Medical imaging professionals use X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), radiopharmaceuticals, and ultrasound technology to identify and diagnose ailments and health risks.  Still a new science (the first medical X-ray was in 1896, when professors at Dartmouth exposed a patient’s fractured wrist), medical imaging technology has evolved at a stunning rate.  In such a dynamic field, it’s important that technicians and technologists are trained in the operation, maintenance, and repair of the latest equipment.

Many prospective medical imaging professionals are choosing online programs that provide rigorous training and facilitate rotations and other important experiential learning opportunities.

Medical Imaging Career Opportunities

Related Careers:  RADIOLOGIC TECHNOLOGISTS AND TECHNICIANS, DIAGNOSTIC MEDICAL SONOGRAPHERS, and NUCLEAR MEDICINE TECHNOLOGISTS

All medical imaging jobs are predicted by the BLS to grow at a pace that is faster than the 8.2% expansion of the civilian workforce in general.  In 2008, there were 214,700 radiologic technologists and technicians in the country; the BLS predicts that there will be an additional 37,000 by 2018.  That’s a growth rate of 17%.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

There are many fewer diagnostic medical sonographers and nuclear medical technicians and technologists:  50,300 and 21,800 respectively, in 2008.  The BLS predicts that there will be an additional 9,200 sonographer jobs by 2018, for an occupational growth rate of 18%.  Nuclear medical technologists and technicians will add 3,600 jobs by 2018, an occupational growth rate of 16%.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a project of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, estimates that there will be 68,000 job openings for radiologic technologists and technicians from 2008 to 2018 (job growth + vacated positions).   O*NET predicts there will be 16,500 openings for diagnostic medical sonographers, and 6,700 openings for nuclear medicine technologists.

Medical Imaging Earnings

Earnings for medical imaging professionals of all disciplines were strong.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2008, radiologic technologists and technicians made a median yearly wage of $52,210.  The middle 50% of the field made between $42,710 and $63,010.  The bottom 10% made less than $35,100 and the top 10% earned more than $74,970.

Diagnostic medical sonographers made a median yearly wage of $61,980 in 2008.  The middle 50% of the field earned between $52,570 and $73,680, while the bottom 10% made less than $43,600 and the top 10% made more than $83,950.

Nuclear medicine technologists made a median yearly wage of $66,660 in 2008.  The middle 50% of the field made between $57,270 and $78,240, while the bottom 10% made less than $48,450 and the top 10% earned more than $87,770.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical Imaging Educational Benefits

According to the BLS, radiologic and nuclear technologists generally need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in medical imaging to qualify for entry-level positions; a combination of education, work experience, and appropriate certifications and diplomas may also suffice. Diagnostic medical sonographers are sometimes trained on the job, though to qualify for entry-level positions they may also need a combination of work experience and technical diplomas and certifications.  Medical sonographers with associate’s or bachelor’s-level formal education in medical imaging will be positioned for the best job openings.

Because of the technically-sophisticated nature of the work, formal post-secondary education in one of the medical imaging disciplines is usually required to qualify for entry-level employment in the corresponding field.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a 2-year associate’s degree in medical imaging is usually sufficient to qualify for entry-level positions as radiologic technologists and technicians, sonographers, and nuclear medicine technologists; though a 4-year bachelor’s degree may qualify the recipient for more advanced and better-paying positions.

A combination of previous healthcare experience and a 1-year diploma or certificate in the applicable type of medical imaging often also qualifies the candidate for entry-level positions.

Whatever the level and specialization of the degree achieved, medical imaging professionals study many of the same subjects:  coursework generally includes anatomy, physiology, principles of imaging, medical ethics.  Radiologic technologists and technicians and nuclear medicine technologists also take courses on radiation physics, radiation protection, and radiobiology.

According to the Occupational Information Network, a government career-planning resource, only 9% of medical imaging professionals other than nuclear medicine technologists have no formal education beyond a high school diploma 67% have some college education, including 1-year diplomas and associate’s degrees, and 24% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

Due to the complexity of the technology, it is not uncommon for workers in the subgroups of the medical imaging community (radiologic, sonograph, nuclear) to further specialize.

Some of the most popular specializations within the radiologic community are CT technologists (who take CT scans), MR technologists (who take MRIs), and mammographers (who use low-intensity radiation to image breasts).

Diagnostic medical sonographers can specialize in a wide range of areas: obstetric and gynecologic sonographers image the female reproductive system; neurosonographers image the brain and nervous system; abdominal sonographers image the kidneys, liver, spleen, gallbladder, and pancreas; breast sonographers image the breasts.

Nuclear medicine technologists can currently specialize in two areas (more specializations will be added as the technology becomes more sophisticated): nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography, or PET.  Nuclear cardiologists use radiopharmaceuticals in a process called myocardial perfusion imaging, in which the test subject is asked to exercise so that the nuclear cardiologist can image the stimulated heart and circulatory system.  Positron emission tomography is the operation of special PET machines in conjunction with radiopharmaceuticals that produce a detailed 3D image of the body.  Those detailed images are often useful to determine if tumors are malignant or to diagnose Alzheimer’s, to name just a few practical applications.

Medical Imaging Programs Online

Degrees possible: Diplomas, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s Degrees

As with many in-demand medical support professions which require advanced, post-secondary training, there are a growing number of technical schools, colleges, and university offering medical imaging degrees and certifications online.  The best of these will provide a rigorous, high-level education comparable to a medical imaging program offered at a local institution, but in a more flexible format better suited to working students – meaning that you will be able to continue full-time employment while completing your degree.

As with any serious educational decision, it is important to do your research when picking an online medical imaging program:  is the school accredited?  Will earned credits transfer? (Transfer of credits is often a good rubric in determining the quality of an education: other educational institutions should recognize the viability of the training a course entails.) What is the school’s job placement rate?  What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically?  If you learn better in a hands-on environment, consider whether the program facilitates internships.  You’ll find the answers to many of these questions within the University Bound Network of Web sites, but don’t be afraid to ask your admissions counselor pointed questions.

Medical Imaging Skills and Abilities

Medical imaging jobs require advanced technical skills and knowledge.  A strong science and math background is useful, as with all medical technology jobs.  Medical imaging professionals often work as part of a diagnostic team, so communication and active listening skills are very important.  Because of the nature of the images that they analyze, attention to detail is important to all medical imaging professionals.

Medical Imaging Qualification and Advancement

Completion of the respective programs in medical imaging can qualify graduates for work as RADIOLOGIC TECHNOLOGISTS AND TECHNICIANS, DIAGNOSTIC MEDICAL SONOGRAPHERS, and NUCLEAR MEDICINE TECHNOLOGISTS.

Master’s level work in medical imaging technology can lead to more technologically sophisticated and better-paid clinical positions for technologists, and can qualify them for positions as lab managers and lab directors.

Additional Information

The American Society of Radiologic Technologists maintains a Web site at http://www.asrt.org.

The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography maintains a Web site at http://www.sdms.org.

The Society of Nuclear Medicine Technologists maintains a Web site at http://www.snm.org.