Anne Cella had tried a variety of jobs -- landscaping, bookkeeping and bartending among them -- before she landed in a program that put her in one of the hottest careers in the health care industry.
Graduating last month, she had three offers in hand for work as a radiology technologist even before she finished the two-year certification program at Montgomery College. Typical pay for graduates has ranged from $27,000 to $30,000, but in an era when local health-care employers are offering signing bonuses to lure new radiology technologists, Cella found she was able to go to work for a salary in the low $30,000s.
"I just couldn't quite find my niche until I found the program," said Cella, 37, who grew up in Potomac and Rockville and also attended the University of Maryland for a period.
Now, Cella said, she is doing work that she loves, even including her hours. She works the 3:30 p.m.-to-midnight shift at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, which means she handles more emergency patients rather than routine in-patient care. "I like the technology, because it's constantly changing and improving, and I like working with sick people, especially the elderly," she said. She also likes the excitement of being on the front lines in the emergency room, helping to make diagnoses.
The job of radiologic technologist and related jobs such as nuclear medicine technologist, radiation therapist and diagnostic medical sonography require a mix of skills, said Angie Pickwick, coordinator for Montgomery College's Radiologic Technology Program.
"You need the ability to do math, since there are all kinds of formulas to figure out what settings to have on the equipment," she said. "You have to be a very visual person, able to know whether an image has proper contrast and density and to be able to see details. It takes a blend of people skills and technological skills to do the job right."
It also requires some heavy lifting that Cella said she didn't anticipate. "A lot of the patients who come into the emergency room are so heavy or so sick, they can't move themselves," she said.
Pickwick said graduates of radiologic technology programs can choose the challenge of working in a hospital, or they can find work with regular Monday-through-Friday hours in doctors' offices, at health maintenance organizations or at free-standing radiology centers.
ON THE JOB: Radiology technologist
Salary: Low $30,000s
Skills/education: Two-year certification degree
Experience: Time in a health-care setting is a bonus, but good basic technical skills are a must.