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Which Rad Tech Specialty Is Right for You?

Which Rad Tech Specialty Is Right for You?

Are you a hands-on person who likes a lot of patient contact? Or do you prefer to keep a little distance? Are you supercharged, or do you prefer a slower pace? Intrigued by watching live images, or are you content with still shots? Your answers to questions like these can help you choose a post-primary certification in radiologic technology (RT) that's a good match for you.

Know the Options

Once you've obtained primary certification in radiography, nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy or sonography, there are 12 post-primary advanced certifications to choose from. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists grants specialty certificates in:

  • Bone densitometry
  • Breast sonography
  • Cardiac-interventional radiography
  • Cardiovascular-interventional radiography
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Mammography
  • Quality management
  • Radiologist assistant
  • Sonography
  • Vascular-interventional radiography
  • Vascular sonography

Review the primary certifications required and preview the exam contents for the areas you're interested in.

Next, add the human touch. "Speak with a professional from each specialty," says Van Travelstead, RT(CT/MRI), chief MRI technologist for the Southern Illinois Orthopedic Center. "Ask what they like or don't like about their jobs."

Spend some time on the job with a friend or colleague, and ask for hands-on experience, if allowed, suggests Michael McNeal, RT, a registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer (RDCS) and registered cardiovascular technologist (RCVT), who is supervisor of the echocardiography lab at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Carefully observe the entire process, from patient care to paperwork, to make sure you can live with it. In addition, look at fields related to the area you think you're interested in. Within sonography, for example, "some people love to do cardio, while others prefer vascular," McNeal says.

Gauge the Workplace Environment

As resource coordinator, McNeal sees applicants who are lured by the glamour of working at a prestigious academic medical center. "You have to know yourself," he cautions. "Some people come here and are overwhelmed by the heavy volume, fast pace and comprehensive nature of our studies." McNeal was drawn to cardiovascular sonography while working on hypertension studies as a research assistant in the coagulation department of Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's. "I was intrigued by being able to see a moving heart," he recalls. "Participating in research was also exciting. I still see references to [TOMHS, the Treatment of Mild Hypertension Study,] I worked on then."

MRI appealed to Travelstead, because "you could actually tell what was inside and make a diagnosis in a short amount of time." As a former UPS driver with bad knees, Travelstead also saw that MRI operators spent less time on their feet than their rad technologist counterparts. Plus, MRI patients tend to be mobile, reducing the need for lifting or moving. He also liked the slow pace and relaxed environment associated with treating just one MRI patient each hour. In contrast, CT operators move more quickly and see more critical patients, often torn up from motor vehicle accidents. "Someone told me once that there's no such thing as an emergency MRI, and for the most part, they were right," Travelstead says.

Scope Out New Opportunities

For JoAnn Caudill, RT(R)(M)(BD), CDT, the excitement of a new modality plus working with a dedicated colleague kindled her interest in bone densitometry. "For me, the attraction to densitometry was that it found me," says Caudill, who now runs two bone densitometry programs for Erickson Retirement Communities in Maryland.

When Caudill was managing the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's imaging center in 1990, her employer purchased its first dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanner and hired endocrinologist Jenny Pavlov, MD, to run the bone health program and supervise the densitometrists. Caudill caught her colleague's passion for quality, consistency and education and soon became involved in densitometry research, education and certification.

Assess the Market

No matter how attractive a specialty may be to you, make sure it is in demand where you want to live. Before settling on a dual CT/MRI specialty, Travelstead researched his local market. "There are seven MRI facilities within two miles of where I work, and three new ones are being built," he says.


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