How to Become an MRI Technologist & All You Need

How to become an mri technologist
Credit: Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts

Do you find mathematics and technology intriguing? Are you an excellent communicator who takes pleasure in assisting those in need? Then, working as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technician (or MRI technologist) might be just up your alley. But just in case you are confused by this career– who an MRI technologist is, what they do, their responsibilities, and whatnot– here is all you need to know. In this MRI technician career guide, we’ll go over the basics of the job, the steps to become one, the benefits and drawbacks, and the future of the field as a whole.

Who is an MRI Technologist?

MRI technologists perform MRI scans of various parts of the body in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other clinical settings. They supervise recommended scans to further identify potential causes of a patient’s pain, discomfort, or other abnormalities.

What Do MRI Technicians Do?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technicians operate MRI scanners, which are large, tube-like machines that use a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of patients’ organs, tissues, and skeletal systems. These images aid doctors in the diagnosis of conditions ranging from sprained ligaments to tumors.

On a typical day, MRI technicians:

  • Conduct patient screening interviews
  • Prepare patients for image scans by explaining the procedures.
  • Assist patients in feeling calm and at ease.
  • Position patients correctly, and sometimes sedate them, to ensure clear images of the correct area of the body.
  • Remove and replace IVs and catheters in preparation for the MRI.
  • Patients and MRI equipment should be monitored.
  • Take pictures
  • Recognize image abnormalities and irregularities
  • Collaborate with the doctors and radiologists who are reading the images.

Diagnostic imaging centers, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities employ MRI technicians. Some work in community colleges, instructing students on MRI technology.

Most MRI technicians work standard full-time hours, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those who work in emergency clinics may be required to work some nights and weekends. Working as an MRI technician can provide more work-life balance if you are interested in healthcare but are concerned about marathon shifts.

At a Glance: How to Become an MRI Technician

The education and training requirements for MRI technicians differ from state to state. An associate degree, certificate, or diploma in MRI technology from a trade school or community college is required.

Here’s how to become an MRI technician in general:

  • Complete high school.
  • Earn an associate degree in MRI technology or radiography, or earn an associate degree and then enroll in an MRI tech training program. (Most training programs require an associate’s degree.)
  • Pass a certification exam* (usually administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists). Although certification is not legally required in the field, many employers prefer or require it.
  • Receive a state license in some states.

Meanwhile, pursuing a bachelor’s degree is another option for preparing for career advancement. You can eventually become an MRI specialist, radiologic department manager, or chief radiologic technologist with a bachelor’s degree.

What Exactly Does an MRI Technician Do?

An MRI technologist performs tasks prior to, during, and after a patient’s scan. The following are the primary duties of MRI technologists:

  • Patient preparation: The MRI technologist must explain to the patient what to expect during the examination. This includes making the patient feel calm in order to reduce anxiety. To improve the contrast of a scan, the technologist may need to administer IV drugs.
  • Preparing the equipment: Prior to the scan, MRI technologists must prepare the equipment for various body parts and individuals. This could include equipment height and size adjustments, basic troubleshooting for any malfunctions, and startup and shutdown procedures.
  • Administering a scan: This entails positioning the patient (with any necessary repositioning), observing the images on screen, taking notes, and capturing images from all necessary angles. Throughout the procedure, the MRI technologist must ensure that the patient remains calm and still.
  • Reviewing images and communicating to doctors: An MRI technologist learns how to review images and communicate with doctors in order to capture every detail during a scan. Though doctors are in charge of image diagnosis and interpretation, the MRI technologist may need to capture focused shots or additional angles if they notice something abnormal, such as a tumor.

What Skills Do You Need as an MRI Technologist Need?

An MRI technologist should have or learn the following skills:

  • Interpersonal skills: Effective communication with patients and colleagues fosters a welcoming and efficient environment. Calm and happy patients with clear instructions keep procedures on track, and clear language for physicians and other professionals ensures they can easily interpret and diagnose images.
  • Empathy: The job of an MRI technologist, like other jobs in the medical field, can be rewarding when you help people get the care they require. A strong communication style and a desire to help people are two ways to make your patients feel calm and cared for during difficult times.
  • Technical abilities: MRI technologists work with a variety of complex equipment. It is critical that MRI technicians receive the necessary training to operate these complex machines.
  • Detail-oriented: When working with MRI equipment and reviewing images, you must pay close attention to every detail. This ability is also useful for detecting abnormalities in a scan.
  • Physical stamina: MRI technologists, like most medical professionals, spend the majority of their days on their feet. They also operate heavy machinery and help patients get positioned on a machine.

