Are you interested in math and technology? Do you have strong communication skills and enjoy helping others? Is attention to detail one of your strong suits? And would you like to channel those skills and interests into a stable career with a solid income?
If so, you may want to pursue a career as an MRI technician, also known as an MRI technologist. In this guide on how to become an MRI technician, we’ll share information about the job, what it takes to get started, pros and cons, and the overall job outlook.
What Do MRI Technicians Do?
MRI technicians operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners—big, tube-like machines that use a magnetic field and radio waves to make detailed images of patients’ organs, tissues, and skeletal systems. These images help doctors diagnose conditions ranging from torn ligaments to tumors.
On an average day, MRI technicians:
- Conduct screening interviews of patients
- Prepare patients for image scans and explain procedures
- Help patients feel calm and comfortable
- Correctly position, and sometimes sedate, patients to ensure clear images of the correct area of the body
- Remove and replace IVs and catheters for the MRI
- Monitor patients and MRI equipment
- Capture images
- Recognize abnormalities and irregularities in images
- Work with the doctors and radiologists who read the images
MRI technicians work in diagnostic imaging centers, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Some work in community colleges, where they teach students about MRI technology.
Most MRI technicians work standard full-time hours, from nine to five on weekdays. Some nights and weekends may be required for those who work at clinics offering emergency services. If you’re interested in healthcare but concerned about marathon shifts, working as an MRI technician can provide more work-life balance.
Education and Training: How to Become an MRI Technician
Education and training requirements for MRI technicians vary by state. You’ll need an associate degree, certificate, or diploma in MRI technology from a trade school or community college.
In general, here’s how to become an MRI technician:
- Graduate from high school.
- Complete an accredited associate degree program in MRI technology or radiography, or earn an associate degree, then complete an MRI tech training program. (Most training programs require you to have an associate degree.)
- Pass a certification test* (most commonly from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists). Certification is not technically required by the field, but many employers prefer or require it.
- In some states, receive a state license.
If you want to prepare for advancement in your career, pursuing a bachelor’s degree is another option. With a bachelor’s degree, you can eventually become an MRI specialist, radiologic department manager, or chief radiologic technologist.
Now, let’s take a closer look at programs, internships, and how long it takes to become an MRI technician.
MRI Technician Programs
MRI technician programs teach you the essential skills needed to excel in this career. You’ll take introductory medical classes like human anatomy, patient care fundamentals, ethics, and medical terminology. Then, you’ll learn more advanced techniques and clinical applications for MRI technicians.
Most MRI tech programs take one to two years to complete, and they offer a combination of classroom learning and hands-on training in a clinical setting. They’re typically run through colleges, community colleges, and hospitals.
Some examples of accredited MRI tech programs and schools (in no particular order) include:
- Forsyth Technical Community College
Located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Forsyth Technical Community College is one of the nation’s best schools for getting an associate degree in MRI technology. The two-year program includes clinical rotation in medical centers, community hospitals, and outpatient imaging centers.
Graduates of Forsyth Tech’s program have a 93% pass rate on the national certification exam and a 100% job placement rate within 12 months of graduation. In-state tuition is $5,320 and out-of-state tuition is $18,760.
- Midwestern Career College
Midwestern Career College is based in Chicago and offers an 80-week associate degree in MRI technology. The private college’s MRI tech program includes an 810-hour externship. Tuition is $7,900 per term, and the clinical externship costs $7,800.
- Lansing Community College
Located in Lansing, Michigan, Lansing Community College is a public college that offers another of the country’s top associate degree programs in MRI tech. The 16-month program is delivered online, and clinical education courses are arranged in partnership with affiliated hospitals, clinics, and other MRI provider facilities.
- Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts
Gurnick Academy’s 18-month associate degree program in MRI technology has locations in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida. It includes 246 hours of general education instruction, 620 hours of technical didactic instruction, and 1,020 hours of supervised clinical experience. However, the program cost is steep, with a total price tag of at least $40,000 (depending on location). Gurnick Academy does offer a variety of scholarships and other forms of financial aid.
- Casa Loma College
A private not-for-profit college in Van Nuys, California, Casa Loma College offers an associate degree in MRI technology. The 22-month program offers online classes, but students are required to be on campus every Saturday for “theory days.” Students also gain 1000 total hours of clinical experience.
- Career Networks Institute
Career Networks Institute (CNI College) offers a 1,746-clock hour comprehensive associate degree in MRI technology. Students take courses in anatomy, MRI pathology, college mathematics, and more, in addition to completing a 1,000-hour clinical externship. The program concludes with a capstone course focused on prep for certification exams and taking mock certification exams.
- National Polytechnic College
National Polytechnic College in Lakewood, California has both a 22-month associate degree program and an 18-month diploma in MRI technology. In addition to courses in medical/patient care skills, physics, math, anatomy, medical terminology, theory, and computer skills, students must complete a 1,040-hour clinical externship.
- West Virginia University Hospitals
Through the Center for Advanced Imaging, West Virginia University offers a one-year MRI certificate program. The program is based on WVU’s Morgantown campus and includes both didactic and clinical education. Tuition is $2,000 per semester.
- Casper College
Casper College’s 10-month MRI certificate program features clinical locations in Douglas, Gillette, Sheridan, Rawlins, Lander, and Casper. It costs $145 per credit for residents and $355 per credit for non-residents.
