The Effective Specialized Imaging Technologist

By John Pickett, ARRT (R,N), CNMT Senior Vice President of Operations

Specialized imaging services, such as Nuclear Medicine (NM), Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography (PET/CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computed Tomography (CT), are growing at a strong pace due to an increased demand in hospitals around the country. Specialized technologists operate these machines with precision and expertise gained from advanced training beyond general radiography. One of the major challenges over the last several years for technologists is keeping up with the rapid advances in imaging technology and the constantly evolving capabilities of imaging software and imaging protocols. Hospitals continue to face the task of ensuring their technologists keep up with the necessary advanced training and services required for their specialties.  In addition to the necessity for advanced training we also believe there needs to be a clear understanding of the technologist’s unique role in the relationship between patients, physicians and imaging equipment. When properly understood, the time and the investment necessary for advanced training begins to really show its value in improved image quality, improved diagnosis and improved patient care and outcomes. 

The ability to provide the most meaningful and effective diagnosis means specialty technologists are required to stay focused and knowledgeable. Due to the frequent advances in imaging technology, continued training is often required for specialty technologists to remain valuable. Most specialty imaging technologists pursue certification from an accredited body in their specific field of expertise. While not always required, certification demonstrates a degree of professionalism and the desire to improve their advanced knowledge base. CT, MRI, NM and PET/CT technologists usually start as radiologic technologists and enter the specialty fields from an x-ray based training program. The specialty tech knows the limitations of the equipment and the strengths and weaknesses of each specialty. For example: metal in a patient’s body can create challenges (in CT) or even prevent an exam from being performed (in MRI), or be acceptable and have little effect in NM exams.

Successful specialized imaging technologists understand their key role as a member of the health care team. They are prepared and capable of explaining how the exams they perform can assist the medical team in diagnosing and treating patients. In the highly technical and rapidly changing environment found in most imaging departments, physicians are not always aware of which diagnostic tests are best selected for a particular set of symptoms. Oftentimes, physicians depend on the imaging technologist for their expertise based on the technologist’s personal interaction with the patient.  Therefore, communication, preferably face to face, between the physician and the specialty technologist is essential in pursuing a proper diagnosis.

In the past, limited availability of training was once a setback in the sense that it was inconvenient, not readily available, and oftentimes, not very practical. In recent years, however, access has expanded through the internet and distance learning. Technologists must commit and dedicate themselves to maintaining their expertise. Through the internet and online learning, many educational institutions offer seminars and other educational opportunities. Management should be supportive of these pursuits when time is available in the workday. Additionally, many professional organizations provide tools to increase a technologist’s expertise through testing and certifications established to gauge and guarantee comprehension. Maintenance and proof of continuing education (CE) is required for specialty imaging technologists.

The desire to gain further training drives a number of benefits for the technologist including better compensation, higher recognition or becoming a better educated and valued member of the medical team. As for the hospital, the registered or certified technologist in a specialty field can be expected to provide more specialized results for the care of a patient. 

Numed encourages our specialty technologists to take advantage of every opportunity for advanced training. By doing so, we can better support our partner hospitals and health systems. Our client facilities, physicians and our employees see value in such an investment. A Numed specialty technologist equipped with the latest education and information is provided the opportunity to fully practice their specialty and demonstrate their expertise in delivering a great experience when operating highly technical imaging equipment, interacting with physicians and, most importantly, serving the patients.