Spotlight on Neurodiagnostic Technologists: Job Description and Career Opportunities
Neurodiagnostic Technology is staying at the forefront of new developments in contemporary medicine. The field combines science and technology to help with diagnosing neurological diseases and problems with the sleep habits of humans.
Neurodiagnostic technologists are assisting with discovering and treating abnormalities by performing noninvasive neurological tests. They are usually using an electroencephalogram or EEG machine, which records and studies electrical activity in the brain and nervous system.
To learn more about the job specification, typical working pattern and career prospect within this ever-growing field, have a read through this article.
The Importance of Neurophysiology
First of all, let’s focus on what exactly is neurophysiology and how does a trained EEG technician contribute?
Patients can be referred to a Neurodiagnostic technologist for all kinds of neurological problems that affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and related areas. Disruption to just a single neuron can affect an entire neural pathway, and the result of this can lead to complex disorders like Parkinson’s Disease and multiple sclerosis.
Though neurological conditions like epilepsy or migraines are more common than other neurological disorders, they can be just as damaging. In such cases, EEG testing is the key to early diagnosis and prevention of further complications.
Find out more about some of the major responsibilities associated with the work of neurodiagnostic techs in the following paragraph.
Caring for Patients
Understandably, hearing there may be a problem with your brain or nervous system is frightening. Being hooked up to wires and machines to test for the problem can quickly and easily provoke anxiety and fear. That’s why one of the most important elements of training to be a neurodiagnostic technologist is learning how to keep a patient calm.
The process of testing involves various stages and as an NDT Tech, you will be expected to follow certain practices throughout all of them. You must meet and greet the patient, perform the necessary tests, ensure the results are accurate and of course, be able to interpret them correctly. As patients move through the process of referral and diagnosis, the neurodiagnostic technician cares for them while also providing invaluable support to doctors.
However, before the doctor can offer a diagnosis, there are a number of important steps that neurodiagnostic techs must go through. They learn how to follow correct protocol in training, which includes tasks like:
- Recording the full medical history of a patient
- Using equipment to record electrical activity
- Calculating test results
While going about their everyday duties, the neurodiagnostic technicians must also follow the right procedure for maintaining records and equipment. Keeping these things in order helps the department run smoothly, which in turn makes the experience far less stressful for the patient.
High-Tech Testing Methods
One fascinating element of this field of allied healthcare is the number of ways in which electrical activity in the human body can be measured. EEG technologists are taught how to perform various techniques for different scenarios, which could include:
- Ambulatory monitoring (while walking)
- Brain mapping
- Long-term epilepsy monitoring
- Nerve conduction studies
- Surgical monitoring
When looking at training courses, remember to research key areas in the field to verify that the ones you are most interested in are covered in the program.
Let’s take a look at some of the different practices you might need to master:
EEG Technologist Training
Electroencephalography is perhaps the most recognized form of testing. It involves attaching electrodes to the scalp to measure activity in the brain. The result of an EEG test shows up in the form of wavy lines on a chart – we’ve all seen these on ER or Gray’s Anatomy. This allows detecting any abnormal activities and thus giving an accurate diagnosis.
Once you’re trained, you’ll be qualified to work as an EEG Technician.
Evoked Potentials (EP)
These tests deliver a stimulus to the human body and the response is monitored. If there is damage to a neurological pathway, EP tests should expose a delay or abnormality that might be too subtle for a person to recognize himself. If there is such, directing light, sound or a sensation to a particular part of the nervous system can often highlight the issue.
There are three main types of EP tests available to help diagnose a problem:
- BAEP (brainstem auditory evoked potentials): A series of clicks in each ear
- SEP (sensory evoked potentials): Short electrical pulses on one of your limbs
- VEP (visual evoked potentials): Viewing a pattern on a screen
Intraoperative Neurophysiological Monitoring (IONMs)
Undergoing surgery always involves risks. To reduce the chance for such that can result in irreversible nerve damage or even death, electrical activity can be monitored during a surgical procedure. During the course of an operation, a technician monitors electrical activity.
