Becoming an Magnetic Resonance Technologist (MRI) - Education & Certification

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) represented the next generation of medical imaging technology. Where potentially hazardous x-rays were once the only way for us to see inside human bodies—short of performing surgery—we are now able to take clear, useful photos of every part of the human anatomy using an MRI. These sophisticated and expensive machines are only entrusted to those that learn how to use them: MRI technologists.

An MRI technologist (MRI tech) is responsible for situating patients whose doctors have deemed it necessary that they get an MRI. Reasons for MRIs range from something as simple as a bad sprain to life-threatening internal injuries. MRI techs explain the MRI process to the patients and prepare them for the machine. Then, they position the patient in a way that allows them to take useful images of their injuries. Once the images are made, MRI techs use their experience to help physicians to interpret these images and diagnose injuries and illnesses that are living under the surface of the skin.

MRI technologists are essential to the hospital setting as they allow greater insight into human issues that doctors could ever get on their own. MRIs are non-invasive and extremely effective, meaning MRI techs are in high demand around the country.

Read on to learn more about how to become an MRI tech.

Skills & Traits of a Successful MRI Tech

As with any career that requires a good deal of patient interaction, an MRI tech should be good at talking—and listening—to people. People who have never had an MRI before may need a lot of reassurance and patience in order to be comfortable. Other patients may be in extreme discomfort already and will need a good deal of compassion.

The physical aspects of the job are not as demanding as some other medical technology careers, but MRI techs should still be comfortable standing for long periods and working around heavy machinery. MRI techs need to be able to interpret images from the MRI machine, meaning that attention to detail is also an important skill for them to have. This is, of course, in addition to being able to both learn and recall the intricacies of human anatomy that will be essential in these interpretations.

Role Requirements of an MRI Tech

The gold standard to becoming an MRI tech is holding certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), but there are alternative pathways.

The minimum level of education required to become an MRI technologist (assuming they do not want to pursue ARRT certification) is an accredited certificate program from a community college or hospital. These programs, which can last anywhere from a few months to about a year, teach the basics of MRI technology to those with at least a high school diploma or GED. It should be noted that an MRI certificate is not enough to make one eligible to sit for the ARRT exam.

The majority of new MRI techs have an academic degree (specifically an associate or bachelor’s degree) in MRI technology and certification from ARRT. Though certification is also available from the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist (ARMRIT), this certification is not quite as common.

MRI technologists can go on to have supervisory roles in hospitals once they have gained experience in the field. The amount of experience necessary in order to become a supervisor will be dependent on many factors, including the size of the staff and the demand for MRI services.

Steps to Becoming an MRI Tech

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

MRI tech programs typically require students to have completed high school or obtained a GED in order to be eligible for admission. Students who wish to pursue a career as an MRI tech should focus on science and math classes while in high school. Additionally completing AP classes and earning college credit by taking the related AP tests will give students a head start on their college education.

Step 2A: Complete an Accredited MRI Tech Education Program (One to Four Years)

Many professionals in this field have earned an associate degree. However, some students choose to complete a bachelor’s degree program as this increases employability and opportunities in leadership.

Students should ensure the program they complete is accredited as this ensures a minimum quality of education and is typically required for certification. There are several accrediting agencies for MRI Tech programs including the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (AMRIT), and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Step 2B: Complete Clinical Work Experience (Optional, One to Two Years)

A clinical apprenticeship as an MRI tech may be substituted for education for those pursuing ARMRIT certification. Applicants must provide documentation of 2,000 hours at a certified apprenticeship. Those not pursuing ARMRIT may still find an apprenticeship or clinical work experience to be a valuable asset when applying for work.

Step 3: Obtain Certification (Timeline Varies)

While certification is not required to work as an MRI tech, the reality is very few employers will hire someone without one. There are two main certifications (detailed below): ARRT and ARMRIT. Both certifications require students to complete MRI tech studies and pass an exam.

Step 4: Obtain State Licensure (Optional, Timeline Varies)

MRI techs are only required to be licensed in New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Licensing is done on a state by state basis and applicants should contact their local boards to learn about testing and education requirements.

MRI Certification Requirements – ARRT, ARMRIT

The two main certifying bodies for MRI Tech are the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist (ARMRIT). Requirements for each certification vary.

American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) – MRI Tech Certification

For those interested in earning their certification from ARRT, there are two pathways. In order to be eligible for the primary certification pathway, students must attend and complete an educational program that has earned accreditation from a recognized body. Students interested in the primary certification pathway must also earn an academic degree from that institution, which could be an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or postgraduate degree. For the primary pathway, certification programs will no longer be accepted in order to sit for the ARRT exam.

The ARRT also offers a post-primary pathway to certification. In order to be eligible for this path, individuals do not need to have completed an accredited MRI educational program. Rather, they must meet ethics requirements, document their clinical MRI experiences, and must hold ARRT registration in radiography, nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy, or sonography. Nuclear medicine technology registration from the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB) is also acceptable for this requirement, as is the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) registration for the sonography requirement.

American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist (ARMRIT) – MRI Tech Certification

Those pursuing an ARMRIT certification have several paths they can pursue. They can complete an accredited MRI program, complete 2,000 apprenticeship hours from an MRI technologist registered apprenticeship program, or transfer from a field related to MRI technology and provide proof of at least 1,700 hours of MRI clinical experience. Once documentation of education or work experience is verified, applicants can sit for the ARMRIT exam.

State Licensing for MRI Techs

Furthermore, some states have their own separate licensing requirements. In some instances, ARRT offers state-specific examinations that are approved by local governing bodies in order to allow MRI technologists to work in that particular state.

The ARRT website provides a list of state licensing contacts that are available for consultation about the licensing requirements in that state. As mentioned above, MRI techs are required to be licensed in New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Most states do not have any licensing or certification requirements for MRI techs, though employers still often demand some type of certification or credential.

In general, once an MRI technologist becomes certified, he or she can begin looking for entry-level jobs as an MRI tech. Some common job titles for this stage of the career might include:

  • Staff technologist
  • MRI technologist
  • MRI specialist

Career Outlook for MRI Techs

MRI techs earn a median annual salary of $61,240, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019). Employment is projected to grow 11 percent nationally between 2018 and 2028. This growth is largely due to an aging population in the US and an increase in medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.

With some experience, good MRI techs can advance to higher roles in the hospital or clinical setting, such as lead MRI technologist, MRI supervisor, or senior staff technologist. These advanced positions may find technologists supervising other MRI techs and taking on more administrative roles at their facility. It is easier to find these more advanced titles and roles in larger hospital settings where there is a bigger staff as opposed to smaller outpatient clinics and private physicians’ offices. Further, as MRI techs advance in their careers, they may have better schedules with fewer nights, weekends, and days spent on call, due to their seniority.

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson Writer

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.