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MRI Technician Education, Schools, and Career Overview

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, can provide a clear, concise view into the human body. MRI technicians are responsible for following physician's orders for MRI tests, including preparing patients for procedures, injecting contrast agents, positioning the patient, adjusting, maintaining, and operating equipment, and working with physicians to determine if further images need to be captured.

Magnetic resonance imaging technicians -- known as MRI techs for short -- are responsible for operating and maintaining magnetic resonance imaging machines to capture images that doctors then use in diagnosing a wide variety of conditions in patients. MRI technicians work closely with patients, preparing them for procedures, administering contrast solutions, positioning and moving patients to get accurate scans, and ensuring that the images obtained are of the highest quality and clarity possible.

How to Become an MRI Tech

Prerequisites

Degree programs in radiologic science have certain criteria that must be met in order to obtain admission. These might include, but are not limited to:

  • A high school diploma or equivalent
  • A minimum GPA
  • Minimum scores on standardized tests
  • Completion of certain prerequisite courses, such as those in math, science or health

Potential students should expect to provide evidence of these requirements, as well as other admissions materials, such as references, transcripts, letters of recommendation, completed applications or essays.

Degree Programs

Formal education is important for learning how to perform the job of an MRI technician, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). When choosing what level and length of degree program to pursue, students should consider their existing skills, their career goals and the requirements of different kinds of radiology degree programs. Here's what to expect from the various MRI technician programs.

Certificate Program

Certificate programs are programs that dive deeply into specific aspects of a particular field. They usually take no more than one year to complete.

Students who are looking to learn the basics of radiology in a quick and efficient manner may be well-served by a certificate program. However, because certificate programs are so brief, they may also not be enough to help a student understand the field properly. On the other hand, students who have already earned their associate or bachelor's degree in a related healthcare field might be able to use a certificate in radiologic science in order to make a career change into the field. Such students can draw upon their preexisting knowledge of healthcare to buttress the laser-focus of the certificate program.

Associate Degree Program

The associate degree is the most common educational path for an MRI technician. An associate degree program in radiologic or MRI technology typically takes at least two years to complete, though accelerated programs might reduce that time to 18 months or less.

In addition to general education courses, students can expect to take classes in pathology, patient care, anatomy, image evaluation, and radiation physics and protection, according to the BLS. Coursework generally includes classroom study as well as clinical training.

Bachelor's Degree Program

An MRI technician can also enter the field with a bachelor's degree. These programs usually take at least four years of study to complete, but accelerated programs can cut that time down to two or three years, depending upon the intensity of the program.

The coursework usually includes more general education courses than an associate degree program requires. Students should also expect to take more in-depth classes on anatomy, pathology, radiation physics and the like.

Hands-on Training

As part of their curriculum, many radiologic technology degree programs require students to undergo clinical training. During clinical training, students have the opportunity to earn hands-on experience in a healthcare setting. This can help students to better understand the knowledge from their classes and gives them a chance to apply skills from the classroom to the workplace. The experience from these programs can also be helpful on a resume once the degree program has been completed and a student is looking for work in the radiology field.

Schools

Online degree programs in radiologic science are available at several different colleges across the U.S. To list a few examples:

  • Midwestern State University
  • The Oregon Institute of Technology
  • The Adventist University of Health Sciences

Certifications

In some states, MRI technicians must be licensed or certified; the requirements vary from one state to another. Licensing typically requires graduation from an accredited program and the passing of a certification exam. The exam might be administered by the state or by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). For specific state requirements, contact the state's health board.

Graduates of an accredited radiologic or MRI program can become licensed by passing a certification exam administered by the state or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Many MRI technicians become radiologic technicians first, then gain experience and knowledge of MRI machines and techniques over time. They gradually specialize in magnetic resonance imaging, and after completing a set number of documented imaging examinations, they are typically considered eligible to sit for the MRI certification exam.

Skills and Qualities

Those who become MRI technicians should demonstrate close attention to detail, as well as the mechanical prowess to handle complex machinery. Great communication skills are also a must, as they will be dealing with patients, physicians and other health care professionals on a daily basis. Math skills are necessary in order to confidently calculate dosages of contrast agents. Physical stamina and strength could also be required, as MRI techs are often moving, lifting and positioning patients in order to get the best scans possible.

It is also important to understand that MRI technicians run the risk of being exposed to radiation in the course of their job. This danger can be alleviated with the proper use of protective gear, such as lead aprons.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

MRI technicians work in many different kinds of healthcare facilities, including hospitals, outpatient care centers, physician's offices, and medical and diagnostic laboratories. MRI techs often work full-time and might have varying schedules, depending upon the hours of the facility in which they work.

Professional and Academic Resources for MRI Technicians

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART) is an important organization for radiologic technicians, both those who are already professionally employed and those who are just starting out, to know about. AART allows qualified technicians who have completed an accredited education program within the past three years to sit for their exam and earn the AART certification and registration, an accredited credential that can open many opportunities in the world of radiology.

Sources

  • "Radiologic and MRI Technologists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292035.htm
  • "Radiologic and MRI Technologists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
  • Major: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technology, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-allied-health-diagnosis-intervention-treatment-magnetic-resonance-imaging-technology
  • Certification, The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, https://www.arrt.org/earn-arrt-credentials/requirements
  • "What Schooling Is Required to Become an MRI Technician?," Chron.com, Fred Decker, http://work.chron.com/schooling-required-mri-technician-13164.html

MRI Tech Schools