Special procedures technologists operate medical diagnostic imaging equipment such as computer tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners and assist in imaging procedures such as angiography and cardiac catheterization (CC). They are employed in various health care settings such as hospitals, clinics, and imaging centers. Their skills will continue to be in high demand as the population ages and cancer and heart disease continue to be major health concerns.
Special Procedures Technologist Career History
Advances in medical technology have resulted in more sophisticated patient testing using more complex equipment. As this technology has become more sophisticated, the need for trained personnel to assist physicians and specially trained technologists to operate this equipment became apparent. In addition, trained personnel became essential to perform and document the testing procedures, as well as to assist with the patients. The special procedures technologist career evolved from this need. Technologists are trained to understand the operation of some of the testing equipment and to assist medical personnel as they perform these tests. They are also taught how to position patients during the testing and how to deal with any fears and anxieties patients might have during the procedures.
The Job of Special Procedures Technologists
Special procedures technologists’ duties vary depending on the training they have with specific diagnostic equipment and testing procedures. Job requirements also vary with the degree of assistance required for certain testing and diagnostic procedures.
Special procedures technologists may assist radiologic technologists with positioning a patient for examination, immobilizing them, preparing the equipment, and monitoring the equipment and the patient’s progress during the procedure. An angiographer is a special procedures technologist who assists with a procedure called an angiogram, which shows any changes that may have occurred to the blood vessels of the patient’s circulatory system. The special procedures technologist may assist with many aspects of this test. Similarly, some special procedures technologists may assist cardiologists with the invasive procedure called cardiac catheterization by correctly positioning the patients and explaining to them the procedures performed. They may also monitor and document the patients’ vital signs such as blood pressure and respiration and enter that information directly into a computer that controls testing procedures. Some special procedures technologists assist with CT scanning (also known as CAT scanning), which combines X rays with computer technology to create clear, cross-section images that provide more details than standard X rays with minimal radiation exposure. The CT technologist might enter data into the scanner’s computer control, which includes the type of scan to be performed, the time required, and the thickness of the cross section. The technologist might also observe and reassure the patient while the testing procedure is performed. Another imaging procedure called MRI produces the most detailed and flexible images among the various imaging techniques. A special procedures technologist often assists with this procedure by explaining the test to the patient and making certain that the patient is not carrying any metal objects that could be hazardous to the patient during the test and could also damage the equipment. The MRI technologist might enter the necessary data, such as patient information, the orientation of the scan, and the part of the body to be scanned into the computer. The technologist might initiate the scan and observe the patient through a window in the control room and on a closed-circuit video display, while maintaining voice contact and reassuring the patient.
Special Procedures Technologist Career Requirements
High school classes that will help you prepare for further education as a special procedures technologist include advanced courses in anatomy, physiology, and math. Science courses, including biology, chemistry, and physics, are also helpful. Classes in communication such as speech and English, and classes that reinforce written and verbal skills are also helpful. Because most imaging specialties depend heavily on computer technology, you should gain a good understanding of the use of computers. Studies regarding various cultures will also help you deal with patients from various backgrounds. In addition, you might consider studying a foreign language, so as to be able to communicate with patients whose understanding of English is not strong.
The most common way to enter this field is to get an associate’s degree in radiology. Some people choose to get a bachelor’s degree, but this route is mainly for those interested in going into administrative or teaching positions. Associate programs can be found at community colleges, vocational and technical training schools, or in the military. When deciding on which program to attend, look for those accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology; a degree from an accredited school will aid you in your job search. Your course of study will include both classroom instruction and clinical experience. Courses will cover topics such as medical terminology, medical ethics, radiation physics, and positioning of patients. In all cases, special procedures technologists must complete additional training, usually offered through a hospital, medical center, college, or vocational or technical training school, in their specialty area.
Certification or Licensing
Graduates of accredited programs are eligible to take the four-hour certification examination offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Although certification is voluntary, it is highly recommended since many employers will only hire certified technologists.
Licensing requirements for radiologic technologists vary by state, although most states and Puerto Rico do require some form of licensing. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) has general information on state requirements and also notes that licensure legislation is under consideration in several states (see the end of this article for ASRT’s contact information). You will need to contact your state’s licensing board for specific information about requirements in your area.
