Career Profile: Air Force Diagnostic Imaging Technician

X-ray
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Typically referred to as radiologic technologists, enlisted imaging techs provide critical technical expertise to the Air Force medical community by operating equipment such as x-rays, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. Their work requires an intimate knowledge of human anatomy as much as it does an understanding of the technology, as they also help administer medical dyes, accurately target body structures for imaging, and in some cases even work with oncologists to deliver radiation therapy to cancer patients.

Military Requirements

The Air Force requires high school graduates or GED-holders at least 18 years old in the diagnostic imaging field. Unfortunately, further requirements are scarce out there on the 'net, but in his enlisted job description of diagnostic imaging, Rod Powers offers that when taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) hopefuls should strive for a score of 43 in general aptitude (an Air Force score composed of word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, and arithmetic reasoning.) Those already in the Air Force may seek further information at the restricted Air Force Education and Training Course Announcements website.

The Air Force requires applicants to have high school credit in algebra and either biology or general science, and further, recommends (but doesn't require) high school or college chemistry and physics coursework. No other special education is required to enlist as a diagnostic imaging technician -- you'll get plenty once you ship to your formal school assignment.

Education

Like other military healthcare careers, diagnostic imaging technicians begin their technical schooling at the massive joint-service Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Imaging specialists from the Army and Navy go there as well, but each branch conducts the course a bit differently.

Barring any delays, it takes nearly nine months to become a fully trained apprentice-level imaging technician.

Training starts with about four months (19 weeks) of academic instruction at the METC covering "basic theory of electricity, radiographic technique, film processing, digital imaging, anatomy and physiology, and theory of and special radiographic procedures and the associated equipment" according to their course description. Students are expected to maintain at least a 70 average, with 60 percent of their grade coming from written exams and the other 40 from practical application tests.

Graduates of the academic phase move on to approximately six and a half months of clinical apprenticeship out in the real world, refining their knowledge and abilities in actual patient care settings throughout the Air Force.

Later on, working Air Force imaging techs may have the opportunity to return to the METC and specialize in nuclear medicine (approximately nine months) or diagnostic ultrasound (course length unavailable at this time.) They may also specialize in the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) through locally approved courses.

Certifications and Career Outlook

In addition to an associate's degree program in diagnostic imaging technology, the Community College of the Air Force also suggests the following medical certifications are possible through a combination of military and extracurricular training:

  • Registered Diagnostic Medical or Cardiac Sonographer
  • Registered Vascular Technologist
  • Registered Ophthalmic Ultrasound Biometrist
  • Radiography, Nuclear Medicine Technology, Radiation Therapy, and MRI certification with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists

During a career in the Air Force, imaging techs may be assigned throughout the country at a variety of stations as well as overseas.

For the transition to civilian life, Air Force imaging techs will find themselves a hot commodity. According to Dawn Rosenberg McKay, "The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth for radiologic technologists will be faster than the average for all occupations through 2020," and in 2011 they enjoyed a median salary over $55 thousand. For more of her insights on civilian careers in radiologic technology.