If you are interested in entering the health care field, you can begin your involvement while still in high school. Most hospitals, nursing homes, mental health centers, and other treatment facilities have volunteer programs that allow you to explore the health care environment and gain insight into medicine and patient care. You may be able to get a paid part-time or summer position working as a nurse's aide or home health care helper. In addition to these possibilities, ask your school counselor or a science teacher to help you arrange for a special procedures technologist to give a career talk to interested students. You may also be able to meet a special procedures technologist by contacting a local hospital or imaging center and asking for an information interview with this person. Another possibility is to ask if you can spend part of a day "shadowing" the individual in the workplace.
Special procedures technologists' duties vary depending on the training they have with specific diagnostic equipment and testing procedures. Job requirements also vary with the degree of assistance required for certain testing and diagnostic procedures.
Radiologic technologists operate equipment that creates images of a patient's body tissues, organs, and bones for the purpose of medical diagnoses and therapies. These images allow physicians to know the exact nature of a patient's injury or disease, such as the location of a broken bone or the confirmation of an ulcer. Technologists position a patient for examination, immobilize them, prepare the equipment, and monitor the equipment and the patient's progress during the procedure.
Diagnostic medical sonographers, or sonographers, use advanced technology in the form of high-frequency sound waves similar to sonar to produce images of the internal body for analysis by radiologists and other physicians.
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer chemicals known as radiopharmaceuticals (radioactive drugs) used in the diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases. These drugs are administered to a patient and absorbed by specific locations in the patient's body, thus allowing technologists to use diagnostic equipment to image and analyze their concentration in certain tissues or organs. Technicians also perform laboratory tests on patients' blood and urine to determine certain body chemical levels.
An angiographer is a special procedures technologist who assists with a procedure called an angiogram, which shows any changes that may have occurred to the blood vessels of the patient's circulatory system. The special procedures technologist may assist with many aspects of this test. Similarly, some special procedures technologists may assist cardiologists with the invasive procedure called cardiac catheterization by correctly positioning the patients and explaining to them the procedures performed. They may also monitor and document the patients' vital signs such as blood pressure and respiration and enter that information directly into a computer that controls testing procedures.
Some special procedures technologists assist with CT scanning (also known as CAT scanning), which combines X-rays with computer technology to create clear, cross-section images that provide more details than standard X-rays with minimal radiation exposure. The CT technologist might enter data into the scanner's computer control, which includes the type of scan to be performed, the time required, and the thickness of the cross section. The technologist might also observe and reassure the patient while the testing procedure is performed.
Another imaging procedure called MRI produces the most detailed and flexible images among the various imaging techniques. A special procedures technologist often assists with this procedure by explaining the test to the patient and making certain that the patient is not carrying any metal objects that could be hazardous to the patient during the test and could also damage the equipment. The MRI technologist might enter the necessary data, such as patient information, the orientation of the scan, and the part of the body to be scanned into the computer. The technologist might initiate the scan and observe the patient through a window in the control room and on a closed-circuit video display, while maintaining voice contact and reassuring the patient.
Other special procedures technologists include bone densitometry technologists, cardiovascular-interventional technologists, mammographers, quality management technologists, medical dosimetrists, and radiation therapists.