The American Society of Neurophysiologic Monitoring says the practice has evolved considerably in recent decades and the ultimate goal is to protect the patient. If you like the idea of working in surgery, IONMs will be of particular interest to you.
Nerve Conduction Study (NCS)
Like evoked potential tests, this test involves delivering a stimulus to a nerve. Nerve Conduction Studies are designed to test the speed of a response (or lack of such). The speed of return can indicate some form of disruption or damage to the nerve if it exists. Ultimately, this type of study tests how effective the body is at sending the necessary signals it needs to function properly.
If the nervous system sparks your interest more than the brain, this could be a good route to take.
If you’re interested in sleep disorders, polysomnography is the practice you should consider to study them.
The National Sleep Foundation lists more than 30 sleep disorders, including those that relate to abnormal behavior, sleep and wake patterns, and disease. Sleep talking, insomnia, and bed-wetting are all mentioned in their list. Studies are used to monitor brain waves during sleep, as well as responses like eye movement to try to diagnose the problem.
Neurodiagnostic Technologist Jobs
As well as having the option to work in different types of developing specializations, neurodiagnostic procedures can also be carried out in various healthcare facilities.
NDTs can work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and outpatient facilities. Each of these establishments is quite different. Neurodiagnostic Techs could be working in large or small teams, busy or quiet environments, individually or in a team with other specialists. The choice is personal and can depend on something as simple as physical location, or more complex factors, like personality and qualifications.
Besides these more conventional routes, there are also employment opportunities in other areas: sleep labs, for example. Dr. Peter Venn, a sleep disorder specialist from the UK, describes his role as one that “restores peace.” He says:
“[T]he typical patient is an ‘overweight, middle-aged bloke’ suffering from sleep apnea. But he also treats narcolepsy (when someone’s sleep/wake switch doesn’t work properly so they fall asleep during the day); obesity hypo-ventilation syndrome (where patients are very overweight and cannot breathe in or out properly, leading to a lack of oxygen, as well as carbon dioxide remaining in the body); and parasomnias, such as sleepwalking, sleeptalking, and confusional arousals (‘where people wake up still confused from sleep and see their wardrobe turning into a giant spider’).”
Neurodiagnostic Technologist Job Prospects
Even better than the diversity of choice is the fact that neurodiagnostic technologists are in high demand across the United States. In fact, Dr. Chandrashekhar Narechania, a retired surgeon who trains neurodiagnostic techs, tells us there are not enough trained NDT techs to fill the available positions.
This definitely sounds like a good reason to consider a career in Neurodiagnostics.
What About Neurodiagnostic Technologists Salaries?
Salaries are nothing but good news since Neurodiagnostic Technologists are enjoying a high income and good benefits. Salary.com suggests their mean salary is $50,994, with a salary range that’s normally between $42,832- $62,262 according to the most recent data.
The minimum Neurodiagnostic Technologist Salary has increased significantly during the past few years with more than $10,000 annual pay rise.
The social security records reveal that the average salary in the USA for 2018 was just over $52,145 per year. This means that NDT techs generally earn the average American wage while doing a job that they love.
Where to Start
Interested in becoming a neurodiagnostic tech? If so, you might be pleased to find out that the relevant training is as short as twelve months. For those of you who want to change careers or have a young family, evening courses are available so that you can work around other commitments. Keep in mind that if you choose this route, your training will take a little longer to complete.
Most programs will usually include classroom education, hands-on training in a laboratory, and a clinical internship. This way, you get the best of both worlds and the opportunity to put theory into practice. You’ll realize how important this is as soon as you’re employed and asked to perform routine tasks.
The best training programs are either approved by ABRET (American Board of Registration of Electroencephalographic and Evoked Potential Technologists) or accredited by CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs). ABRET has offered neurodiagnostic credentialing for over fifty years and leads the way in terms of professional conduct.
An NDT tech is a profession that offers diverse opportunities. So be sure to select a comprehensive training program that helps you specialize in the area that you enjoy the most.