Many career changers discover age is no obstacle to starting over as a radiologic technologist (RT). They find employers value their maturity, stability and strong educational preparation. In addition, the experience gained during clinical rotations helps ease the transition into the new work environment.
Three latecomers to radiologic technology share their insights on the field, as well as their strategies for finding training and jobs.
Maturity Matters to Employers
Tom Coles, 45, who switched to radiology after stints as a nuclear power plant designer and manufacturing quality-control manager, speculates that his age and extended time at previous positions made him appear more stable. He didn't even have to look for a job when he finished the radiologic technology program at Massachusetts General Hospital's Institute of Health Professions (MGHIHP). Managers from both his clinical rotations invited him to apply for a job, and Brigham and Women's Hospital hired him immediately.
Former nutritionist Mary Firicano, 28, had a similar experience when she interviewed for RT positions. "I felt many of the hospitals liked a somewhat older person who is more settled in life -- maybe with kids, a house, etc. -- who won't up and leave for another state one day." She received offers from all three employers she interviewed with and now works evening shifts in the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Employers value other attributes often offered by seasoned workers, such as a strong work ethic, fit with the department and a more well-rounded background.
A Dearth of RT Programs Hinders Training
One hurdle for would-be career changers are the waiting lists for radiologic technology programs. When Firicano found that some colleges had two- to three-year waiting lists, she opted for MGHIHP's new 17-month, largely online post-baccalaureate certificate in medical imaging.
Coles took the same route when he discovered that the radiologic technology programs at Massachusetts Bay Community College and Massasoit Community College both had 350 people on their waiting lists.
Proper Transition Strategies Ensure Success
While finding an RT job can be easier than gaining the necessary credentials, Coles, Firicano and Van Travelstead, another RT career changer, built their success on a few key strategies:
- Provide a Sneak Preview: Use your clinical rotations or part-time positions to showcase your work habits and technical skills. "The techs and managers get to know you, and a lot of the interview process is not needed after that," Firicano says.
- Prepare for the Future: When knee injuries forced Travelstead to leave his position as a UPS driver at age 40, he entered the radiologic sciences program at Southern Illinois University (SIU). Over the next decade, he earned bachelor's degrees in both radiologic sciences and healthcare management, credits toward a master's degree in workforce education ("in case I wanted to teach") and an advanced degree in computed tomography/magnetic resonance imaging (CT/MRI) through a program offered jointly by SIU and Vanderbilt.
"As the biblical saying goes, I had to ‘gird my loins,'" Travelstead quips. He hoped his extensive credentials would make him an appealing candidate, ensure career longevity and open doors to management positions: "I didn't want there to be any reason for an employer not to hire me."
- Build a Reputation: Travelstead "squeezed everything" he could out of his schooling, impressing his professors in the process. He earned an academic scholarship from SIU's College of Applied Sciences and Arts as well as an award for being the top radiologic sciences student.
Not surprisingly, Travelstead found that not once, but twice, SIU radiologic sciences program director Steve Jensen, PhD, RT(R), passed his name on to employers seeking to fill vacancies. Travelstead now serves as chief MRI technologist at the Southern Illinois Orthopedic Center, where he outearns colleagues with more experience but less education.