Medical imaging is a broad discipline that encompasses a variety of techniques that create images of the human body for diagnostic purposes. The duties and responsibilities medical imaging technicians perform depend on the type of equipment they use. Imaging techs may work as radiologic technologists, medical sonographers or nuclear medicine technologists.
Radiologic technologists may specialize in X-rays, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. For each specialization, the technologist must prepare the patient for the procedure. Preparing the patient includes answering questions, explaining the procedure, taking a medical history, positioning the patient and covering exposed areas that will not be imaged. Technologists operate and maintain the imaging equipment, evaluate the images and update patient records. Most states require a license to work as a radiologic technician, which requires the applicant to complete an approved training program and pass a certification examination.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Medical sonography uses sound waves to create visual images of organs and tissues in the body. Diagnostic medical sonographers may specialize in imaging different areas of the body, such as the abdomen, breasts or cardiovascular system. Professional sonographers prepare patients by taking a medical history, explaining the procedure and answering any questions. During the procedure, sonographers apply a gel to the area of the body they are imaging and operate the equipment. After producing the images, sonographers evaluate the quality of the images and update patient records. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only a few states require a license to work as a diagnostic medical sonographer, but employers prefer applicants with a certification.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Nuclear medicine imaging uses radioactive drugs to detect abnormalities in the body, which the technologist images with specialized equipment. Technologists take patient histories, explain the procedure and answer questions. The procedure requires the technologist to prepare and administer the radioactive drugs, operate the imaging equipment and monitor the patient for an abnormal reaction to the drugs. After the imaging procedure, technologists maintain the equipment, evaluate the images and update patient records. The minimum education requirement for a nuclear medicine technologist is an associate degree. Bachelor's degree programs are also available. The BLS reports that some states require a license to work as a nuclear medicine technologist and national certification is available to enhance employment opportunities.
The median annual salaries for medical imaging techs in 2012 were $70,180 for nuclear medicine technologists, $65,860 for diagnostic medical sonographers and $54,620 for radiologic technologists, according to the BLS. The highest-paying industry for all three types of medical imaging techs was the colleges, universities and professional schools industry.