Reading minds isn't something you can learn in a classroom, but detecting brain activity is a little more manageable. Doctors use a relatively simple test called an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to monitor electrical activity at various key locations in the brain. You can qualify as an EEG technician through on-the-job training or formal education, or incorporate EEG certification into a broader career in neurodiagnostic testing.
Operating an EEG machine is relatively straightforward, and many employers will train nurses' aides or medical assistants to run the testing procedure. On-the-job training usually consists of hands-on instruction followed by a period of supervised experience. Formal training programs range from 12 to 24 months at a community or vocational college and can be offered as standalone certificate courses or part of an associate degree program. Professional certification is optional, but it tells employers you're competent and committed to your work. It's especially useful if you trained on the job.
Doctors can use an EEG to detect and diagnose a number of medical conditions, including sleeping disorders, strokes, migraines and epilepsy. To start the test, you'll attach a set of electrodes to your patient's scalp at spots that correspond to specific centers within the brain. First-time patients might need some reassurance, so people skills are important. Once patients are connected to the monitor and relaxed, the machine will start recording their brain activity. An EEG takes about 90 minutes so you might try to have the patient doze so you can record their sleeping brainwaves.
Sometimes it's hard to assess a patient's condition through a standard EEG, so other techniques are used. Long-term monitoring combines an EEG and video recording over a period of hours to track down intermittent brain malfunctions. For an evoked potentials test, you'd give the patient specific stimuli such as a sound or flashing light and monitor its effect on brain activity. A polysomnogram records the patient's brain activity during an entire sleep cycle to detect sleeping disorders. Nerve conduction studies measure the speed of an electrical signal along a nerve. Intraoperative neuromonitoring uses these techniques to detect neurological complications during surgery. An associate's degree in electroneurodiagnostic technology covers most of these techniques, as well as EEG testing.
Once you've qualified as an EEG technician or electroneurodiagnostic technician, you should have little difficulty finding a place to ply your trade. O*Net Online reports projected job growth of 20 to 28 percent for END techs, compared to the national average of 14 percent for all occupations. Getting certified in multiple testing technologies makes you a more versatile employee.
- Explore Health Careers: Electroneurodiagnostic Technologist
- Commission on the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs: Neurodiagnostic Technology
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Electroneurodiagnostic Technologist
- ASET The Neurodiagnostic Society: A Guide to Neurodiagnostic Testing
- Mayo Clinic: Clinical Neurophysiology Technician
- American Board of Registration of Electroencephalographic and Evoked Potential Technologists: 2013 Handbooks and Application Process
- American Board of Registration of Electroencephalographic and Evoked Potential Technologists: EEG Exam Eligibility Requirements
- O*Net Online: Neurodiagnostic Technologists
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.