How to become a mammographer (including steps and tips)
Updated 1 May 2023
A mammographer is a specialised radiologic technologist who performs mammograms. A mammogram is a diagnostic test that uses x-rays to examine the breasts for signs of cancer and other abnormalities. As a mammographer, you're responsible for interpreting breast images and diagnosing breast problems, so this role requires extensive preparation and training. In this article, we discuss what a mammographer is and explain how to become a mammographer, along with some tips.
What is a mammographer?
A mammographer is a healthcare specialist who performs mammography, which is a type of x-ray used to diagnose breast cancer. Mammography is a specific type of breast imaging that uses low-dose radiation to create an image of the breast tissue and surrounding structures. Mammographers have advanced training in anatomy, radiologic physics and knowledge about how to interpret breast imaging results. This means they're able to use the images they take to provide doctors with information about the size, density and shape of tumours or other abnormalities that may be present in the breasts.
Mammography is an instrumental diagnostic tool for the early detection of cancerous tumours in women's breasts, so mammographers require extensive experience with this procedure before they're able to perform it independently in a hospital setting. They may also assist with breast surgery, including biopsies.
How to become a mammographer
If you want to learn how to become a mammographer, here are some steps to take:
1. Get a relevant degree
If you want to become a mammographer, getting a degree in radiography is beneficial. Other degree options include radiotherapy and other courses relating to medical sciences. These courses are typically three years long and cover topics such as anatomy, physiology, pathology and diagnostic imaging. You also learn how to use equipment like x-ray machines and ultrasound scanners. These skills are essential for mammography because they allow you to detect abnormalities in the breast tissue.
2. Complete an apprenticeship
Mammographers require either a degree or a relevant apprenticeship before they're able to practise legally. There's no specific qualification required to become a mammographer, but the path to becoming one is very similar to that of clinical radiographers.
An apprenticeship lasts for at least 12 months and may be longer, depending on your employer's requirements. You may choose to complete a Level 4 apprenticeship in radiography, which allows you to work as a mammographer. A mammography apprenticeship involves working and learning in different settings, such as hospitals and clinics. You learn breast imaging skills such as how to take x-rays of breasts and interpret them for abnormalities. You also learn how to perform breast tumour biopsies using ultrasound guidance. You complement this experience with classroom studies.
3. Complete an EPA
Another aspect of becoming a mammographer is completing an end point assessment (EPA). An EPA test indicates whether or not you have the aptitude for this job. It's a standardised test which includes questions about your knowledge of mammograms and mammography equipment and your ability to interpret x-ray results. The EPA is an exam that tests your knowledge of the field and is required before you're able to work as a mammographer.
4. Get registered
To become a mammographer, you register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This process takes up to three months to complete. You provide evidence of your qualifications, pass an English language test and undergo a criminal record check. Once approved by the HCPC, you may start looking for work.
5. Complete a postgraduate course
A postgraduate course helps you improve your chances of employment as a mammographer. There are several options, but the main ones include radiography specialising in medical imaging or breast imaging. The first option teaches you how to perform mammograms and other types of x-ray scans on patients. This one to two-year programme takes place online or on campus. It also includes training on using the latest technology for more accurate results.
The second option is an advanced degree course that focuses on breast imaging and diagnostics. This course takes just over a year to complete and takes place online or on campus. It covers topics such as breast cancer diagnosis, treatment options and prevention methods. Most courses allow for part-time study.
6. Complete work experience
Mammographers also benefit from gaining some work experience in a mammography facility. Consider applying to assist other mammographers and learn the job by shadowing them, allowing you to follow their day-to-day operations. This also gives you the opportunity to become more familiar with the equipment used in mammography studies. Facilities offering these opportunities include hospitals and imaging centres.
7. Volunteer or shadow
Volunteer positions are available at hospitals, clinics and mobile units. You may also shadow an experienced mammographer at any of these locations. By volunteering or shadowing, you gain valuable experience in the field and learn more about what it takes to become a mammographer. Shadowing allows you to see their work in action and get an idea of what the job involves.
8. Search for jobs
Consider looking for jobs in settings such as private practices, public hospitals, clinics and specialised centres that focus on breast cancer screening. If you don't see any positions available but want to keep your options open for later, consider applying for work as a radiographer or medical imaging technician first. You may also take advantage of any online resources that offer advice and information about how to find employment opportunities in this field.
9. Complete any additional courses
Mammographers benefit from completing any additional courses required by their employer. Even if you've already completed a basic training course, there may be more classes or seminars required by your employer. These courses may cover updates and innovations in areas such as medical imaging or breast cancer awareness. Other courses may aim to improve your interpersonal skills, such as how to discuss delicate breast cancer topics with patients.
Tips for becoming a mammographer
Here are some tips to help you become a mammographer:
Get as much experience as you can
Obtaining relevant experience as early as possible ensures you complete the correct qualifications and build upon your specialist knowledge. It also helps you understand what it's like to work in a hospital and how to interact with patients. It's good to also have some understanding of medical terminology so you may communicate with doctors and other medical experts.
Showcase your skills
Regarding soft skills, mammographers particularly benefit from showcasing their communication skills when applying for jobs. A mammographer is responsible for communicating with patients, explaining what happens during the exam and helping them feel comfortable. It's also useful to be able to communicate effectively with other members of the medical team. Give examples of your skills in action, relating them to your previous experience where possible.
Learn to stay calm under pressure
At times you might perform your duties in stressful situations, so being able to stay focused and keep your cool is beneficial. A good way to feel comfortable in this type of environment is by practising. Some people find that yoga or meditation helps them stay calm during stressful times. Try and find a way of dealing with stress that works for you. By staying calm under pressure, your patients feel more comfortable and your scanning results remain accurate.
Show your ability to work with technology
Working with technology means being able to use the most up-to-date equipment and tools. It also involves knowing how to troubleshoot problems with those tools when they arise. This includes using the proper equipment for an examination, performing scans on patients and interpreting the results.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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