What Is a Neurodiagnostic Technologist?

Polysomnography can help diagnose and treat many forms of insomnia.

Polysomnography can help diagnose and treat many forms of insomnia.

Actors often speak of trying to get inside a character's head, but they don't mean it as literally as some health care technologists do. For example, neurodiagnostic technologists track the brain's electrical activity as a way to diagnose neurological problems such as migraines or epilepsy. It's a career that offers a lot of variety as well as the opportunity to help people overcome a range of uncomfortable or debilitating medical conditions.

The Skills

You'll need to master the workings of several pieces of equipment, including the electroencephalogram machines that record electrical activity in the brain and the electromyograph machines that record electrical activity in the muscles and nerves. Technologists also need basic computer skills, both for standard office software and the specialized programs used for record-keeping or monitoring the patient's condition. You need to understand human physiology well enough to know how the testing process works. Good people skills are also important, because you'll often need to help patients relax or even sleep during the testing process.

Main Responsibilities

You might run a variety of tests on any given patient, depending on your training and workplace. For a standard electroencephalogram, or EEG, you'll tape electrodes to the scalp and monitor the patient's brain activity for an hour or more. For a polysomnogram, you'll do the same while the patient sleeps for several hours. Extended monitoring combines a longer EEG with video, to identify more subtle brain malfunctions. In other patients, you might trigger a response in specific areas of the brain through a visual, audible or physical stimulus. That's referred to as an "evoked potential" test.

Other Duties

Some technologists perform tests related to the nervous system's health throughout the body. For example, nerve conduction studies help diagnose some conditions by sending an electrical signal along a nerve and tracking its velocity. Slow signals are an indicator of neurological problems. If you're interested in an especially challenging branch of the profession, technologists can also monitor a patient's neurological health during surgical procedures. It's a specialty called intraoperative monitoring that helps reduce the risk of neurological damage occurring while surgeons are working with the brain or nervous system.

Career

Some techs can still be trained on the job, especially for relatively simple procedures such as an EEG. That's becoming rare though and most new technologists earn an associate's degree at a community or technical college. The American Board of Registration of Electroencephalographic and Evoked Potential Technologists, or ABRET, offers certifications in EEG technology, evoked potentials, intraoperative monitoring and long-term monitoring. Certifications are also available in polysomnography and nerve conduction through other industry organizations. You should have little difficulty finding work, especially as you gain experience and certifications. O*Net Online reports job growth of 20 to 29 percent for electroneurodiagnostic technologists by the year 2020.

 

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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