How to Become an MRI Tech?

  • An MRI technologist is an allied health professional who uses MRI scanners to capture images of a patient’s tissues and organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a medical imaging procedure taking photographs of the insides of a patient’s body using radio waves and magnetic fields.
  • The minimum educational attainment, certifications, and licenses constitute the requirements to be an official MRI tech.

What Is an MRI Tech?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online occupational handbook puts Radiologic and MRI technologists under the same category. 

Many roles and responsibilities of rad techs and MRI techs often overlap. However, there are several critical distinctions between these two occupations.

This article intends to explain what magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists do, how aspirants can become official MRI techs, and what abilities are necessary for a career in MRI technology.

Job Description of MRI Technologists

An MRI technologist or MRI tech is an allied health professional who uses MRI scanners to photograph a patient’s tissues and organs.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a medical imaging technique for capturing images of the insides of a patient’s body using radio waves and magnetic fields.

MRI technologists work alongside doctors, usually radiologists, to treat patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS, the following is a list of tasks that MRI techs typically perform(1):

  • Operate MRI machines to conduct diagnostic imaging. 
  • Deliver standard patient care during the entire procedure.
  • Explain MRI procedures to patients.
  • Regularly check on the photographs of the region that the MRI equipment scans to confirm that all images are of high quality.
  • Administer gadolinium contrast media intravenously. Gadolinium contrast media, also known as MRI contrast media, are chemical substances that can enhance and improve the quality of MRI photographs.
  • Assess, examine, and screen patients through interviews.
  • Position the patients on the diagnostic tables.
  • Input computer data such as patient history, anatomical area to be scanned, orientation indicated, and position entry.

Healthcare professionals frequently use imaging procedures such as MRI and radiologic imaging as the first step in specifying, diagnosing, and treating various diseases.

Education

Individuals interested in becoming MRI technologists should be competent in math and physics, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking.

MRI technologists play a crucial part in the medical field, and individuals interested in the position typically begin in the field of radiology(2).

The steps below summarize the minimum education requirements for an MRI technician:

1. Pass the GED (General Educational Development) test or earn a high school diploma.

Anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, computer sciences, and algebra are excellent high school classes that prospective MRI technicians should study.

2. Finish a degree program, e.g., a bachelor’s degree or a two-year associate’s degree in the radiologic sciences or radiography.

Many medical institutions and imaging centers may require MRI technicians to have a formal educational accreditation from a Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)-accredited hospital or community college training program.

Coursework typically includes anatomy, pathology, patient care, radiation physics and protection, and image science in healthcare.

3. Enroll in a certificate program and pass the certification exam.

Passing the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) MRI program is a common pathway for those who want to become MRI techs(3).

Individuals who possess a credential in sonography from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or in Nuclear Medicine Technology from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) are eligible to pursue the ARRT certification for MRI techs.

Certification for MRI technologists is also available from the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT)(4).

Several states may also require licensure for MRI technologists(5).

4. Consider pursuing more credentials.

MRI techs who want to improve or become supervisors can look into further professional development possibilities. 

Eligible candidates may take additional classes and obtain certifications for medical technologist positions, such as sonographer, mammographer, or radiographer

Other MRI techs may pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree in radiologic technology, chemistry, nuclear medicine technology, imaging sciences, or a closely related discipline.

How to Apply to an Associate’s Program?

Most MRI associate programs require outstanding high school math and science (e.g., physics, biology, chemistry). 

MRI technologist aspirants should only consider the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART)-approved associate’s programs.

Certification, Licensing, and Role Requirements

The Bureau of Labor Statistics determines that individuals who apply for a license in MRI technology must be graduates of accredited programs(6).

Applicants must also pass a state certification exam or obtain accreditation from an accreditation agency.