How to Become an MRI Technologist

Here are a few steps you can take to get started in a career as an MRI technologist:

Learn about the position

Ensure you want to be an MRI technician before pursuing the necessary education and credentials. Learn the fundamentals of science and practice technical skills. Both of these can be obtained while pursuing your associate’s degree or through independent study prior to enrolling. If you enjoy working with people and have a strong interest in technology, this could be an excellent career path for you.

Research MRI technician programs

The next step is to find the best program for you. If you have a full-time job, look into programs that offer classes and training at night and on weekends. Most MRI technologist roles require at least an associate’s degree, so you should plan on at least two years of education. Some programs include certification and training, while others require you to complete this training after you earn your associate’s degree. Make certain that the program you choose is approved by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) or the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT).

Get an education

You can enroll in associate’s programs in MRI or radiological technology once you have a high school diploma or equivalent. This field is offered by trade schools, four-year institutions, and community colleges. You will study physics, technology, anatomy, patient care, and pathology. Clinical work is also available in schools to supplement classroom instruction. While a bachelor’s degree is not required by most employers to become an MRI technologist, it can help you with your job search and prepare you for leadership or specialized roles in the field.

Obtain certification

After completing the educational requirements for MRI technologists, you must obtain certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Some training programs are already accredited by the AART, and you can apply for certification by passing an additional exam. The ARRT also has an ethics requirement to ensure that your morals are in line with the needs of the field. You may be required to complete other state-mandated requirements, such as CPR certification, as with other medical technician roles.

Start looking for work

Once certified, you can begin applying for jobs as an MRI technologist, just like any other job. Networking with people you met during your education is a good idea because they can contact you if there are openings at hospitals or other facilities. If your knowledge and skills impress mentors and experienced technologists, they may want to hire you at their facility. Make sure your resume is up to date with your skills and education. You can also practice interviewing by answering questions about MRI technology key concepts.

Advance your career by continuing your education

If you have an associate’s degree in MRI technology, you can always go on to a bachelor’s degree in the same or a related field. With advanced degrees, you may be able to pursue jobs with more responsibilities, such as facility or equipment management. You could also consider furthering your education to become a radiologist.

To keep your ARRT certification, you must attend continuing education courses every few years. These could include new ethics requirements, technological advances, or other advancements in the field. The ARRT also offers specialty certifications in mammography, bone density, and cardiac interventional radiography.

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Salaries and Job Prospects

In the United States, an MRI technologist earns an annual salary of $81,227. Salaries vary depending on location, experience, and the facility where you work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 7% increase in job opportunities for MRI technologists through 2029.

The Benefits of Working as an MRI Technician

If this is the career path you want to take, there are several advantages:

  • Ability to work anywhere: While each state has its own requirements and salaries, MRI scans are required across the country so you can move and work wherever you want.
  • Career advancement: MRI technologists can advance to specialized fields, management, or administrative roles with additional certifications and continuing education.
  • Rewarding career: As with most medical jobs, you may feel you are doing meaningful work as you assist patients on their path to wellness.
  • Flexible schedule: Depending on the facility, you may be able to work flexible hours such as nights, days, or weekends to accommodate your preferred schedule.

Cons

  • Physically taxing and possibly stressful
  • Depending on the type of facility you work in, you may be in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment.
  • Working with trauma or seriously ill patients can be emotionally draining

MRI Technician Programs

MRI technician programs teach you the skills you need to succeed in this field. Human anatomy, patient care fundamentals, ethics, and medical terminology are among the first classes you’ll take. Then, for MRI technicians, you’ll learn more advanced techniques and clinical applications.

Most MRI tech programs last one to two years and include both classroom instruction and hands-on training in a clinical setting. They are commonly delivered through colleges, community colleges, and hospitals.

Accredited MRI tech programs and schools include (in no particular order):

#1. Forsyth Technical Community College

Forsyth Technical Community College, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is one of the best schools in the country for earning an associate degree in MRI technology. Clinical rotations in medical centers, community hospitals, and outpatient imaging centers are part of the two-year program.

Graduates of Forsyth Tech’s program have a national certification exam pass rate of 93% and a job placement rate of 100% within 12 months of graduation. Tuition is $5,320 for in-state students and $18,760 for out-of-state students.

#2. Midwestern Career College

Midwestern Career College, based in Chicago, offers an associate degree in MRI technology in 80 weeks. The MRI tech program at the private college includes an 810-hour externship. Tuition is $7,900 per term, with the clinical externship costing an additional $7,800.

