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The Healthcare ‘Techs’ Boom

  • Article by:Health Career Center

You don’t have to drop out of Harvard, open a start-up in Brooklyn, or move to Silicon Valley to cash in on the boom in healthcare ‘techs.’  All it usually takes is an associate’s degree.        

Vascular technologists, diagnostic medical sonography technologists, and cardiovascular technologists and technicians earned an average of $63,630 a year in 2015, that’s about 38% more than the average salary for someone with an associate’s degree. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2024 the demand for these jobs will jump by 24%.

Though the income is remarkable for the educational requirements, that’s not the only reason careers as healthcare techs are hot.

“I wanted to move to a field where I can make a difference for people,” says Julie Lehocky, who after several years as an office manager, is switching careers and finishing her training in diagnostic medical imaging sonography (ultrasound) at the College of DuPage, a two-year community college in suburban Chicago.  “You’re the first one who can see an abnormality and provide the physician with those images so he or she can diagnose and treat a condition that could be fatal.”

For Edward Dawson, a cardiovascular technician at Pomona Valley Medical Center in Pomona, CA, it’s the challenges that keep him on the job after 27 years.

“The test may be the same but the patient is always different,” he says.  “I never know when I’m going to see something abnormal on an EKG and have to flag a doctor.  And stress tests can be very dangerous for patients so you really need to have your wits about you every time you do one.”

In addition to conducting ultrasound exams in obstetric, vascular, cardiac, or other environments, or performing electrocardiogram and stress tests, some techs also can work closely with cardiologists in the operating room.  These cardiovascular technologists assist in cardiac catheterizations that repair blocked arteries.

Healthcare tech careers usually require an associate’s degree from an accredited program at a junior or community college. The two-year degree, which requires a high school diploma or equivalent and college-level pre-requisites, focuses on math and science. The regimen concludes with 800-1000 hours of clinical training. Students usually find it impossible to maintain a full-time work schedule while completing the clinical phase.

With the degree and credential in hand, the tech starts his or her job search.  No matter where healthcare techs and technologists work, they generally put in a five-day, 40-hour week that can include evenings or weekends. The job search could lead to a physician’s office, a medical laboratory, or a diagnostic imaging or outpatient care center, but most techs work in hospitals.

“Hospitals have the funds to pay for the most up-to-date equipment,” says Dawson.  “Not only are you working with the best machines, but at a hospital you are also presented with the biggest, most interesting challenges.”

Sonography student Lehocky sees another advantage to hospital employment.

“I’m looking to be hired by a hospital because right off the bat I want lots of variety and lots of experience in performing different kinds of ultrasound examinations.  You can only get that in hospitals,” she says.  “I want a hospital that rotates its sonography techs through vascular, abdomen, OB/GYN, and special invasive procedures. I’m learning that the industry increasingly wants techs who can do it all.” 

But “doing it all’ may be a problem for sonography and vascular technologists.  Their jobs often result in a high percentage of musculoskeletal workplace injuries as they bend, turn and stretch to scan a patient while holding a heavy transducer and cord. Two studies have found that 90% are scanning in pain. Over the last few years, however, several companies have developed ergonomic furniture and other resources for sonographers designed to address the problem.

If you are considering embarking on a career as a healthcare technician or technologist, Lehocky has a suggestion: Make sure you understand the job before you jump into your associate’s degree. Shadow a tech for a day to get a real sense for the work.

Then jump. And be a ‘tech’ start-up.