Surgical technology, operating room technology or other major related to specific job function
Experience 6 months of experience minimum for entry-level roles
Key Skills Technical, troubleshooting, mechanical, communication and time-management skills, dexterity, physical stamina, ability to operate clinical diagnostic equipment
Salary $18,161 per year (2015 federal base pay for all medical equipment technicians)

Sources: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, FederalPay.org

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. Students who complete 2-year degree programs in surgical technology or other allied health field are eligible for the next level of medical instrument technician work, GS-4.

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, candidates can 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 may 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.

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. Further education at the graduate level can apply toward reaching GS-6 and above.

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