Neurology

Technician or Technologist? Not Simply a Matter of Potato, Potahto




In 1967, the American Society of Electroencephalographic Technicians became the American Society of Electroencephalographic Technologists. Some might say, “potato, potahto” but the distinction between these last two terms – technicians and technologists – is far more meaningful.

Unfortunately, it is still common for neurodiagnostic technologists to be called technicians, and doing so does them a big disservice.

Connie Kubiak, current president of ASET, says part of the problem is a limited understanding of what neurodiagnostic technologists or technicians actually do.

“Techs on the whole are not very visible. We do everything behind a closed door with a sign that says, ‘Quiet Please, Patient Asleep,’” she says. “Unless we’ve actually had an interaction with a physician or a PA or a nurse one on one, a lot of people don’t know what we do.”

Because of this lack of outside recognition, the techs that do neurodiagnostic monitoring are usually all lumped together under one title, whether the term “technologist” or “technician” is used. Titles are typically chosen by human resources (not by the techs themselves) and don’t take into account training level, experience, credentials, or modalities performed by the tech.

For this reason, according to Kubiak, titles differ widely from place to place, ranging from EEG technician to neurophysiology technologist, and everything in between.

“Some people are just called EEG techs, which is fine if all they do is EEG,” she says. “But a lot of them are doing intraoperative monitoring. They’re doing epilepsy monitoring. They’re doing evoked potentials. They’re doing nerve conduction studies. They may even be doing transcranial Dopplers.”

Whether the modalities performed by each tech come into play when choosing their title, it should be made clear who is a technologist and who is a technician. And there are decades worth of precedent to help with this distinction — and not just within ASET.

In the 1980 Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the distinction is made clear: “The main job of an EEG technician is to produce electroencephalograms under the supervision of an EEG technologist.” The technologist goes further, being able to personalize testing procedures, write reports, and even fix machines. ZipRecruiter, a well known job-matching online platform, has a similar description of the difference.

“A technologist has had formal training in their fields, where a technician is trained on the job and they don’t get any more than that,” Kubiak says. “They know how to do the recording, but they may not necessarily know what they’re looking at. But someone who has formal education, is credentialed, and then keeps advancing themselves … they are technologists.”

Because formal job titles often don’t reflect this difference in skill level, pay and benefits are not always compensatory for the level of work being performed. Unfortunately, this can leave qualified technologists feeling undervalued and looking for another job. The national shortage of techs can make replacing them a challenge. This is bad for patients as well as an institution’s bottom line.

It is in the hospital administrators’ financial interest to get the titles of their techs right. Unfortunately, they may not realize this. So, who is going to tell them?

Ideally a state licensing board would, as they do for other specialties, but despite some headway in that direction, neurodiagnostic technologists are still not licensed. This is just one more reason neurodiagnostic technologists need to get on board and help make licensure a reality . Until that happens, it is going to be up to the techs to advocate for themselves.

Kubiak wants technologists to stop saying, “I’m only a tech” when asked what they do – don’t be afraid to sell yourself, she says, and if it applies start by using the word technologist.

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