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We may think of x-ray vision as a comic book superpower, but real people use this power for good every day. Radiology technicians and radiologic technologists use x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) to examine the internal structures of the body and help physicians diagnose health problems in patients.
Exactly what does a radiologic technologist do on the job? Is it possible to earn an online associates degree in radiology? How long do radiology technician certificate programs take to complete? We'll dive into these subjects and others on this page, including radiologic technologist salary figures and job outlook projections.
What do radiologic technologists do?
The specific tasks performed by a radiologic technologist tend to depend on the facility where they work and the individual procedures ordered on a given day, but many of those specific tasks share the same set of general responsibilities. Take a look at this quick list of duties performed by most radiologic technologists in the course of their workday:
- Inspecting, adjusting and maintaining medical imaging equipment
- Preparing patients mentally and physically for imaging procedures
- Aligning the equipment with the area of the patient's body to be imaged
- Capturing radiologic images and keeping detailed patient records
- Working with physicians to determine whether further imaging is necessary
Nearly all radiologic technologists and radiology technicians employed in 2016 -- between 94 and 96 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) -- worked in hospitals, doctors' offices, outpatient care centers and diagnostic laboratories. Full-time work is very common in this profession, and some positions may include evening, weekend or overnight shifts.
Radiologic Technologist Specializations
There are multiple specialization paths within the medical imaging field. Students in radiologic technologist school may be able to concentrate on one of the following specializations during their training program:
- Bone densitometry
- Computed tomography
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Forensic radiography
- Nuclear medicine
If your training program doesn't include training in your preferred specialization, never fear. You may be able to focus your attention on a specialized use of radiography while you learn on the job.
How to Become a Radiologic Technologist
Radiology training programs at the college level usually consist of a combination of classroom and clinical training. Take a look at this rundown of the steps that most aspiring radiologic technologists take on their way into the profession:
- Complete your high school diploma or equivalent
- Earn a degree or certificate from an accredited radiologic technology program
- Find out if your state requires radiologic technicians to be licensed
- Consider becoming certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
High school students hoping to get on the path toward a radiologic technology career should try and take as many courses as possible in relevant scientific fields like biology, physics and chemistry. A solid science background can help when studying college-level subjects like these:
- Radiation science
- Radiographic procedures
- Medical imaging
- Medical terminology
- Clinical modalities
- Human anatomy and physiology
- X-ray physics
Radiologic technologist degree and certificate programs
There are several types of rad tech programs available, mostly from vocational schools, community colleges and health care institutes. Data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) reveals that nearly two-thirds of surveyed radiologic techs possess an associate degree and around 25 percent hold a post-secondary certificate. Here's a quick rundown of the different levels of training:
- Undergraduate certificates and diplomas. Certificate plans are typically the shortest study plans available in the field, but many radiology technician certificate programs are restricted to students who already have some prior college education. These non-degree programs tend to cover career-focused courses without much general education content.
- Associate degree. The BLS reports that most radiologic technologists need at least an associate degree to begin their careers. These programs can usually be completed in around two years of full-time study, and they aim to provide enough direct clinical experience to help you step into the working world with confidence.
- Bachelor's degree. The four-year undergraduate degree tends not to be required by employers of entry-level radiology techs, but this degree level can be a good choice if you've got an unrelated associate degree or otherwise hold enough college credit to make a bachelor's your best option.
If you're an established radiology tech and you want to move up a level in your career, you can also consider going back to school for a master's degree in radiology. Graduate degrees usually take two to three years of full-time study to complete.
Hands-on training at radiologic technologist schools
Nearly every accredited radiologic technology program contains considerable hands-on training in its clinical experience sections. Learning in a hands-on environment can not only help you better understand how the lessons translate to a functioning workplace, but you can also become familiar with the practical environment of the profession.
If you think you might have a hard time completing hands-on healthcare training, don't hesitate to discuss it with a registrar or advisor before you enroll.
Radiologic technologist online programs
The hands-on clinical requirements of most training programs in radiologic technology make it somewhat difficult to train students entirely in the virtual classroom. Hybrid programs, where you take classroom courses online and visit a campus or learning center for clinical training, are more common.
Now, the difficulty of conducting clinical training at a distance doesn't mean that online education offers nothing for a prospective radiologic technologist. Online programs exist to help established rad techs complete their bachelor's degree and become radiologic scientists or specialized health care administrators.
Radiologic technologist certification and licensing
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART) offers a robust selection of certification options for professional rad techs. The credentials it offers include general radiography as well as specializations such as CT, MRI, mammography and bone densitometry.
Two primary levels of certification are available at ARRT: primary and postprimary. If you're new to radiologic technology, the primary certifications in radiography, sonography, MRI, nuclear medicine and radiation therapy are your only options. Once you've been certified and registered, the more specialized postprimary credentials become open to you.
Some states require radiology technicians to be licensed. These states require candidates to complete an accredited program and pass a certification exam. ARRT certification may satisfy licensure requirements in some states, while others may ask candidates to complete a separate state exam.
Career advancement options for radiologic technologists
Radiologic technology is similar to many other health care fields in that it has several levels of clinical responsibility for entry-level techs to aspire to. Job titles such as lead radiographer and chief technologist may be available to experienced rad techs without much additional schooling.
If you're hoping to take a big leap forward, though, returning to school and earning a bachelor's degree or higher may help you move up several rungs on the career ladder. Learning health care administration or advanced concepts in radiology can prepare you to work as a medical office manager or a registered radiologist assistant (RRA).
Skills and Abilities for Radiologic Technologists
Having a certain set of skills and tendencies may be able to give you an edge over other working rad techs, once you take your skills out into the workforce. Here's a list of the top traits for radiologic technologists, according to a list compiled by O*NET:
- Active listening can help you better communicate with patients before and during radiologic procedures
- Operation monitoring helps you determine when tests have completed successfully, as well as whether or not your equipment is working as it should
- Reading comprehension is a must, since instructions from physicians and other healthcare personnel tend to be delivered in writing
- Control precision, or the ability to quickly and accurately adjust the controls of a machine, can help one of your main tasks go more smoothly
- Information ordering can help you make sure that you're doing the right steps in the right order -- a vitally important trait in diagnostic medicine
Radiologic Technologist Salary and Career Outlook
How much you can expect to make in a radiologic technology career depends on several factors. Geography can come into play, with certain states paying more on average than others, and the amount of education and experience that you have is often taken into account when determining your pay rate.
Despite that natural variation, national radiologic technologist salary averages can give you a good idea of what you might earn on the job. Here's a table of salary and job outlook data, compiled using numbers from the BLS:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
Professional Resources for Radiologic Technologists
Not all graduates of rad tech programs take up membership in a professional organization once they're part of the workforce, but most trade associations and other groups offer a range of benefits for those who do choose to join. Here are just a few of the organizations available to radiologic technologists in the U.S.:
- The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) participates in legislative advocacy on behalf of the radiologic professions, as well as offering instant access to continuing education credits and professional development webcasts.
- The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) offers its members hundreds of continuing education courses, opportunities for research and education grants and free subscriptions to its newsmagazine and peer-reviewed journal.
- The Society for MR Radiographers & Technologists (SMRT), a division of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), provides its members with career assistance, networking opportunities and a variety of discounts on products and services.