Aging workforce and digital imaging exacerbate RT shortage

July 28, 2003

An aging workforce and an ongoing shift to high-tech imaging strategies could cause the technologist shortage to continue for many years, according to experts in the field. An American Hospital Association survey found a 15.3% vacancy rate for imaging

An aging workforce and an ongoing shift to high-tech imaging strategies could cause the technologist shortage to continue for many years, according to experts in the field.

An American Hospital Association survey found a 15.3% vacancy rate for imaging technologists, compared with a 13% vacancy rate for nurses and 12.7% for pharmacists.

More than 50% of both urban and rural hospitals in the AHA survey reported that recruitment for imaging technologists has become more difficult. Twenty one percent of the hospitals report a severe (greater than 20%) vacancy rate.

The RT shortage can be laid at the door of high-tech imaging.

"The shortage is related to the rapid increases in technology in this area," said Harold P. Jones, dean of the School of Health Related Professions at the University of Alabama.

The need for people with advanced imaging specialty training in digital modalities such as PET, CT, and MRI is especially acute, he said.

"Over the next decade we'll have a lot more imaging based noninvasive techniques," Jones said. "Every time you develop one of those new techniques you're going to need additional trained personnel."

A report from Solucient, a provider of healthcare guides and directories, predicts that by 2006, 67% more imaging personnel will be needed in the high-end imaging areas that go beyond basic radiologic studies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2010 the industry will need 75,000 additional RTs, 8000 nuclear medicine technicians, and 7000 radiation therapists to keep pace with retirements and to accommodate growth in imaging areas.

The shortage is approaching crisis proportions. The American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology found in a survey of 1400 plus oncology health centers that the average center had 2.6 openings for radiation therapists. Forty-one percent of the centers said that the shortages were affecting the quality of healthcare.

One reason for the RT shortage is the fact that over 50% of the workforce in this field is over the age of 40, Jones said.

"There are a lot more people closer to retirement than there are people entering the field," he said. "That, combined with increased demands, will push us more and more toward a crisis in healthcare delivery."