Radiologic technology uses specialized instruments to create images of what's going on inside the body and to treat various types of disease. There are a number of specialties within the field, requiring different lengths and courses of study. Which one is right for you?
What Is a Radiology Technician?
A radiology technician produces internal images of a patient for diagnostic purposes. The median hourly salary is $20.03, meaning that half in the profession earn more and half earn less. These specially trained healthcare professionals are also called radiographers or X-ray techs, depending on the work they do. Radiology techs may take X-rays, mammograms, computerized axial tomographs (CAT) scans, positron emissions tomographs (PET) scans or magnetic resonance images (MRIs).
Radiology technicians perform a prescribed set of steps to ensure quality images are captured for review by a physician. They create images either on film or digital file. Radiology techs prepare patients for imaging by explaining the procedure and positioning the patient correctly. Because over-exposure to radiation is dangerous, techs follow medical protocol to protect patients, co-workers and themselves using lead aprons, shields, barriers and radiation-monitoring devices. Radiology techs are responsible for capturing images with the correct contrast, density and detail physicians require to make their diagnoses. Techs may sometimes be required to inject barium- and iodine-based agents into the patient to improve contrast and enhance the quality of the image.
Radiology techs usually work in hospitals or diagnostic imaging centers, but some find employment in physicians' offices. Some radiology techs work for multiple employers and may even travel with equipment from one site to another. For most workers, the job is full-time during regular business hours, but depending on the employer and the position, evenings, nights, weekends and holidays may be required. Working as a radiology tech means you'll be on your feet most of the time. Physical fitness is important, as the job may involve helping to lift patients with disabilities or moving heavy equipment.
The most common way to enter the field as a radiology technician is to earn a two-year associate's degree in radiography. Community and technical colleges throughout the country offer training programs -- just make certain the one you choose is accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). Private, for-profit schools can also offer training; if you opt for one of these programs, be sure it's accredited before you enroll, and find out about graduates' rates of success on the certification exam and securing employment.
If you're still in high school, it's a good idea to prepare for training as a radiology tech by taking classes in biology, chemistry and physics. These courses will be part of prerequisite courses for the two-year associate's degree program, along with courses in anatomy and physiology and medical terminology. As you study radiology technology, you'll take courses in patient positioning and care procedures, radiobiology and radiation physics, medical ethics and pathology. Because most schools require that part of the curriculum is hands-on, including supervised clinical practice, an associate's or bachelor's degree program is completed in residence and cannot be wholly earned through an online program. Many radiology tech programs are also now requiring coursework in medical coding or medical office procedures, as this knowledge is increasingly in demand by employers.
You do not need to be licensed as a radiology technician, although most employers require certification. Radiology techs are certified through the American Registry of Radiology Technologists (ARRT). Radiology techs who have completed an accredited training program are eligible to take the ARRT exam, a computer-based exam
Certification as a radiology technician also has an ethics requirements, meaning you cannot have had a misdemeanor or felony conviction. Certification must be renewed annually. Every other year, you must demonstrate that you've earned continuing education credits, which you can accomplish through self-study, lectures at professional societies, classroom coursework or online study. There are also continuing education requirements at the 10-year mark to ensure that people working in the field are as up-to-date on research and technology as new graduates of training programs.
Careers in Radiology and Medical Imaging
There are different career paths within the field of radiology. You can get a good job in the field with as little as two years of education past high school, or you can invest the time and money required for a more advanced degree. More education usually translates to greater responsibilities and higher pay.
The main difference between a technician and a technologist is the level of education. A technician typically has a two-year associates degree, while a technologist has a four-year bachelor's degree. A radiology technologist can perform more advanced medical imaging than a technician. Additionally, the bachelor's degree can open the door to greater opportunities, including supervisory positions.
The radiologist assistant is an occupational specialty newly recognized by the Registry of Radiology Technologists. Assistants have more training than either technicians or technologists, and they work directly under radiologists. They manage patients, conduct tests and make preliminary diagnoses, which must be reviewed by a physician. Only a licensed radiologist can make an official, written diagnosis.
A radiology nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who has completed additional specialty training in treating patients who must undergo radiologic procedures. Radiology nurses assist patients during testing to assure their safety and comfort. They supervise patient recovery, managing pain or addressing any complications if those needs should arise. An RN must pass a certification exam in order to practice. Radiology nurses, in addition to the RN exam, must pass a specialty exam such as the one given by the Association for Radiologic and Imaging Nursing.
