From nuclear medicine to radiation therapy, modern medicine has evolved to use the latest technology to diagnose and treat medical problems. Long gone are the days when physicians would simply measure vital signs and make external observations before determining the right course of action. Today, MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds are a few of the tools used in doctors' offices and hospitals across the nation.
However, physicians couldn't rely on these diagnostic and treatment tools without medical technicians. These workers play a critical role in the delivery of health care, and there is significant demand for trained workers in many technical occupations. Job seekers can be ready for many technical careers in two years or less, and many positions offer above average annual wages.
Technical occupation career opportunities
All careers in health care require some level of specialized knowledge, but this is especially true for technical occupations. Medical technicians must know how to operate diagnostic and treatment machinery safely and effectively. In some cases, they may need to be able to read results, recognize problems and respond accordingly.
As the use of technology continues to expand, technicians and technologists find themselves increasingly in demand. In fact, virtually all technical careers are expected to see job growth well in excess of the average for all occupations. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average job growth for all the positions it tracks will be 11 percent from 2012-2022, technician and technologists are expected to see the following growth during that same period:
- Diagnostic medical sonographers: 46%
- Surgical technologists: 30%
- Phlebotomists: 27%
- Radiation therapists: 24%
- Radiologic and MRI technicians: 21%
How to become a medical technician
For most medical technicians, an associate degree is all that is required. However, some positions can be filled by those without a degree, and a bachelor's degree is needed for at least one job in the field. Here's a closer look at the requirements for specific technical occupations:
Non-degree postsecondary education
Phlebotomists and surgical technologists are two of the careers in health care open to those without a degree.
Phlebotomists need to complete a short-term postsecondary training program to learn how to safely draw blood for tests or transfusions. Surgical technologists typically complete a certificate program that teaches them how to correctly prepare an operating room and assist during surgical procedures.
An associate degree can typically be completed within two years and offers medical technicians a comprehensive review of all the skills and knowledge necessary for their position. Should a technician wish to go on to earn a bachelor's degree in the future, credits from an associate degree are often transferrable.
Diagnostic medical sonographers, nuclear medical technologists, radiation therapists and radiologic and MRI technicians are all careers in health care requiring an associate degree. Of these, radiation therapists are the most highly compensated, earning average annual incomes of $83,710 in 2014 according to the BLS.
While a bachelor's degree is unnecessary for most technical occupations, medical and clinical laboratory technologists may need a four-year degree. These professionals use laboratory equipment to analyze bodily fluids and tissue samples, work which requires higher education to complete properly.