The overall demand for healthcare workers, including medical imagers, is consistently increasing. The aging baby boomer population has resulted in opportunity, both in the increased need for imaging procedures for diagnostic or treatment purposes as well as the need for providers to fill positions vacated by retirement. Such an increase in medical imaging careers is creating employment opportunities for individuals who are interested, or who have already obtained, a two-year degree in the field.
For those thinking of beginning a career in medical imaging, it may be difficult to figure out which specialty to choose. It’s important to weigh your personal interests and skill level with educational opportunity and availability of programs in your area. You’re also most likely going to be considering the income and job growth potential of any specialty you choose. Below we will break down the salaries of the top paying medical imaging careers, as well as employment growth rates, job descriptions, and educational requirements.
Top Careers in Medical Imaging
The top 5 paying medical imaging careers, ranked from highest to lowest:
|Specialty||Mean Annual Salary||Job Growth Rate|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologist||$75,660||10%|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographer||$65,620||17%|
Medical Imaging Career Paths
Numerous modalities have arisen or become more prevalent over the last two to three decades as a result of new technologies and discoveries. There are now many specialties within medical imaging to work towards, including these high paying careers:
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as ultrasound technicians, use devices that emit high frequency sound waves to produce images of unborn fetuses, internal organs, tissues, and muscles. The use of ultrasound as a diagnostic and/or source of treatment has increased dramatically, and the demand for ultrasound technicians has risen with it. In fact, sonographer has been ranked #4 in the top 30 best healthcare support jobs.
Most ultrasound technicians work in a hospital setting where workdays can be long, with 12-hour shifts not uncommon. Ultrasound techs, as with most of the other medical imaging specialists, must be capable of active physical exertion and able to lift up to 80 pounds.
Cardiovascular techs can perform both invasive and non-invasive procedures on patients to help monitor and diagnose diseases of the heart or vascular system. There are several specialties available within cardiovascular technology, including cardiology technologists, vascular technologists, and cardiac sonographers, and the job duties for each can vary. Learn more by visiting our cardiovascular technologist overview center.
- Educational requirement: Associates degree
- Median annual salary: $55,270/year, $27.52 per hour
- Job Growth: 30.4% increase by 2022
Radiation therapists, working closely with radiologists, can prescribe and administer radiation therapy, often for the treatment of cancer. The radiation therapist is part of a team that works to treat the whole patient and ultimately cure disease. Due to the nature of the disease, the therapist is often in the position of needing to help comfort and reassure the patient, and a warm “bedside manner” is critical to the successful implementation of the treatment.
- Educational Requirement: minimum Associate’s degree, bachelor’s often preferred
- Median annual salary: $80,570/year, $38.73 per hour
- Job growth: 2,400 new jobs expected in next 10 years
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
The nuclear medicine tech, working closely with a supervising physician, administers radioactive compounds, called radiopharmaceuticals. Responsibilities include performing and analyzing imaging procedures using radiation-detecting equipment, which is then used by the physician for diagnostic purposes. Excellent communication skills and attention to detail are critical, as is a strong foundation in math.
- Educational requirement: Associates or bachelor’s degree
- Median annual salary: $75,660/year, $36.38 per hour
- National unemployment rate: 1.5%
MRI /Radiologic Tech
MRI and radiologic technologists use imaging equipment that utilizes a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the inside of a patient’s body. The large tubes that patients are placed in for an MRI are confining and loud, which can create anxiety and claustrophobia in the patient. Thus the technologist is often required to help put the patient at ease, listen to their concerns and fears, and reassure the patient.
- Educational requirement: Associates degree
- Median annual salary: $60,070/year, $28.88 per hour
- National unemployment rate: 2.2%
Note that pre-requisites for some of the above credentials may require more extensive professional experience and/or CMEs than others in the list (and than those that did not make the top five).
The Importance of Accreditation
Regardless of which medical imaging specialty you choose to pursue, it’s important that you attend a school that’s been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Accreditation is the process by which an independent body reviews and attests to the quality of the education that a school or program provides. Here is a link to accredited program search tool they provide.
In addition, becoming certified, and maintaining that certification through continued medical education (CME) courses, is an important part of the education process, and will be preferred or required by prospective employers. Here are the primary certification organizations for each specialty that we discussed:
- Diagnostic medical sonographers: ARDMS
- Radiation therapists: ARRT
- Nuclear medicine technologist: NMTCB
- MRI technologists: ARMRIT or ARRT
- Cardiovascular technologists: CCI
Of course, income for medical imaging careers depends on numerous factors, such as geographic location, employer or type of workplace and level of experience. It’s important to research career opportunities in your prospective local area to get a better financial picture.