In all radiology and medical imaging professions, having empathy and good communications skills are a must. You must be able to put patients at ease before, after and during their procedures. You need to be able to explain procedures in a way that patients can understand; you should also be prepared to answer any questions they may have.
How Much Does a Radiologist Make?
A radiologist is a physician who uses various types of medical imaging to diagnose and treat injuries and diseases. Typically, salaries range from $347,846 to $462,855 annually, and can vary, according to geographic location, education and certifications, and years of experience. Of those currently practicing in the U.S., 77 percent of radiologists are male. Thirty-seven percent of radiologists have been in practice four years or less. Only 14 percent have been in the field 20 years or longer.
How Many Years of School to be a Radiologist?
Becoming a radiologist requires a minimum of 13 years of training beyond the bachelor's degree.The first part of specialized training is medical school, which requires four years to complete. Admissions to medical school are competitive. Successful applicants typically have earned an undergraduate grade point average of 3.71 or higher, and a minimum score of 510 on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). In addition to being highly selective, medical schools can be costly to attend. For the 2016-2017 academic year, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that the average annual cost for an in-state student attending a public school was $34,592. Out-of-state students paid an average of $58,668 per year. Students attending private schools paid $50,000 or more, depending on the institution. Add the cost of medical school to the cost of an undergraduate degree and it's easy to see that becoming a physician requires a significant financial investment.
After medical school, physicians who want to specialize in radiology must complete a four-year residency. During that time, residents work with patients under the supervision of a board-certified radiology, completing rotations in sub-specialty fields including cardiac radiology, mammography, ultrasound and radiology of the musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and vascular systems. They also complete a rotation in hospital radiology, which includes emergency room medicine and inpatient diagnoses. Following the four-year residency, most radiologists undertake a fellowship requiring an additional one or two years of sub-specialty training. At one time, a fellowship was considered optional, but the technology has become so sophisticated that 90 percent of residents delay practice so they can acquire this additional education.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks statistics and makes projections about all civilian jobs and publishes the information in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is updated annually. Print copies of the handbook are available at most public libraries, but the most current information is found online. For the purposes of the BLS, radiologists are part of a broad category called "Physicians and Surgeons," for whom annual income is listed at equal or greater than $208,000 per year. Radiology is typically one of the highest paid medical specialties, so salaries are generally much higher. According to the BLS, the job growth rate for physicians is projected to be 13 percent through 2026, which is higher than average, compared to all other jobs. Advances in imaging technology and increasing use of radiology in diagnosis should ensure a high demand for practitioners in the specialty.
How Much Does an X-Ray Tech Make?
There are many different kinds of medical imaging techniques, of which X-ray technology is just one. According to 2017 BLS figures, the median pay for radiologic and MRI technologists is $60,070 per year, or $28.88 per hour. This occupational category includes X-ray technicians, although specific data is not provided for the job title. The job outlook for X-ray techs, as with most professions in the health care field, is strong. It is expected that there will be a 13 percent increase in job openings through 2026, a growth rate that is faster than average when compared to all other jobs.
What Does a Radiology Tech Make a Year?
The BLS classifies radiology techs under a category called "Radiologic and MRI Technologists." It is a broad category that includes specialties within the field. Many individuals in the field start out as X-rray technicians and specialize later in their careers, using more sophisticated equipment and procedures and earning higher salaries. For instance, the median annual salary for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologist was $69,930 in 2017. A related field, ultrasound technology, uses sound waves to create internal images of the body. An ultrasound technician, also called a sonographer, typically earns $69,650, with the top 10 percent in the field earning $99,100 per year.
Geography is an important factor that affects salary. Radiology techs average the highest salaries in California ($76,060 per year), while salaries in the south and upper Midwest are lower than average. Salaries are usually higher in large metropolitan areas than salaries in smaller towns, as well as salaries in more rural locations. For example, entry-level salaries range from $34,320 to $37,770 in North Dakota and $30,780 to $36,100 in Mississippi. Of course, higher salaries often mean a higher cost of living. As with any job, be sure to do your research before making a move, so that you can determine your costs for housing, transportation and other living expenses, relative to your starting salary.