How to Become a Medical Technician
‘Medical technician’ is a broad term that encompasses a number of important careers in the healthcare industry. These jobs can involve tasks such as utilizing equipment that provides the latest life-saving medical treatments for patients in need. Duties may involve the utilization of diagnostic equipment to produce images that allow physicians to diagnose and effectively treat a host of ailments. In addition to the responsibility of running medical equipment, medical technicians can also perform administrative duties that include organizing patient charts and making sure records are accurate and up to date.
Medical technicians include:
- Cardiovascular technicians, whose duties involve performing echocardiograms, or sonograms of the hearts of patients
- Dialysis technicians who are trained to operate dialysis equipment for people with failing kidneys
- Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who work with the fire department or ambulance teams to care for patients needing transport to the hospital
- Radiology and ultrasound technicians whose job is to administer x-rays, ultrasounds, CAT scans and MRIs for patients
- Surgical technicians who are part of the surgical team and assist in preparation for the surgery, performing the surgery and caring for patients after the procedures.
In addition to these positions, other medical technicians specialize in the dentistry, pharmacy or veterinary fields. With so many different specialization options, an aspiring medical technician can find a position well suited to his or her interests and abilities.
Due to the broad range of positions that medical technicians occupy, the work environment varies widely. Medical technicians who administer direct patient care work in doctors’ offices, hospital operating rooms, rehabilitation facilities and other healthcare settings. Those who work in hospitals enjoy the opportunity to have a flexible schedule that includes evenings, nights, weekends and on-call shifts. Medical technicians who work in clinical laboratories can be located in hospitals, physicians’ offices, private medical diagnostic labs, government agencies and blood banks.
Most medical technicians work under supervision. Those who work in laboratories do so under the supervision of medical technologists, while those who work in direct patient care do so under the supervision of doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers.
The type of education required depends on the field of specialty. In general, most medical technicians usually need to obtain, at the minimum, an associate degree from an accredited school. This is true for laboratory positions as well as positions in diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasound and radiologic technology. Some technician positions require a bachelor’s degree, while other positions (such as in medical records) may only technically require a high school diploma and on the job training (such as in medical records) or attendance in a certificate program. However, in today’s job market, technician candidates striving for any position may find their employment prospects improved by acquiring an associate degree at minimum.
The coursework varies as well depending upon the focus of the technician, but will generally be heavy on sciences, covering such subjects as biology, chemistry, anatomy, microbiology, hematology, phlebotomy, and immunology. Many training programs are offered for students just out of high school, and these students who are interested in becoming medical technicians should have high school coursework that focus on the sciences, including biology, chemistry, math and computer science.
Further training and skills are usually acquired on the job after completing the basic classroom education. Professional conferences and continuing education courses provided by professional organizations also offer additional education and training. Some hospitals provide further training on site.
Licensing and/or Certification
Most states require medical technicians to be certified/licensed. Details should be obtained through the local state board or department of health. The certification and/or licensing depend on the field of interest. Some information about certification can be obtained from the nationally and internationally recognized certification agency known as the American Medical Technologists. As part of the job, certification must be maintained and updated periodically, which varies depending on the specialty.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
All medical technicians need to have an aptitude for and an interest in science. Many of these positions are not for the faint of heart.
Those who work in direct patient care usually have a strong desire to help people and should exhibit emotional maturity in order to be effective. They must also use good judgment to know when a patient is having problems that are beyond a technician’s capabilities and training to address. EMTs need to be able to make quick, decisive judgments in emergency situations. They should be able to function well in high-pressure environments and be in good physical shape so as to transport patients and perform procedures such as CPR.
Technicians who do not work in direct patient care share many of the essential skills and qualities, though direct interaction with patients will not be necessary. They must feel fully comfortable with complex and evolving technology. And these technicians must possess excellent attention to detail.
Excellent teamwork and communication skills are essential for all medical technicians as they interact with peers and supervisors such as doctors and other healthcare providers.
Opportunities for Advancement
Medical technicians who pursue further training and certification can specialize in fields like the analysis of skin samples for cancer and performing vascular ultrasound. This type of specialization is one way to increase marketability in the work force as well as the rate of compensation. Certification and educational requirements vary based on the field of specialization.
Some medical technicians go on to become medical technologists by completing a four-year undergraduate program in medical technology or a related field. Others may also decide to pursue higher degrees in the sciences, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, or may even enroll in medical school. Having work experience in medical laboratories or patient care is a good stepping-stone towards an advanced career in healthcare.
If you would like to gain the necessary education to become a medical technician, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.
Salary and Job Outlook
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Medical technician salaries vary depending on the specialty, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall average annual salary for health technicians is $45,060 as of May 2014. The BLS states that the median salary for a cardiovascular technologist is $54,330, for an EMT it is $31,700 and for a surgical technician it is $43,350 in May 2014.
The job outlook for medical technicians is very positive. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, job growth between 2012 and 2022 for health technicians and technologist broadly will be 24%. For cardiovascular technologists, growth is expected to be 39%. For EMTs it is predicted to be 23%, and for surgical technicians 30%. All of these growth rates are much higher than the average job growth rate; jobs in all medical technician specialties are predicted to increase to varying degrees faster than average.