Majoring in Medical Imaging: How to Pick the Perfect Career Path
The field of medical imaging offers students a multitude of opportunities to work hands-on with patients and operate advanced technologies, all while acting as instrumental parts of the healthcare team.
MCPHS offers medical imaging careers across five growing fields: diagnostic medical sonography, radiation therapy, nuclear medicine technology, radiography, and magnetic resonance imaging. Though these fields share several responsibilities, each utilizes unique techniques and provide different opportunities for specialization and patient interaction. Their distinctive qualities open the door for students with diverse skill sets and interests to enter the medical imaging profession, pursue their passion, and make an impact on patients' lives.
If you're considering a career in one of these five medical imaging fields but aren't sure where to begin, we're here to offer insight into which occupation or discipline might be the best fit for you.
Deliver Real-Time Images
Diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasound machines to capture images of a patient's internal systems. These images are created when the sonographer holds a device called a transducer to the patient's body. The ultrasound machine emits a high-frequency, imperceptible sound wave from the transducer that passes through the patient's body and "echoes" off abnormally dense surfaces, such as tumors. From here, physicians are able to analyze these findings and gain insight into a patient's condition.
Why Diagnostic Medical Sonography
When a patient is experiencing somatic pain, an ultrasound is often one of the first procedures they’ll undergo. And in the case of chronic or long-term conditions, they’re typically a standard test used in an ongoing treatment plan.
This makes the job of a diagnostic medical sonographer incredibly important. Not only are these sonographers responsible for capturing multi-dimensional, active images of a patient’s soft tissues, but they help patients remain calm during times of high stress.
Additionally, the flexibility of the ultrasound machine provides sonographers with the opportunity to become specialists in specific areas of the body, such as the abdomen, eyes, brain, or chest. Sonographers can also specialize in vascular, cardiac, pediatric, fetal, and obstetric and gynecological sonography.
Battle Back Cancer
Radiation therapists treat diseases, specifically cancer, by administering radiation treatments to patients using a linear accelerator device. The linear accelerator emits targeted, customized radiation attacking tumors from all angles while avoiding the surrounding healthy tissue.
In operating linear accelerators, radiation therapists are responsible for deciding the best, most effective way to use radiation to target a cancerous tumor or other non-malignant masses. They're also responsible for precisely and consistently positioning the patient for every treatment.
Why Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapists often act as members of an oncology team, working alongside other practitioners to help a patient reach remission. These practitioners are vital to the healthcare system, and oncology departments specifically, as they deliver precise treatments and empathetic healthcare.
As a practitioner present during patients' treatment sessions, they help keep spirits lifted during their battle against an intimidating diagnosis. As a result, radiation therapists often develop meaningful, long-term relationships with their patients.
Combine Science and Healthcare Delivery
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs, called radiopharmaceuticals, and administer them to patients. After these drugs are administered, their concentration and radioactivity allows medical imaging technologies, such as PET (positron emission tomography) scans and SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans to detect irregularities in patients' bodies.
Why Nuclear Medicine Technology
Nuclear medicine technology, or NMT, offers individuals interested in both face-to-face patient interaction and the concrete sciences, such as biology and pharmacology, an opportunity to simultaneously follow both of their passions.
In preparing these radiopharmaceuticals, nuclear medicine technologists are able to work hands-on with life-saving materials. Then, they get the privilege of working directly with patients as they administer these drugs and monitor their effect on the patient's body. As scans come through, NMT allows practitioners to capture not only the visual state of a patient's organs and tissues, but their functionality as well. For example, PET scans have the unique ability to depict bodily functions, such as a patient's lung capacity or blood flow, that other medical imaging technologies can't capture.
Master Medical Imaging
Radiographers use computed tomography (CT), X-ray, and other radiation-leveraging machines to help doctors diagnose and treat patients. These machines capture two-dimensional images of bones, organs, and blood vessels—images that help physicians understand the full scope of a patient’s condition.
It’s important to note that “radiographers” and “radiologists” are two separate practitioners. While a radiographer operates the medical imaging technology and holds an undergraduate degree, a radiologist is a licensed physician who analyzes and interprets the images provided by a radiographer.
Similar to the role of a sonographer, radiographers often work with emergent cases and are therefore instrumental in the delivery of compassionate healthcare. And as a professional qualified to operate multiple imaging modalities, their day-to-day allows them to work with patients of all types. Whether it’s a teenager’s soccer injury or a grandmother’s aching knee, radiographers can step in to help forward the treatment of multiple populations.
Additionally, due to their versatility, radiographers are the medical imagining field’s “jack-of-all-trades.” Not only are they qualified to operate multiple devices, but they can build upon their education by earning a certificate in magnetic resonance imaging.
Capture Three-Dimensional Insights
Magnetic resonance imaging machines create high-resolution, three-dimensional images of patient's organs, systems, and tissues using large, powerful magnetic fields and radio waves. The three-dimensional images produced by MRIs are widely considered to be the premier non-radiative source of abdominal, neurological, and musculoskeletal scans.
Before an MRI, patients are given a contrast agent, or a dye, that will help their scans appear more clear. They then lay down in a large, tube-like machine in which a magnetic field and radio waves work together to identify abnormalities in their body. Physicians can identify these abnormalities by analyzing the scans in totality and examining the magnetic properties of the various tissues displayed.
Why Magnetic Resonance Imaging
MRI technologists operate one of the world's most powerful medical imaging machines. These machines can create incredibly detailed images that sometimes go beyond the capabilities of other, similar technologies. To be at the helm of what's sometimes referred to as the "gold standard" in medical imaging is an important responsibility.
MRI technologists also have the unique opportunity to help quell the anxieties of patients during what can be a claustrophobic experience. The tube-like nature of the MRI machine and the seemingly "intense" methodology of the procedure (patients must remain perfectly still and quiet during the scanning period) cause a sense of panic. Their technologist is uniquely equipped to keep them calm and centered, while also capturing high quality, insightful scans to deliver to the greater healthcare team.
Ready to explore a career in medical imaging? Learn more about the many undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, and certification programs in our School of Medical Imaging and Therapeutics.