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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the next step in imaging technology for doctors. Once, x-rays were the only way to see inside people’s bodies without doing surgery. Now, we can use an MRI to take clear, useful pictures of every part of a person’s body. MRI technologists are the only people who are allowed to use these complicated and expensive machines.
An MRI tech (MRI technologist) is in charge of putting patients in the right place when their doctors say they need an MRI. MRIs can be done for things as simple as a bad sprain or as serious as injuries inside the body that could kill the person. MRI technicians talk to patients about how the machine works and get them ready for it. Then, they put the patient in a way that lets them take good pictures of their wounds. Once the images are made, MRI techs use their experience to help doctors figure out what’s going on in the images and what kind of injuries or illnesses are going on under the skin.
MRI technologists are important to hospitals because they give doctors more information about people’s problems than doctors could get on their own. MRIs don’t hurt the patient and work very well, so MRI technicians are in high demand all over the country.
As with any job that involves a lot of talking to and listening to people, an MRI tech needs to be good at both. If someone has never had an MRI before, they may need a lot of reassurance and time to feel at ease. Some patients may already be in a lot of pain and will need a lot of understanding.
Physically, the job isn’t as hard as some other medical technology jobs, but MRI techs still need to be able to stand for long periods of time and work with heavy equipment. MRI technicians need to be able to figure out what the images from the machine mean. This means that they also need to pay close attention to detail. This is on top of being able to learn and remember the details of human anatomy, which will be important for these interpretations.
Certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is the gold standard for becoming an MRI tech, but there are other ways to get there.
If someone doesn’t want to get ARRT certified, all they need to do to become an MRI technologist is take an accredited certificate program at a community college or hospital. People with at least a high school diploma or GED can learn the basics of MRI technology in these programs, which can last from a few months to about a year. One thing to keep in mind is that having an MRI certificate is not enough to be able to take the ARRT exam.
Most of the new MRI techs have a degree in MRI technology (usually an associate or bachelor’s degree) and an ARRT certification. The American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT) also offers certification, but this one isn’t as common.
Once MRI technologists have worked in the field for a while, they can move on to become hospital supervisors. How much experience you need to become a supervisor will depend on a lot of things, such as the size of the staff and how much demand there is for MRI services.
Step 1: Get your high school diploma or GED (four years).
Most MRI tech programs require students to have finished high school or gotten a GED before they can be accepted. If you want to become an MRI technician, you should pay attention in high school to your science and math classes. Also, taking AP classes and tests and getting college credit for them will help students get a head start on their college education.
Step 2A: Get at least an associate’s degree and/or go through an approved MRI technician education program (three to four years).
Most candidates need at least an associate’s degree and a certificate from an approved MRI tech program, but a bachelor’s degree may be preferred. A bachelor’s degree program can make it easier to get a job and give you more chances to lead.
Students should make sure that the MRI tech program they finish is accredited, as this ensures a minimum quality of education and is usually required for certification. Organizations that accredit MRI Tech programs (CAAHEP) include the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (AMRIT), and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
Step 2B: Get all of your clinical work experience (optional, one to two years).
MRI techs can get ARMRIT certification without going to school if they do a clinical apprenticeship. Those who want to apply must show proof that they have worked 2,000 hours in a certified apprenticeship. Even if you don’t want to do ARMRIT, an apprenticeship or clinical work experience could still help you get a job.
STEP 3: OBTAIN CERTIFICATION (TIMING VARIES)
Even though you don’t need a certificate to work as an MRI tech, almost no one will hire you if you don’t have one. There are two main certifications, the ARRT and the ARMRIT, which are explained below. For both certifications, students must study MRI technology and pass a test.
STEP 4: GET STATE LICENSURE (OPTIONAL; TIMELINE VARIABLE)
Only in New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and West Virginia do MRI technicians have to have a license. Licensing is done on a state-by-state basis, and people who want to get a license should contact their local boards to find out what the testing and education requirements are in their state.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT) are the two main groups that certify MRI techs. Each certification has its own set of requirements.
The ARRT has a primary pathway and a post-primary pathway for eligibility for the MRI. For the primary pathway, the requirements are:
The post-primary pathway eligibility requirements are:
The MRI tech exam costs between $200 to $400 depending on the eligibility pathway and consists of 200 questions in the following categories:
The ARRT does not endorse or publish study guides or exam preparation materials. Candidates are expected to review the content specifications for the exam and utilize any resources they have at their disposal to prepare for this exam.
ARRT-certified MRI techs must apply for renewal each year. In order to renew, candidates must be current with the biennial Continuing Education (CE) requirements and pay a $30 renewal fee.
Every two years, MRI tech certificate holders must earn 24 continuing education credits. These credits can be earned as part of state licensing renewal, CPR certification renewal, relevant academic courses taken at a college or university, or courses taken through a recognized continuing education provider.
Every ten years, MRI tech certificate holders must complete Continuing Qualifications Requirements (CQR) to ensure they are staying up to state with the latest research, technology, and best practices. This process involves completing a professional profile and structured self-assessment. If any gaps in knowledge or skills are identified continuing education courses will be prescribed.
There are five paths to eligibility for the ARMRIT MRI technologist exam. In order to sit for the exam, candidates must meet one of the following requirements:
Candidates with foreign degrees can have their education and training evaluated by an approved evaluation company in order to establish eligibility.
The ARMRIT MRI Technologist exam consists of three sections of 80 questions each and must be completed in four hours. The three sections are:
Questions can be either multiple-choice, true/false, or matching anatomical structures on MRI images. Candidates must achieve a score of 70 percent or higher to pass this exam.
The ARMRIT publishes a list of recommended review resources and has an online study guide available for $50.
ARMRIT certification must be renewed every three years. Renewals cost $300 and must be accompanied by 24 hours of continuing education hours, at the rate of eight per year. All continuing education credits must be derived from topics related to MRI technology or patient care and safety.
Furthermore, some states have their own separate licensing requirements. In some instances, ARRT offers state-specific examinations that are approved by local governing bodies in order to allow MRI technologists to work in that particular state.
The ARRT website provides a list of state licensing contacts that are available for consultation about the licensing requirements in that state. As mentioned above, MRI techs are required to be licensed in New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Most states do not have any licensing or certification requirements for MRI techs, though employers still often demand some type of certification or credential.
In general, once an MRI technologist becomes certified, he or she can begin looking for entry-level jobs as an MRI tech. Some common job titles for this stage of the career might include:
Employment for MRI techs is projected to grow 11 percent nationally between 2018 and 2028. This growth is primarily due to an aging population in the US and an increase in medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
MRI techs earn a median annual salary of $74,270, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019). The percentiles for wages in this field are:
With some experience, good MRI techs can advance to higher roles in the hospital or clinical setting, such as lead MRI technologist, MRI supervisor, or senior staff technologist. These advanced positions may find technologists supervising other MRI techs and taking on more administrative roles at their facility. It is easier to find these more advanced titles and roles in larger hospital settings where there is a bigger staff as opposed to smaller outpatient clinics and private physicians’ offices. Further, as MRI techs advance in their careers, they may have better schedules with fewer nights, weekends, and days spent on call, due to their seniority.
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