6 Solutions to the RT Shortage

Earlier this week, we described the looming shortage of radiologists in the US; this week the focus turns to radiologic technologists. A new report from the ASRT and other groups suggests the shortage of RT positions is severe, but offers some solutions. 

The healthcare industry has suffered in the post-COVID era as the need for medical services has surged due to the aging population while the number of personnel has dropped as staff leave because of retirement, burnout, and other reasons.

  • At the same time, fewer trainees are entering healthcare, a phenomenon that’s particularly problematic with allied health personnel like nurses and technologists. 

The numbers are dire, based on previously collected data …

  • Vacancy rates for all medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals are at the highest levels since the ASRT began tracking staffing in 2003
  • The radiographer vacancy rate nearly tripled in 2023 compared to 2021 (18% vs. 6.2%)
  • The number of people taking the ARRT’s radiography certification exam in 2022 fell 18% compared to 2006 (14.3k vs. 17.5k)

To address the problem, ASRT collaborated with 17 other radiological sciences groups including ARRT and JRCERT to first conduct a survey of 8.7k medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals to assess their work environment. 

  • The groups then convened a two-day meeting in February at ASRT headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

They agreed on six major solutions to address the workforce crisis …

  • Raise awareness through campaigns such as via social media to attract new students
  • Articulate clear career pathways so professionals can choose careers in clinical practice, management, or education at different levels and roles. This would include a new entry-level role, imaging medical aide (IMA), that would be offered by high schools and community colleges as a stepping stone to RT status
  • Create a pipeline from educational programs to the workplace, and make AI a mandatory part of the educational curriculum
  • Build a career ladder that defines different clinical titles for professionals in clinical and leadership roles 
  • Expand educational opportunities such as in rural and underserved communities, and create a one-stop-shop portal for educators
  • Improve workplace satisfaction through tools such as awards programs and CE opportunities on workplace satisfaction

The Takeaway

Trying to work against powerful demographic trends can sometimes seem like swimming upstream. But the new report is a good first start toward a more organized and unified response to the radiologic technologist staffing shortage.

The MARCA Divide

The American College of Radiology might have a neutral stance on the Medicare Access to Radiology Care Act (MARCA), but a new survey confirmed that most ACR members are far from neutral about non-physicians’ role in radiology. 

MARCA Madness – MARCA would require Medicare to reimburse supervising radiologists for imaging services performed by radiologist assistants, as long as RAs work within physician-led teams. The ACR revealed its neutral position on MARCA in August, enraging some members who are concerned that MARCA will undermine radiologists’ role, and accused the ACR of selling out to PE. 

The Opinion Divide – The ACR survey (n = 4,207, or 16% of members) revealed overwhelming opposition to MARCA, but more balanced views on working with non-physician radiology providers (NPRPs). By NPRPs, they mean radiology assistants, advanced practice registered nurses, and physician assistants.

  • 60% are against MARCA (vs. 19% in favor, 21% neutral)
  • 86% are concerned about NPRP scope creep
  • 55% view NPRPs as a threat to patient care
  • However, just 43% are against using NPRPs in their practice
  • And 62% believe it’s up to practices whether they employ NPRPs

Behind the Divide – A deeper look into the ACR’s (very detailed) survey results revealed that members’ MARCA and NPRP opinions seem largely influenced by their professional situation. 

Career Stage

  • 80% of residents/fellows and 65% of early-career rads view NPRPs as a threat to patient care 
  • 51% of mid-career rads and 41% of late-career rads view NPRPs as a threat to patient care

Practice Type

  • 61% of respondents from academic settings view NPRPs as a threat to patient care
  • 69% of respondents from national and private practices think NPRP use is a practice decision 

Practice Role

  • 61% of non-leaders view NPRPs as a threat to patient care
  • 65% of practices leaders view NPRPs use as a practice decision

NPRP Experience

  • 69% of respondents who do not work with NPRPs view them as a threat to patient care
  • 57% of respondents who work with NPRPs believe they play an important role
  • 84% of respondents who support MARCA currently work with NPRPs

The Takeaway – We now have data confirming what most of you already knew: the majority of radiologists are firmly against MARCA and a small minority support it. However, the data also shows that plenty of radiologists see value in NPRPs, especially if they already work with non-physicians and if their careers are less threatened by them. What’s still unclear is what it will take for the ACR to break its neutrality on MARCA (in either direction).

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