Job Profile: Healthcare Technologist
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Healthcare technologist is an umbrella term used to describe several career paths involved in handling the technical duties of patient care for physicians. Unlike technicians, technologists have greater depth of clinical responsibility for interpreting test data, supervising lab projects, and discussing results with doctors. Healthcare technologists can choose from several specialties for assisting in the diagnostic process. For instance, microbiology technologists perform complex tests to identify the presence of microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Radiologic technologists operate MRI and x-ray equipment to take high-quality internal images of target body areas. Cardiovascular technologists utilize ultrasound scanners to visualize blood vessels and arteries for diagnosing heart disorders. Each technologist type is essential in today's high-tech medical field for finding or confirming ailments before treatment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that America's 162,950 medical laboratory technologists earn a mean annual wage of $61,860, or $29.74 per hour. In particular, surgical technologists make significantly less with an average salary of $44,330 annually. Radiologic and MRI technologists fare better with a median pay of $58,120, or $27.94 hourly. The top-paid specialty belongs to nuclear medicine technologists, who bring home median pay at $74,990 each year.
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Starting healthcare technologists generally land in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings with yearly income between $31,410 and $41,510. Healthcare technologists earn more than technicians, and their salary can grow considerably higher to above $87,170. Advanced training can lead to manager-level paychecks. For example, diagnostic imaging directors and laboratory services directors report median salaries at $128,319 and $119,591 respectively.
Healthcare technologists share many of the same responsibilities across specialties. They prepare patients for lab tests by swabbing the area for sterility, properly adjusting equipment, and giving thorough instructions to assuage worries. As the diagnostic test is conducted, technologists must ensure it's running correctly and patients are comfortable. Whether it's an ultrasound, MRI, or blood test, technologists then supervise the results generated by technicians to interpret the findings. Detailed records are maintained electronically, but most healthcare technologists also convey the patient data to physicians or surgeons directly. Added duties could be required, such as following strict radiation disposal procedures for nuclear medicine technologists.
Technical skills are the most essential for healthcare technologists to accurately operate complex diagnostic machinery with good hand-eye coordination. Technologists need the physical stamina to spend significant time standing, walking, and sometimes lifting patients onto equipment like Body CT tables. Interpersonal skills are important for healthcare technologists to thoroughly instruct patients, answer their questions, and communicate results to doctors. Being a skilled, detail-oriented leader helps technologists oversee technicians' work and file organized paperwork accurately. Healthcare technologists should possess anatomical knowledge along with analytical skills to interpret test findings and math skills to measure suitable dosages. Having a compassionate, friendly, and outgoing demeanor also helps build good patient rapport.
Degree and Education Requirements
Healthcare facilities usually only hire technologists with at least an associate degree from post-secondary schools. Bachelor's degrees are often preferred for advancing beyond entry-level technician jobs and gaining responsibility. Consider majoring in nuclear medicine technology, clinical laboratory science, radiologic technology, diagnostic medical sonography, or a similar field. Coursework should heavily focus in human anatomy, medical terminology, biology, and computer science. Degrees recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) are among the best. Attending graduate school for master's degrees like the Master of Health Administration or M.S. in Radiologic Sciences would foster technologists' promotion to administrative positions.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Entering the world of clinical laboratory technology will provide both advantages and drawbacks to consider. On the sunny side, healthcare technologists are experiencing rapid job growth that limits competition for better prospects. Specializations are as varied from mammography to fetal sonography to work environment options. Return on investment is high because technologists earn above-average salaries with only an associate or bachelor's degree. Healthcare technologists can interact with patients and help impact their diagnoses' accuracy without medical school. Advancement is also great for technologists with a penchant for healthcare administration. However, the risk for radiation and disease exposure exists even when the lengthy list of safety procedures are followed. Some have physical affects from lifting and turning disabled or injured patients. Healthcare technologists can work long, irregular shifts on evenings and weekends to provide 24/7 testing. Maintaining licensure requirements with continuing education can also be time-consuming for healthcare technologists.
Scanning patient bodies and collecting tissue/blood samples takes a level of clinical expertise that's difficult to gain in the classroom. Therefore, CAAHEP-accredited programs will require future technologists complete simulation exercises and field practicum. Chase after internship opportunities to practice your technical skills with real-life clinical cases. Mayo Clinic, Penn Medicine, and St. Luke's Medical Center are just a few offering six to 12-month interning spots. After graduation, most states will require technologists to pass a licensing exam and criminal background checks. Credentialed healthcare technologists can begin applying for openings, usually in more general laboratory roles. Certification can facilitate easier advancement into their specialties. The Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board offers the CNMT title with an exam costing $180. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) also has pathways for breast sonography to bone densitometry.
Baby boomers are rising healthcare demand since more than 71 million Americans will be 65 or older and eligible for Medicaid by 2029. Aging creates a slew of medical conditions needing diagnosis from clinical lab testing. Older adults are also steadily retiring from the workforce, leaving critical shortages in some healthcare arenas. The BLS predicts job growth for medical lab technologists will reach 14 percent with 23,100 new jobs. Cardiovascular technologists have particularly fast growth projected at 26 percent through 2024. Nuclear medicine technology has the worst outlook with 10-year growth at a measly 2 percent. Technologists usually work in hospitals, physician offices, diagnostic labs, ambulatory facilities, and surgical centers.
Healthcare technologists have a ripe market for using their scientific knowledge and high-tech skills to improve patient outcomes. In fact, the U.S. News recognized cardiovascular technologists for holding America's #8 best healthcare support job with low unemployment at 1.4 percent. Technologists play crucial roles in performing the diagnostic procedures physicians order and interpreting the results. Becoming a healthcare technologist also offers upward mobility for claiming leadership titles like radiology director and patient services administrator.