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These days new imaging technologies are being invented almost faster than practitioners can be trained in their use. Job opportunities vary, however, according to a candidate's experience and area of specialization. Overall, however, medical imaging is one of the fastest growing areas in healthcare.
Several years ago, Minnesota experienced a shortage of radiologic technologists, or rad techs. Since then schools have created new programs and increased enrollment. This means that new graduates may have a harder time finding a job simply because there are more of them, according to Allina recruiter Jerry Hotovec.
Jobs are plentiful for experienced techs. The market is good for those with training and experience in computed tomography (CT) and interventional radiology (IR). But the most highly sought-after techs are those trained and experienced in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - especially cardiovascular MRI. Also in demand are "multi-specialty imaging techs" with experience in X-ray, MRI and CT.
Nuclear medicine technologists administer radioactive drugs to patients by injection or mouth. The drugs contain unstable atoms that spontaneously emit radiation. The technologist traces signals emitted by the drugs, using a special digital camera. Abnormal areas show higher- or lower-than-expected concentrations of radioactivity.
The demand for experienced nuclear med techs is good, but new graduates may have a tougher time finding a job, according to Allina recruiter Michelle Majkrzak. New graduates should consider part-time opportunities and increase their hours as that becomes possible.
Sonography uses high frequency sound waves, or ultrasound, to examine organ systems and vascular structures. If an X-ray is like a snapshot, then an ultrasound exam is like a video. The quality of the exam depends on the skill and good judgment of the sonographer who "edits" the video, deciding which "freeze frame" images should be recorded for the doctor to examine.
"Sonographers with cardiac, vascular or perinatal experience are in demand," Majkrzak says. For new graduates, however, finding that first job may take a while.
Finding That First Job
Although the market for new graduates is currently tight, openings in all areas of imaging do exist, and the field continues to expand. Hotovec advises imaging students to get a job as a radiology assistant while they're still in school. Assistants restock supplies, transport patients and help position patients for X-rays. They gain valuable experience plus a chance to prove themselves to a potential employer.
"Even if they don't work in their field of specialization, managers in the imaging department will get to know their work," Hotovec says. He advises recent graduates to "leverage their clinical experience." That means including it on their résumé and describing exactly what they did. This is especially important if they apply to the same hospital where they did their clinical training.
The future of medical imaging is bright, according to Jane Renken, Allina's manager of strategic sourcing. "The imaging technology of the future is still being invented. For imaging professionals, part of the job will be ongoing training at the employer's expense. There will be great opportunity for those working in the field," she says.
Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.