Radiology technologists and technicians perform diagnostic imaging for patients. They work closely with physicians and other health care professionals to ensure their images are as accurate, clear and as relevant as possible. They adjust and maintain equipment, ensure patients and health care workers are shielded from radiation, prepare patients for procedures, and analyze the images to ensure the doctor's orders have been met. Radiology technologists take X-rays, work with MRI or CT machines, and some often specialize in certain areas of imaging, such as mammography.
Radiology tech degree programs
Most radiology techs choose to earn their associate degree in order to obtain entry-level positions in the field. Those who have already earned a degree in a related health care field might opt for a certificate in radiology. Those who hope to move into positions of higher responsibility, such as management or administration, might opt for the bachelor's degree. Applicants to radiology degree programs should have a strong background in chemistry, biology, physiology, mathematics, physics and anatomy.
All programs require study in patient care, anatomy, pathology, image evaluation, radiation physics and protection. Below is a sampling of courses students can expect from a radiology technology program:
- Radiologic positioning
- Radiologic exposure and principles
- Nursing procedures in radiology
- Image analysis
- Advanced exposures
- Advanced medical imaging
- Medical terminology
Some states require licensing in order to practice as a radiology technician or technologist. Many states require that students graduate from an accredited program in order to sit for the licensing exam. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology is the accrediting body for radiology programs; as of March 2014, the JRCERT accredited 725 programs in radiology studies across the United States. Alaska is the only state that does not have an accredited radiology program.
Radiology tech training
Radiology technicians or technologists often begin work by taking X-rays of patients under the close supervision of seasoned techs. After several years of training in all areas of radiology, they might choose to expand their work to include MRI or CT scans.
Becoming an MRI technologist requires experience with imaging, including a set number of documented imagine examinations performed. Once the amount needed for certification is met, radiology technicians can then sit for the MRI technologist exam. Most states accept licensing through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
Those in the radiology field will usually work closely with patients, and so must have strong communication skills and close attention to detail. Physical stamina is important, as the work of moving patients can sometimes be demanding. They must also have excellent math and technical skills, to better assess the amounts of chemicals or medications needed for imaging procedures, as well as operate complex machinery.
Radiology technician career outlook
Employment of radiology technicians is expected to grow by 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for MRI technologists is expected to grow by 24 percent during that same time period. The increase in employment is expected due to expanded health care legislation, an increase in chronic medical conditions in an older population, and the rise of imaging in outpatient care centers and offices of physicians. Those who earn multiple certifications are likely to see the best job prospects.
As of 2012, most technologists were employed by hospitals and surgical centers, followed by offices of physicians, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and outpatient care centers. Most of the work is full-time, and emergency situations might necessitate working evenings, weekends or on call. Radiation exposure is a risk of the job. However, many safeguards are in place to help reduce the levels of exposure.
In May 2013, the median annual wage for radiology and MRI technologists was $55,200, with the top ten percent making $78,440 and the lower ten percent making $37,570. Highest-paying industries include colleges, universities and professionals schools, employment services, scientific research and development services, specialty hospitals and management of companies and enterprises.
Radiologic and MRI Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-1
Radiologic Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2013/may/oes292034.htm
Student FAQs, Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, http://www.jrcert.org/students/student-faqs/