Train for a New Career
Train for a New Career: MRI Technologist & Sonographer
Professions where those with good people skills and technical abilities succeed
There has been a lot of debate about the state of our nation's healthcare, but one thing both sides can agree on is that the industry is getting bigger and continually seeking highly skilled professionals of all kinds. And there are two specialties that offer complete training within a relatively short period of time: MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology and sonography.
To begin a career as either an MRI technologist or a monographer you don't need a college degree, but you will be required to complete certificate programs and pass your licensing exams. Some students even opt to get training in both MRI and CT (computed tomography) to broaden their skills and further strengthen their employment desirability.
These two career paths are highly technical and involve knowledge of physics, radiation physics and how the machinery works, but they are also interactive professions, dealing directly with patients and putting them at ease. So being a “people person” is definitely a part of the job.
MRI technologists mostly work in hospitals or imaging centers while monographers work in those as well as doctors’ offices, clinics and mobile services. There are also opportunities at teaching hospitals, marketing for an ultrasound manufacturing corporation, working per diem for a registry service, or specializing in maternal fetal medicine clinics, to name a few.
Students of MRI technology can expect to take classes in MRI physics, MRI patient care and procedures, and cross-sectional anatomy with pathology. After these classes, which build a foundation of knowledge, the emphasis will be on clinical training, which includes practice taking the scans. At Loma Linda University, training for the MRI program takes six months; nine if students elect to combine it with the CT program (four and a half months spent in each modality).
According to Linda Le, program director for the Department of Radiation Technology at Loma Linda, “Students must be enthusiastic self-starters. They must maintain high standards of academic, clinical performance and patient care. They need a broad knowledge of human anatomy and computer skills. They need to be detail-oriented and be able to work under pressure with critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”
Christian Cardenas, a student in the CT-MRI program there, began his professional health care training as an X-ray technologist. “It was not a huge step further for me from my X-ray tech training,” he said. “It makes me more desirable in the work field.
“My favorite thing about being in this field is doing the actual work,” he continued. “Speaking with and helping patients, setting up your scans, and working with other technologists are the most fun parts.”
A Typical Day
A typical day’s work for an MRI technologist might start with required quality control procedures on the MRI equipment. Then you might get the patient ready by ensuring their jewelry is removed and their body is in the correct position for getting an accurate scanned image. Patients are scheduled throughout the day and the exams cover different parts of the body, so you must be prepared for many and any type of procedure each day. And there are different procedures and protocols within each of these procedures that may require specialized adjustments depending on the diagnosis of the patient.
“Physical stamina will be needed with this job as you will be standing for long periods of time on cement," said Herbert Huezo, director of the MRI programs at West Coast Ultrasound Institute. "Most MRI technologists work in hospitals in a specialized room for the procedures, however, some may go to patients’ bedsides for some procedures."
Sonographers in training at West Coast Ultrasound or Loma Linda University can complete courses of various lengths, from one year for cardiovascular programs to two years for general/vascular programs. It depends on whether or not you wish to specialize within the sonography field.
As with MRI technologists, a sonographer’s typical day includes a wide variety of exams: one patient might need an abdominal exam to look for gallstones, pancreatitis, a hernia or rectal obstruction; another patient may need a scan of a transplanted liver or kidney; the next one might need to be checked for ectopic pregnancy; and then one after that might need a scan for fetal anatomy, size and expected due date based on meticulous measurements, all made by the monographer.
There are myriad procedures that require a sonographer’s expertise. Physicians, radiologists, vascular surgeons and obstetricians all rely on the eyes of the sonographer for an accurate assessment of the patient’s medical history and sonography scan to interpret the exam and make a clear diagnosis.
Salaries for monographers can start between $44,000 and $52,000, and go up from there with board certification and experience (the average for monographers nationwide is $52,000-62,000). MRI technologists can expect $51,000, according to the national average.
Some financial aid and student loans are available. Sonography students may also apply to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers for scholarships.
Did You Know...?
• Nikola Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field in 1882 in Budapest, Hungary.
• In 1937, Professor Isidor I. Rabi discovered the quantum phenomenon dubbed nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and received the Nobel Prize.
• In 1973, Paul Lauterbur, a chemist and an NMR pioneer, produced the first NMR image.
• On July 3, 1977, the first human scan was made as the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) prototype.
• The MRI machine was invented by Raymond V. Damadian. In 1978, he formed the FONAR Corporation to produce the MRI scanner.
• Pythagoras (580-500 BC) invented the sonometer to study musical sounds.
• The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 provoked an interest in how to detect submerged objects, which eventually led to ultrasound and sonar technology.
• Karl Dussik was the first physician to employ ultrasound in a medical diagnosis in Austria in the 1940s.
• In 1973, the occupation of “monographer” was created by the U.S. Office of Education.
• Real-time ultrasound was first offered in the 1980s; 3-D and 4-D images were introduced in the 1990s. ww