How to Become a Medical Imaging Technician

Research the requirements to become a medical imaging technician. Learn about the job duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in medical imaging. View article »

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  • 0:02 Medical Imaging Technician
  • 1:39 Associate's Degree
  • 3:12 Certification
  • 3:37 Licensure
  • 3:58 Continuing Education
  • 4:46 Specialty Certification

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Video Transcript

Medical Imaging Technician Career Info

Degree Level Associate's degree; certificate and bachelor's degree programs available
Degree Field Radiologic technology, nuclear medicine technology, sonography
Training and Experience Clinical training constitutes experience
Licensure and Certification A few states require professional certification for licensure; otherwise certification is optional
Key Skills Attention to detail; hand-eye coordination and physical stamina; interpersonal and technical skills; ability to use complex imaging equipment
Salary $63,630 (2015 median for diagnostic medical sonographers)
$73,300 (2015 median for nuclear medical technologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; CareerOneStop, U.S. Department of Labor

Medical imaging technicians work with various types of equipment to create images for diagnostic purposes. These technicians prepare patients for imaging procedures and produce images. They also maintain imaging equipment and keep patient records. The exact activities of imaging technicians vary according to the technology they use. For example, nuclear medicine technicians administer radioactive drugs that make certain areas of the body appear differently when scanned, while sonographers use sound waves to create images. Technicians who work in radiology use x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) equipment. Imaging technicians who operate machines that use radiation will need to wear protect gear to safeguard against exposure. This job may be physically challenging, as technicians spend much of their work days on their feet and may have to help move patients.

Medical imaging technicians should be very detail-oriented and should have strong hand-eye coordination, physical stamina, good interpersonal and technical skills, and, of course, the ability to use complex imaging equipment. Salary for medical imaging technicians varies based on the particular job title. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median annual salary of $63,630 in 2015, while nuclear medical technologists earned a median salary of $73,300 that same year.

Step 1: Complete an Associate's Degree Program

Programs in imaging technologies may last one to four years and result in a certificate, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree. Prospective technicians may want to consider enrolling in a degree program, as the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) requires certification candidates to hold at least an associate's degree as of 2015. Associate's degree programs require students to develop professional competency in medical ethics, patient care, and the proper use of imaging equipment. Most programs have a clinical component, allowing students to gain hands-on experience with imaging equipment. Sonography programs sometimes offer specializations, such as vascular or cardiac sonography.

In order to obtain certification or licensure, candidates usually need to complete a program that's accredited. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredits all types of diagnostic imaging programs, and the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accredits programs in radiography. Many programs in diagnostic medical sonography, radiologic technology, and nuclear medicine technology have additional admissions requirements. These may include a physical exam, current immunizations, a criminal background check, placement tests, and a drug screening. In some programs, students need to take certain classes prior to enrollment. Prerequisites may include human anatomy, medical terminology, and biology.

Step 2: Earn Initial Certification

Credential organizations, such as the ARRT, offer initial certification in areas like radiography, sonography, nuclear medicine technology, and magnetic resonance imaging. To earn certification, students must complete an accredited program and an exam. Candidates who pass the certification exam are qualified to use the Registered Technologist (R.T.) designation.

Step 3: Obtain State Licensure

Depending on the state and the technologist's particular specialty, licensure may be required. Proof of certification is often suitable for licensure, but some states require candidates to pass specific state-developed exams. Eligible technologists should check with their state for licensing requirements.

Step 4: Meet Continuing Education Requirements

Most certifications must be renewed on a regular basis. For example, ARRT certifications are renewed annually by agreeing to a code of ethics and paying a fee. ARRT also requires technicians to complete 24 units of continuing medical education every two years. Alternatively, technicians can pass an exam in another modality in lieu of earning continuing education credits. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists and the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography allow members to complete and track continuing education units. Membership benefits also include access to job search and networking tools, industry publications, updates on new research, and discounts on conference fees.

Step 5: Consider Specialty Certification

Medical imaging technicians have a wide variety of specialty certifications to choose from in the field of sonography. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) offers designations, such as the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer credential with specialties, including obstetrics and gynecology, abdomen, and breast. Imaging technicians can further demonstrate expertise in an area like echocardiography by earning the Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer certification.

Medical imaging technicians can pursue many different specialties within the field, but first, they must typically complete some postsecondary education and earn certification and licensure.

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