#3. Lansing Community College

Lansing Community College, located in Lansing, Michigan, is a public college that offers one of the country’s top associate degree programs in MRI technology. The 16-month program is delivered entirely online, with clinical education courses organized in collaboration with affiliated hospitals, clinics, and other MRI provider facilities.

#4. Gurnick Medical Arts Academy

The 18-month associate degree program in MRI technology offered by Gurnick Academy is available in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida. It consists of 246 hours of general education instruction, 620 hours of technical didactic instruction, and 1,020 hours of clinical supervision. The program, however, is expensive, with a total cost of at least $40,000 (depending on location). Gurnick Academy does provide a number of scholarships and other forms of financial assistance.

#5. Casa Loma University

Casa Loma College, a private non-profit college in Van Nuys, California, offers an associate degree in MRI technology. The 22-month program includes online classes, but students must be on campus every Saturday for “theory days,” and they must complete 1000 hours of clinical experience.

#6. Career Networks Institute

Career Networks Institute (CNI College) offers a comprehensive associate degree in MRI technology with 1,746 clock hours. Students take anatomy, MRI pathology, college mathematics, and other courses, as well as a 1,000-hour clinical externship. The program concludes with a capstone course that focuses on certification exam preparation and mock certification exams.

#7. National Polytechnic College

National Polytechnic College in Lakewood, California offers a 22-month associate degree program in MRI technology as well as an 18-month diploma program. Students must complete a 1,040-hour clinical externship in addition to courses in medical/patient care skills, physics, math, anatomy, medical terminology, theory, and computer skills.

#8. West Virginia University

West Virginia University’s Center for Advanced Imaging offers a one-year MRI certificate program. The program is based on WVU’s Morgantown campus and consists of both didactic and clinical instruction. The cost of tuition is $2,000 per semester.

#9. Casper College

Casper College’s MRI certificate program is a 10-month program with clinical locations in Douglas, Gillette, Sheridan, Rawlins, Lander, and Casper. Residents pay $145 per credit, while non-residents pay $355 per credit.

#10. Galveston College

Galveston College’s MRI technology certificate program is designed to be completed after earning an associate degree and is available online or on campus in Galveston. The one-year, 31-credit program is divided into two semesters of coursework and clinical training hours. MRI safety, anatomy, physics, MRI equipment, and special topics in MRI are among the courses offered. Non-residents pay $480 per credit, while Texas residents pay $180.

Internships for MRI Technicians

MRI technicians with clinical experience are better prepared for the job and have a higher chance of getting it. In most cases, your MRI technician program will provide you with the necessary experience.

An internship or clinical apprenticeship, as well as hands-on experience such as labs and clinical workshops, are required for accredited MRI tech programs. You’ll work alongside an MRI technician to hone your skills and gain a better understanding of your future career.

You can also seek clinical experience on your own. There is no minimum number of experience hours required to become certified as an MRI technician, but experience can help you prepare for the certification exam and the job. Employers are also more likely to hire a tech who has on-the-job experience.

How Long Does It Take to Become an MRI Technician?

It takes about two or two and a half years to become certified and find work as an MRI technician, depending on the path you take.

Finding a program that combines an associate degree with MRI technician training is the quickest route. Otherwise, you’ll need to first earn an associate degree (up to two years) before enrolling in a separate training program (six months to one year at the very least).

That may seem like a long time, but it’s only half the time it takes to complete a four-year college degree. And, as you’ll see in the section below, MRI technicians earn more than many college graduates. If you think MRI tech is a good fit for you, investing two years to prepare for a high-paying, stable career that you’ll enjoy is well worth it.

Last Words

You will have job stability, a competitive salary, and good benefits as an MRI technologist. You’ll work in healthcare but for fewer hours and with a better work-life balance than other jobs in the industry. It’s a great career for people who excel at communication, math, science, and technology.

If that sounds like a job for you, here’s how to become an MRI technologist:

  • Complete high school.
  • Earn an associate degree in MRI technology or a related field and then complete an MRI tech training program.
  • Take and pass a certification exam.
  • Get your state license if it is required by your state.
  • It typically takes two years to complete the training required to become an MRI technician.

Take classes and participate in activities related to math, science, and technology while you are still in high school to begin preparing for this career. If your school has a medical program, enroll in it, or look for volunteer or job shadowing opportunities at local clinics and hospitals. You will not only gain experience, but you will also gain insight into whether MRI tech is a career for you.

References

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