MRI Tech: From 'No Clue What I Wanted to Do' to 'Hooked'

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Joseph Seibert, MRI tech ambassador, stands in front of an MRI machine
MRI techs and other medical imaging specialists like Joseph Seibert have little difficulty finding jobs. 'We are highly trained and always needed.' (Credit: Courtesy Joe Seibert)

Joseph Seibert's story starts with a familiar refrain: When he got out of high school, he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. After he tried a few jobs after high school, it became clear what he did want: a stable job with a future. 

He found that and more in medical imaging. He's been a registered technologist since 2000 when he graduated from Keiser College in Florida.
He has worked his way up to become the chief technologist and tech manager for Precision Imaging Centers and their four locations in Florida. He's responsible for all the imaging modalities at the centers — MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed tomography), X-ray, mammography, ultrasound and bone density — and he also provides quality control and protocol management between the radiologists and the technologists.

The 47-year-old's career path is a great example of how life can go from question mark to question answered in a flash.

Did you always want to become an MRI tech?

My story of how I got into medical imaging came after some stormy post-high school job experiences. I graduated from high school in 1991 in Long Island, New York, and shortly after moved to Boca Raton in South Florida to expand my horizons with a few high school friends. They opened a construction company and I worked with them doing roofs and concrete work while trying to get my associate degree. 

At that time I had no clue what I wanted to do. My job had no benefits or insurance. It also didn’t pay very well. I decided to move on and worked retail jobs to pay for school and living expenses. I worked in a few retail supervisory positions, but I was let go suddenly for things out of my control. I was quickly coming to the conclusion that I needed a real skill that would keep me employed for a lifetime and allow me to provide for a family in the future without the fear of having the carpet pulled out from underneath me. I decided healthcare was where I wanted to be.

I loved to work out and stay healthy, so my first consideration was physical therapy. I applied for the program and was told there was a waiting list but that X-ray technology was a growing field. I decided to observe at the local hospital for a day to see what the job entailed. 

I watched the X-ray techs work fast, independently and with teams consisting of doctors and members of the hospital. I was hooked!

I was amazed with the whole process — the patient interaction and the tech's ability to calm a person who was hurt and scared, having doctors and nursing staff all working together to treat someone, and watching the tech take great X-rays that helped decide these patients' futures. After one day I knew I wanted to spend my life doing it.

To me the key to longevity in any career is to always strive to be better than you were yesterday through constant training and interpersonal relationships. For the last 20 years in this field, I've worn many different hats. I spent the first couple of years mastering X-ray, working in fluoroscopy rooms, working in trauma ERs, and in the operating room with C-arms [imaging scanner intensifiers]. I went on to learn and get registered in CT, and then MRI, as well as serve in supervisory roles for the next eight years.

By this point, I was married and with a growing family, so we picked up and moved north to Jacksonville, Florida. I was able to purchase a new home and I found a job online while still living in South Florida. I was surprised how easy it was to find a job. I have never had a hard time securing employment in this field so far, but I was hired sight unseen without an interview at top dollar just for my license and advanced certificates in MRI and CT!

I have since moved on from that position but only into higher paying and more advanced positions. That to me is the greatest thing about our field: We are highly trained and always needed. We keep a competitive wage due to the constant need and the ability to do our jobs anywhere at all hours of the day.

(MRI technician is one of SkillPointe's highest-paying trade school jobs that don't require a four-year degree.)

What does a typical day for an MRI technician look like?

A typical day for me is kind of blended between scanning in MRI and handling management duties. I love to scan and honestly need patient interaction, but I’m also needed to guide other technologists, answer referring physicians’ questions and help the radiologists get the best imaging.

What do you like most about your job? And least?

What I love about my job is that it's very fluid. I can be doing an MRI one day then fill in for another tech and do CT, X-ray, or bone density scans. If I don't like where I work or feel like I'm losing my passion at one facility, I can always find work somewhere else.

The least favorite thing about my job can be the time I get to spend with patients. As reimbursement for exams keeps going down, it proportionally decreases exam times, forcing you to push more patients through the schedule, so you have less interaction.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

The most common misconception about our field is that we just push buttons. That couldn't be farther from the truth. We have honed our skills and are asked to seek out, measure and mark areas of pathology. We are consistently asked by referring physicians for our opinions on the correct exams to perform to show the injury in the best way. 

(Entrepreneurial thinking is a key skill  of MRI technicians.)

What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

I only wish I wouldn't have waited seven years after high school to enter the field. I’m 20 years in and I still love it! 

What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

Some qualities I think are important to have in this field are compassion, knowledge/understanding, the ability to know when you've made a mistake so that you can learn from it, and confidence. That’s the confidence to know you’re providing the best possible patient care and imaging for the patient, because for the most part, you will be working independently.

What are some of the risks and rewards of the work you do?

We can't all know everything, and there’s always going to be someone smarter with more experience. The risk is making mistakes, and being that we are in the medical field it can affect a patient's outcome. Know when to ask questions or hear someone else’s point of view, even if you think you’re the smartest person in the room.

As for rewards, you get to help people. This job is rewarding everyday. Helping a claustrophobic patient get through an MRI or making a nervous child smile during an X-ray when they are hurt is priceless. We often don't see people at their best but when they leave happy, it makes your job worth it.

Is there a time when you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?

The times I’m able to get a person through their worst fear of claustrophobia in order to get life-saving treatment. I have seen many times throughout my career a crucial finding picked up on an MRI — and not CT or X-ray — that has changed their treatment.

Why would you recommend that someone go into this line of work?

I have recommended this line of work many times. I feel a great amount of satisfaction — from the patients I get to help and by always having a job that pays well to take care of family. In 20 years, I have never feared not having or getting a job. The ability once you have your X-ray license and being able to do so many other things with on-the-job training — there will always be options.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

If I wasn't in this line of work I would probably want to be in information technology. I love computers, and that’s a big part of our job now.

(MRI technician is just one of the rewarding, hands-on jobs that use algebra.)

Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

I plan on teaching more. I want to help the next generation of technologists get into the field. 

Can you describe one particular moment or day on the job that gave you real satisfaction?

I was working in CT and still relatively new. I had a patient come in for a CT abdomen and pelvis with contrast. I prepared for her scan by taking her history: Not pregnant, abdomen pain and bloating. She even joked that her husband said the way her belly made noise and moved that she had an alien in there! 

I proceeded with the scan only to notice that she was pregnant — and not by a little. The most surprising thing about it was that when I asked prior to the scan about being pregnant, she seemed a little upset. She had told me that she and her husband had been trying for 10 years to no avail, and even had in vitro twice. She also said that she had given up and was going to start taking care of her issues. That’s why she was there for the CT scan. 

After I stopped the scan I quickly got the doctor and we all went in to talk with the patient. She was overwhelmed to say the least — with confusion and joy and she hugged us both while crying. This patient turned out to be eight months pregnant and she had a baby girl two weeks later without complications. She also wrote a letter to the hospital thanking the radiologist and myself.

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