ARRT Certification

The ARRT has a primary and post-primary pathway for MRI eligibility. The following are the prerequisites for the primary pathway(7):

  • An associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree from an ARRT-approved learning institution
  • A certificate or bachelor’s degree in an ARRT-recognized MRI technologist program
  • Demonstrable compliance with the ARRT standards of ethics

The post-primary pathway requires the following:

  • Obtain a certification from the ARRT, Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB), or the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)(8).
  • Completion of 16 hours of structured education in MRI technology no more than 24 months before applying for certification(9)
  • Complete the clinical experience requirement, which includes at least 125 scans in at least 21 different procedures(10)
  • Compliance with the ARRT standards of ethics(11)

The MRI tech certification exam may vary depending on the eligibility pathway. 

ARMRIT Certification

There are five paths to qualify as a candidate for the ARMRIT MRI technologist exam. Candidates should be able to satisfy one of the following eligibility requirements to be eligible as an examinee(12):

  • Pass an ARMRIT-approved certification or degree program with at least 1,000 hours of proven MRI clinical training
  • Pass an approved Registered Apprenticeship Program with at least 2,000 hours of recorded MRI clinical training
  • Pass a non-ARMRIT-approved certification or degree program that includes a minimum of one year of Allied Health Education and at least 2,000 hours of documented MRI clinical training.
  • Transfer from medical imaging or allied health field and demonstrate at least 1,700 hours of specific MRI clinical experience.
  • Acquire four years or 6,240 hours of recorded full-time MRI clinical experience or an associate degree and 2,000 hours of full-time MRI clinical experience.

The minimum educational requirements, necessary certifications, and licenses above constitute the role requirements for being an official MRI tech.

Traits, Skills, and Experience

Some traits that can be advantageous for MRI technologists are:

  • Attentive to details: MRI technologists must pay particular attention to subtleties when recording MRI scans.

An MRI technician is in charge of the image’s resolution, angle, coloring, and other parameters influencing how well the physician can interpret potential diagnoses. 

MRI techs commonly assist physicians in analyzing MRI pictures(13).

  • Good communicator: At each stage of the treatment, MRI technicians may need to explain MRI protocols and expectations to patients thoroughly. If a patient has a question regarding a procedure or a tool, MRI techs should be ready to provide straightforward responses.
  • Empathetic: Some MRI patients may worry about the MRI process, the findings of their MRI exam, or both. 

Other patients may also have pre-existing physical discomfort that prompted their doctor to request an MRI. Hence, MRI techs may need to practice empathy towards their patients. 

  • Critical Thinker: MRI technologists decide how to collect images of a patient’s organs or tissues. 

When deciding on the ideal strategy for obtaining quality images, MRI techs should discern multiple factors, such as the doctor’s objectives and the anatomical nature of the area they are documenting.

  • Healthy physique: MRI techs are frequently on their feet for extended periods during their shifts and must be able to carry patients who require assistance.

Some necessary skills for an MRI technologist include

  • Mathematical skillsMRI techs may need to administer contrast media through IVs to patients to enhance the clarity of an image. An MRI technician uses mathematical skills to determine how much contrast media a patient should receive.
  • Anatomical and medical skills: MRI techs should be knowledgeable in human anatomy, cross-disciplinary clinical experiences, and general medical and surgical concepts.
  • Technological skills: MRI techs must be competent in calibrating MRI machines, using imaging techniques, and changing the duration and intensity of MRI exposure.

Getting experience is also a crucial factor in becoming an official MRI technologist. Individuals may start their careers as radiologic or nuclear medicine technologists. 

Many MRI technologists start their careers in hospitals and outpatient diagnostic centers before moving to more specialized fields like research laboratories.

Salary and Benefits

The median annual wage for magnetic resonance imaging technologists and technicians was $77,360 in May 2021(14).