- Galveston College
Designed to be completed after obtaining an associate degree, Galveston College’s MRI technology certificate program is available either online or on campus in Galveston. The one-year, 31-credit program consists of two semesters of courses and required clinical training hours. Courses include MRI safety, anatomy, physics, MRI equipment, and special topics in MRI. Texas residents pay $180 per credit, while non-residents pay $480 per credit.
MRI Technician Internships
MRI technicians with clinical experience are more prepared for the job, and they’re more competitive applicants. In most cases, you’ll gain the necessary experience through your MRI technician program.
Accredited MRI tech programs require an internship or clinical apprenticeship, along with hands-on experience like labs and clinical workshops. You’ll work alongside an MRI technician to develop your skills and gain more insight into your future career.
Otherwise, you can seek clinical experience on your own. There’s no required number of experiential hours to get certified as an MRI technician, but experience can prepare you for the certification exam and the job. Plus, employers are more likely to hire a tech with on-the-job experience.
How Long Does It Take to Become an MRI Technician?
Depending on what path you take to becoming an MRI technician, it takes about two or two and a half years to get certified and land a job.
The fastest route is to find a program that combines an associate degree with MRI technician training. Otherwise, you’ll need to first earn an associate degree (up to two years), then complete a separate training program (six months to one year at minimum).
That may sound like a lot of time, but it’s only half the time required for a four-year college degree. And as you’ll see in the section below, MRI technicians make more than many of their college graduate counterparts. If MRI tech sounds like a good fit for you, spending two years to prepare for a high-earning, stable career that you’ll love is well worth it.
If you’re thinking about pursuing this career path, you probably want to know about the career outlook for MRI technicians.
Is it a stable, in-demand job? How much money will you earn? In this section, we’ll answer these questions and more.
Demand for MRI Technicians
There will always be demand for healthcare, so it’s one of the most stable (and growing) industries to work in. With the prevalence of chronic disease and the increasing size of the older population, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in healthcare occupations will grow 13% over the next 10 years.
Specifically, employment of MRI technicians is expected to grow about 6% from 2021 to 2031. An estimated 16,000 openings in the field are projected each year. And because it’s a specialized career, only people with the appropriate qualifications and certification can fill these roles.
If you’re looking for an in-demand job with continued stability and growth, becoming an MRI technician offers a promising career path.
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How Much Do MRI Technicians Make?
In 2020, according to U.S. News, MRI technologists earned a median salary of $74,690. The lowest-paid 25% earned $62,140, while the highest-paid 25% made $88,370. The best-paying states and districts for MRI technicians were California ($106,040), the District of Columbia ($96,100), Hawaii ($96,000), Washington ($95,850), and Alaska ($91,360). Indeed reports that in 2021, the average salary for an MRI technician was $88,490.
So, there’s some variation in reported pay for MRI technicians, but it’s clear that this career allows you to make a solid living. From lowest to highest reported salaries, you’ll earn $62,140-$106,040 annually, all while helping others and working a stable job.
According to Indeed, the most common benefits for MRI technicians include:
- 401(k) and 401(k) matching
- Continuing education credits
- Dental insurance
- Disability insurance
- Employee assistance program
- Health insurance
- Housing stipend
- License reimbursement
- Life insurance
- Loan forgiveness/loan repayment program
- Paid housing
- Paid sick time
- Paid time off
- Pet insurance
- Travel reimbursement
- Tuition reimbursement
- Vision insurance
Of course, this doesn’t mean all these benefits are guaranteed at every MRI technician job. But these are some of the benefits you might receive, and you can look for positions that provide most of the items on the list (or at least the items that most appeal to you).
Pros and Cons
When contemplating any career path, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Here are some considerations for aspiring MRI technicians:
- Shorter career path than obtaining a four-year degree
- Job security
- Competitive salary that increases with experience
- Good benefits
- More work-life balance than most healthcare jobs
- Rewarding and fulfilling career
- Physically demanding and potentially stressful
- May be in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment (depending on the type of facility you work in)
- Working with trauma patients or severely ill patients can be emotionally challenging
- Responsible for patient safety
Overall Job Satisfaction
Ultimately, job satisfaction depends on personal characteristics and preferences. If you like hands-on work, interacting with people, and caring for others, you may find work as an MRI tech highly satisfying. The career also appeals to people with an interest in math, science, and technology.
And for many people, helping others is highly rewarding. As an MRI tech, you can ensure the comfort and care of patients while achieving better work-life balance and a more flexible schedule than most healthcare occupations allow.
According to CareerExplorer, MRI techs report average levels of job satisfaction. On Payscale, the average job satisfaction rating for MRI technicians is a 4.05 out of five. But it all depends on what you want to get out of your career and whether you think MRI tech is a good fit for you.
Final Thoughts: How to Become an MRI Technician
Becoming an MRI technician provides you with job stability, a competitive salary, and good benefits. You’ll work in a healthcare setting, but with fewer hours and a better work-life balance than other jobs in the industry. It’s an excellent career for people with strong skills in communication, math, science, and technology.
If that sounds like the career path for you, here’s how to become an MRI technician:
- Graduate from high school.
- Earn an associate degree in MRI technology, or earn an associate degree in a related field and complete an MRI tech training program.
- Pass a certification exam.
- If required by your state, get your state license.
Typically, it takes about two years to complete the training necessary to become an MRI technician.
If you’re still in high school, take classes and pursue activities related to math, science, and technology to begin preparing for this career. Join a medical program if your school has one, or look for volunteer or job shadowing opportunities at local clinics and hospitals. Not only will you gain experience, but you can also gain insight on whether MRI tech is a career you’ll enjoy.
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