Labor bureau predicts end for chronic tech shortage

February 12, 2008

Workforce projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest the supply of imaging and radiation oncology technologists may exceed demand by 2016, despite a flat school enrollment.

Workforce projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest the supply of imaging and radiation oncology technologists may exceed demand by 2016, despite a flat school enrollment. A study by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists suggests that, if BLS forecasts are accurate, the industry could be producing almost double the number of radiation therapists, and almost triple the number of nuclear medicine technologists, than will be necessary in the next decade. "This is indeed a dramatic turnaround from just seven or eight years ago, when the overall vacancy rate for RTs was over 15% -- higher, on percentage basis, than for nurses," said ASRT director of research Richard Harris, Ph.D., in an interview with Diagnostic Imaging. "The profession has done a great job of bringing supply and demand into closer balance, but we can't continue at the current rate of recruitment and retention in the profession without risking an oversupply situation."Information for the 2007 ASRT Enrollment Snapshot, published in December 2007, was obtained from program directors at almost two-thirds of educational programs recognized by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

The results showed:

  • An estimated 16,612 first-year students were enrolled last year in radiography programs (an increase of 1.2%).
  • 1577 were enrolled in radiation therapy programs (an increase of 3.3%).
  • 1781 were enrolled in nuclear medicine technology programs (a decrease of 1.3%).

According to the BLS estimates:

  • 56,000 additional radiographers will be needed between 2006 and 2016 (20,000 fewer than BLS projections for the 2004-2014 period).
  • 6000 more radiation therapists will be needed in the same 10-year period (1000 fewer than estimated for 2004-2014).
  • 6000 more nuclear medicine technologists will be needed to meet increased demand and attrition through 2016 (1000 fewer than indicated in the previous projections).

Several important factors could mitigate the oversupply predictions, Harris said. Among them are innovations in nuclear and molecular imaging, which could lead to more demand for practitioners in the major disciplines, the aging of the baby boomer population, which should lead to greater demand for procedures in radiologic technology, and an expected wave of retirement among practitioners who began working in the 1970s.

The ASRT's 2007 therapy staffing survey also indicates a growing demand for other imaging professionals. Vacancy rates were 10.7% for medical dosimetrists, 10.4% for radiation oncologists, and 9% for medical physicists.Harris noted that the leveling off of enrollments suggests the profession is already responding to a potential glut. "Four percent to 5% of full-time-equivalent enrollments budgeted for radiographers, and a higher percentage of FTEs for other specialties within radiologic technology, are now going unfilled," he said.Reliable data will not be available until 2010, when the ASRT's first complete set of enrollment projections can be assessed. In the meantime, ASRT analysts believe the radiologic technology specialties continue to be attractive professional options. For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:

ER-dedicated practitioners may address workload challenges

Mammography waiting times reach crisis level in southern states

Imaging technologists enjoy continuing income growth