With technology jobs being cut or offshored, many information technology professionals are contemplating opportunities in healthcare, where advanced technology is playing an increasingly large role in diagnosing and treating patients.
One area that's drawing the interest of IT pros is radiologic technology (RT), which is expected to generate jobs at a healthy rate for several years.
So what does it take to move from IT into RT? Will your IT skills make a career transition easier? Healthcare experts say not necessarily. Moving from IT to RT represents a full-blown career change that will mean going back to school, meeting continuing-education (CE) requirements and, most importantly, developing the medical knowledge and patient-interaction skills of a healthcare professional.
"Some [RT] jobs are more computer-intensive than others," says Margaret Millar, director of patient services of diagnostic and interventional imaging at Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City. However, experts agree that RT jobs usually involve more than just staring at a computer screen.
If you've ever had an image taken of the inside of your body -- via ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging, for instance -- you have a radiologic technologist to thank for it. Radiologic technologists fall into four general areas: radiographers, sonographers, nuclear medicine technologists and radiation therapists.
While RT vacancy rates are down from the 15 percent level reported in 2001, the personnel shortage is hardly over. That's prompted many employers to woo RTs with sign-on bonuses, relocation assistance, flextime and other incentives. What's more, employment in the field is expected to grow faster than average between 2006 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sound good? Before taking the plunge, make sure RT is right for you. To start, get a basic understanding of the many careers in the field. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists' site offers basic descriptions. Consult RT professionals in different specialties. Ask why they chose their specific field and what they would do differently. Such questions will help you focus your training.
In addition, ask your local hospital or community college about job shadowing an RT for a day to get a real-life taste of what the job involves.
If, after doing this initial research, you decide to pursue a career in RT, investigate accredited RT education programs in your area through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). In most states, a two-year degree is the minimum requirement. You might be able to transfer some credits (like sociology) from your old degree, but be prepared to take anatomy, physiology, biology and other health-related courses.
Also, check the licensing requirements in your state and the CE requirements for your chosen specialty. For instance, the ARRT requires that radiographers earn 24 CE credits every two years to maintain their registered status. The ASRT has both licensing and CE information.
Johnnie Moore, MEd, RT(R), chair of the radiography program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, emphasizes that while RTs must be comfortable around advanced technology, medical and patient-interaction skills are often more important.
"You have to interact with patients, and these patients are often sick," explains Moore. "Can you cope with it if they have AIDS or some other communicable disease? What if they code while they're on the table? You're facing a life-and-death scenario. That's when your healthcare skills come into play." And if the sight of blood or wounds upsets you, this might not be the field for you, she says.
In addition, RTs can't be afraid to get up close and personal with patients. Ultrasound, for instance, "is very operator-dependent on targeting the right area [to] get a good image," says Millar. That means the ultrasound operator needs to be comfortable using the device directly on patients. "Empathy and good people skills" are a must, she says.
Bottom line: Opportunities in radiologic technology exist for IT professionals and others, but to be truly successful and effective, they must be willing to put in the due diligence required to become qualified healthcare workers.