The following table describes the yearly median salary for MRI technologists who worked in the major industries in May 2021(15):

Outpatient care centers$101,020
Medical and diagnostic laboratories$77,580
Hospitals; state, local, and private$77,030
Physicians’ offices$77,210

Several benefits of becoming an MRI technologist include:

  • Depending on their educational or career background, applicants can become an MRI tech with a minimum of two years of study or six months of relevant experience.
  • Based on the data above, the position of an MRI technologist is one of the highest-paying professions in the United States.
  • There are many options for MRI technologists to extend the scope of their careers. Therefore, certified and licensed MRI techs may pursue additional credentials in related specializations.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS predicts an 8% increase in overall employment of MRI technologists from 2020 to 2030(16).

Over the decade, the BLS anticipates 20,800 job opportunities for radiologic and MRI technologists each year(17).

The job opportunities above may be due to the need to replace individuals who change careers or leave the workforce for other reasons like retirement.

As the baby-boom generation ages, there may be an increase in medical conditions requiring imaging as a diagnostic tool, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The images will need to be taken by radiologic and MRI technologists.

How Long Does It Take to Become an MRI Tech?

An individual can become an MRI tech with just two years of study or six months of relevant experience, depending on their academic background and experience.

Is It Hard to Become an MRI Tech?

Adjusting from high school to a profession as an MRI technologist may not be as difficult as some may assume.

The MRI technology coursework has no formal mathematics classes. However, MRI techs must understand mathematical equations and be able to perform basic algebraic calculations.

How Much Does an MRI Tech Make an Hour?

The BLS estimated that the mean hourly wage of MRI technologists in May 2021 was  $37.41(18).

Work Schedules

The majority of MRI technologists work full-time. Some technologists work evenings, weekends, or overnight shifts because physicians may need imaging during emergencies. 

Work Hazard

As in the case of other healthcare workers, radiologic and MRI technologists may expose themselves to infectious diseases.

Similar Occupations

The list below includes professions with job responsibilities that are similar to those of MRI technologists:

  • Cardiovascular technologists and technicians
  • Radiologic technologists
  • Nuclear medicine technologists
  • Radiation therapists
  • Medical sonographers
  • Medical equipment preparers
  • Radiologists
  • Veterinary technologists and technicians

  1. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021
    https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292035.htm
  2. How to Become an MRI Technologist
    https://online.ahu.edu/blog/become-an-mri-technologist/
  3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
    https://www.arrt.org/pages/earn-arrt-credentials/credential-options/mri
  4. How to Become a Radiologic or MRI Technologist
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-4
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Primary Eligibility Pathway Requirements
    https://www.arrt.org/pages/earn-arrt-credentials/initial-requirements/primary-requirements
  8. Education Requirements —Post-primary Eligibility Pathway
    https://www.arrt.org/pages/earn-arrt-credentials/initial-requirements/postprimary-requirements/education-requirements-postprimary
  9. Magnetic Resonance Imaging
    https://assets-us-01.kc-usercontent.com/406ac8c6-58e8-00b3-e3c1-0c312965deb2/fbc049cb-363e-4900-9e5f-c979bc33e50a/mri_se_2020_bot.pdf
  10. Specific MR Imaging Procedure Requirements
    https://assets-us-01.kc-usercontent.com/406ac8c6-58e8-00b3-e3c1-0c312965deb2/b9424817-6e70-4b21-a06d-53195440acfc/MRI%20Clinical%20Experience%20Requirements%202020.pdf
  11. Education Requirements – Postprimary Eligibility Pathway
    https://www.arrt.org/pages/earn-arrt-credentials/initial-requirements/postprimary-requirements/education-requirements-postprimary
  12. Magnetic Resonance ImagingTechnologist (MRI) Examination-New Version Candidate Handbook
    https://www.armrit.org/pdf/APP02152022.pdf
  13. 10 Misconceptions About Radiologic Technologists
    https://www.baker.edu/about/get-to-know-us/blog/10-misconceptions-about-radiologic-technologists/
  14. Pay
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-5
  15. Ibid.
  16. Job Outlook
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-6
  17. Ibid.
  18. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 29-2035 Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists
    https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292035.htm

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