You should have an interest in medicine and compassion for patients to be a successful special procedures technologist. You should have an aptitude for science and math and have strong communication skills. In addition, you should be conscientious, responsible, efficient, and have the ability to work under stress and in emergency situations. You should also work well with people, both independently and as a part of a team. Manual dexterity and stamina are also required. Many employers also require technicians to have upto- date cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training.
Exploring Special Procedures Technologist Career
If you are interested in entering the health care field, you can begin your involvement while still in high school. Most hospitals, nursing homes, mental health centers, and other treatment facilities have volunteer programs that allow you to explore the health care environment and gain insight into medicine and patient care. You may be able to get a paid part-time or summer position working as a nurse’s aide or home health care helper. In addition to these possibilities, ask your school counselor or a science teacher to help you arrange for a special procedures technologist to give a career talk to interested students. You may also be able to meet a special procedures technologist by contacting a local hospital or imaging center and asking for an informational interview with this person. Another possibility is to ask if you can spend part of a day “shadowing” the individual in the workplace.
Special procedures technologists are employed in a variety of health care settings. Hospitals are the most likely source for employment, especially for techniques such as CT and MRI scanning, which require costly equipment. Health maintenance organizations and other health care clinics and centers also hire personnel trained to carry out the variety of testing procedures needed for medical care. Diagnostic imaging centers that are specifically dedicated to performing special imaging procedures are also likely employers. Also, the U.S. government employs radiologic and other imaging personnel, usually through the Department of Veterans Affairs or as members of the armed forces.
Most special procedures technologists begin their careers as radiology technologists and then receive additional training in their special procedure. Many technologists find employment through their school’s placement service. Some trade journals and area newspapers also list job opportunities. Applying directly to health care and imaging facilities may also produce results.
Advancement in special procedures fields is generally limited as these specialties already represent advanced areas of radiology. With experience, however, a special procedures technologist may advance to greater responsibilities and to supervisory positions. Some people advance in this field by completing a bachelor’s degree in radiology and moving into administrative or teaching positions. In addition, special procedures work may be a valuable bridge to a more advanced medical career, such as a doctor. Skills of a special procedures technologist are in demand in the United States and other countries as well, so there is a possibility of travel to, or employment in, other countries that recognize U.S. training and certification.
Salaries for the different branches of special imaging procedures vary by type of procedure, geographic location, type of employer, and experience level. According to recruiting company Health Care Job Store, annual salaries for special procedures technologists can range from a low of $14,000 to a high of $60,000. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that radiologic technologists, a subcategory of special procedures technologists, made a median annual salary of $43,350 in 2004. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $30,020, and the highest-paid 10 percent made more than $60,210 a year. Technologists working in medical and diagnostic laboratories earned the highest average salaries.
Benefits vary widely. Most benefit packages, however, include paid vacation and holidays, as well as sick leave, and medical and dental insurance. Some employers may offer additional benefits such as on-site day care and tuition reimbursement.
Special procedures technologists usually work in one of several departments within a hospital or medical testing facility or clinic. These departments have rooms set up to perform specific tests, such as cardiac catheterization, MRIs, or CAT scans. The testing is usually done as part of a medical team; however, some of the setup may have to be done independently, so technologists may be required to make critical decisions.
Daily schedules and shifts may vary according to the size of the hospital, the number of patients requiring testing, and the type of imaging techniques performed. Although a technologist may be scheduled to work an eight-hour shift, the health care environment is often unpredictable and longer hours may be required. Because technologists deal with sick and dying people, and medical personnel are often required to make life and death decisions, the job can be quite stressful.
Special Procedures Technologist Career Outlook
Employment for special procedures technologists will grow faster than the average through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The demand for radiologic technologists currently exceeds the supply, and those job candidates who are skilled in specialized areas, such as MRI and CT, will have the best chances of finding jobs. Employers like to hire candidates who can handle a variety of procedures, as this keeps their costs down and streamlines their staffs.
As the population ages and heart disease and cancer continue to be among the primary health concerns in the United States, there will continue to be a high demand for skilled technologists who can assist in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of these and other conditions. Also, as more and more sophisticated testing and imaging procedures are developed, and as new techniques become available, the demand for skilled special procedures technologists to operate, perform, and assist in these procedures will continue to grow.
For More Information:
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
American Society of Radiologic Technologists
Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology