The nationwide shortage of health care workers is drawing more students to the field, but many are being turned away by schools that have limited space in their programs.
The field in highest demand is radiology. A radiologic technician is responsible for administering and assisting with tests that utilize heavy radiation for medical imaging. Positions in this field have a vacancy rate of 15 percent, higher than that of registered nurses, according to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists. The shortage is expected to last through 2010, ASRT reported.
Anne Rutz, clinical coordinator at Rolla Technical College and president of the Missouri American Society of Radiologic Technologists, said the shortage could be traced to an increase in the average age of technologists. They are retiring faster than new people can fill their spots, she said.
The problem is not a shortage of prospective students; there is simply not enough room in radiologic training programs. Schools in mid-Missouri can only have a limited number of students at clinical sites, said Patricia Tew, director of the radiography program at MU.
“We can’t have 10 where only one will learn,” she said.
Students must be able to perform the exams to pass the tests. If they can’t practice doing the exams, they won’t be able to complete the requirements, she said.
Tew said MU has only 12 spaces for students in the radiography program. Last year, Rolla Technical College had 80 applications for 20 spots, according to Rutz.
State Fair Community College in Sedalia started a radiologic technology program last August for students to earn an associate’s degree. They have had 101 applicants for the 18 spots in next year’s class, said Carla Allen, director of the program.
Training programs range in length from one to four years. The most prevalent is a two-year associate’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At MU, a student earns his or her bachelor of health science degree over four years. During the first two years, the student fulfills general education requirements and applies for the program before his or her junior year. Once accepted into the program, a student begins taking professional radiography courses and begins clinical instruction at one of the area hospitals.
Students may choose to enter a specialty within the field. Tew said students interested in CT scanning or MRI testing can take specific courses and participate in additional four-month internships to receive a certificate of completion in the area of specialty.
Allen said the immediate need for technologists in Missouri has eased, but it is still a problem.
Boone Hospital has two openings for radiologic technologists, said Lynn Hostetler, spokesman for Boone Hospital.
“We went for almost a year without openings. There appears to be more supply than there was previously,” he said.
At University Hospital there is only one vacant position, said Monica Moore, media relations coordinator for University Hospital.
“We are in great shape,” Moore said. “We have the least amount of openings compared with other institutions.”
The influx of jobs in the field of technology and computers over the past decade is one reason for the shortage, Allen said. Fewer people were entering the health care field because of the technology boom.
“People could make better money in an environment where the work isn’t as physical,” Allen said.
Rutz said she sees salary as part of the problem. The training required for a radiologic technologist takes the same amount of time as it does to become a registered nurse. People might choose nursing over radiology because RNs are typically paid more than radiologic technologists. But she said the pay scale has improved dramatically over the past two years.
The average pay for radiologic technologists in Missouri ranges from $34,965 to $68,640, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.
But the decreased number of workers means technologists have to work even harder for their money. Shortages result in extra shifts that often last longer, Rutz said.
“There is a lot more technologist burnout,” Allen said. “They are working overtime jobs and sometimes two or three jobs.”
When technologists work extra hours and multiple jobs, it can take a toll on patient care as well.
“Technologists are working while they are tired and aren’t going to do as good of a job as they would if they were well-rested,” Allen said.
Not having adequate numbers of technologists can also make moving a patient during a test more risky, she said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated the nation will need 70,000 radiologic technologists by 2010. Without enough technologists, patients could see an increased wait time for tests such as mammograms, X-rays, MRIs and CT scans.