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 diagnostic imaging procedures, and 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 in, or who have already obtained, a two-year degree in the field.
It may be difficult to determine which medical imaging specialty is right for you. It’s important to weigh your personal interests, skill level, educational opportunities, and availability of programs in your area when selecting a specialization. It’s also important to take into account the income and job growth potential of the 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. Conditions in your area may vary.
Top Careers in Medical Imaging
The top 5 paying medical imaging careers nationwide, ranked from highest to lowest:
|Specialty||Median Annual Salary||Job Growth Rate|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologist||$79,590||5%|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographer||$75,920||17%|
Salary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The most recent figures are from May, 2020. Conditions in your area may vary
Medical Imaging Career Paths
Numerous modalities have arisen or become more prevalent over the last few 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:
Radiation therapists, who work 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 and ultimately cure a patient’s disease. Due to the nature of the disease, the radiation therapist often helps comfort and reassure the patient. 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: $86,850/year, $41.76 per hour
- Job growth: 7% increase by 2029
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 the physician then uses for diagnostic purposes. Excellent communication skills and attention to detail are critical, as is a strong foundation in math.
- Educational requirement: minimum Associates Degree, some require Bachelor’s Degree
- Median annual salary: $79,590/year, $38.27 per hour (BLS, 2020)
- Job growth: 5% by 2029
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 as well. In fact, sonography has been ranked #5 in the top 30 best healthcare support jobs.
Most ultrasound technicians work in a hospital setting where workdays may include 12 hour shifts. 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. There are also varying career paths available to sonographers beyond direct patient-care.
MRI / Radiologic technologist
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. Therefore, the technologist is often required to listen to the patient’s concerns and fears and reassure them.
- Educational requirement: Associates degree
- Median annual salary: $63,710/year, $30.63 per hour
- Job outlook: 7% by 2029
Cardiovascular techs can perform both invasive and non-invasive procedures on patients to help monitor and diagnose diseases related to the heart or vascular system. There are several specialties available within cardiovascular technology, including cardiology technologists, vascular technologists, and cardiac sonographers. The job duties for each may vary. Click here to learn more about cardiovascular technologists.
- Educational requirement: Associates degree
- Median annual salary: $59,100/year
- Job Growth: 5% increase by 2029
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.
In addition, becoming certified and maintaining certification through continued medical education (CME) courses is an important part of the education process. CMEs are often preferred or required by prospective employers. Here are the primary certification organizations for each specialty that we discussed:
- Radiation therapists: ARRT
- Nuclear medicine technologist: NMTCB
- Diagnostic medical sonographers: ARDMS
- MRI/Radiologic 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.