Radiology Careers

Why pursue a career in radiology?

careers-introWith the number of radiologic technologists in the US projected to increase by 9% by 2024, the field of radiologic tech is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations.1

More than 17,200 new jobs are expected in the field between 2014 and 2024.2 In addition to working as a radiology technologist, ultrasound technician, X-ray technician, MRI tech or CT tech, medical professionals such as nurses, respiratory and physical therapists also work in the field of radiology.

As of May 2015, the average radiologic technologist earned an average salary of $58,520 per year, while average hourly earnings were $27.13.3 With an immediate and sustainable demand for educated radiologic technologists in hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices, the field of radiography should continue to show higher than average job growth into the future.

Read our resource “Advice for Getting Hired as a Radiologic Technologist” to learn useful tips for getting hired from 15 radiologic technology professionals and faculty members.

Whether a student is seeking a radiology certificate or master’s, bachelor’s, or associate’s degree in radiology or applied health sciences, radiologic technology is a fascinating subject to study. In addition to providing the required certification to work in your state of residence, earning a degree from a radiology school also prepares you for a healthcare career that is challenging, important, and gratifying.

Ranked as the 15th best job in healthcare and the 30th overall, a career in radiology working as radiological technologist is a smart choice.4 In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than 17,200 new jobs over the next eight years.1

Job searchers can stand out in a growing field of qualified professionals by completing a two-year degree in radiology and by gaining as much hands-on experience as possible prior to their career in radiology. Radiology certification can be met in most states by completing exams that test the candidate’s knowledge of safety procedures and imaging technology.

What does a radiologic technologist do?

As a critical member of the healthcare team, a rad tech must be adept at using computed technology (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, and x-ray generators. Radiographers may specialize in a variety of diagnostic imaging techniques, including mammography and ultrasound.

Radiologic technologists assist physicians and radiologists, who read the images and diagnose illness and injury. Job prospects for those starting their careers in radiology are expected to remain high, particularly for those interested in working for general medical and surgical hospitals.2 Radiation techs also work in urgent care facilities, clinics, equipment sales, and private offices.

Types of Radiologic Careers

Radiologist (MD)

Physicians and surgeons who learn the highly-advanced skill of interpreting and diagnosing medical imaging are called radiologists. Assisted by technicians, radiologists use mammography, x-ray, MRI, fluoroscopy, and CT scans to identify illness and disease. In addition to diagnosis, some radiologists called radiation oncologists or nuclear medicine specialists also treat cancer using radiation. Radiology can be divided into several different fields including breast imaging, cardiovascular radiology, emergency radiology, musculoskeletal radiology, and neuroradiology.

Radiology Technologists / Radiographer

Commonly referred to as radiological technologists or rad techs, radiographers create medical images using X-ray, MRI, and mammography for radiologists and other physicians to read and analyze. Becoming a radiographer requires significantly less education, training, and investment than a nuclear medicine specialist or radiologist.

Many radiologic technologists earn a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree. In addition to a degree, in most states, radiographers must be licensed and/or certified to have careers in radiology.

Learn more about how to become a radiologic technologist here.

Radiology Technicians

A radiologic technician or X-ray technician, sometimes referred to as a limited scope technician, has a limited scope of practice. X-ray technicians generally work in urgent care centers and doctor’s offices but not hospitals. Training programs for X-ray technicians can range from six months to two years in duration and result in a certificate or associate’s degree upon successful completion.

It is important to know the difference between radiology technologists and radiology technicians when planning your education. In the medical community, radiology technologists (also referred to as radiographers) are licensed professionals who can perform advanced imaging procedures and can operate all X-ray equipment. A radiologic technician, sometimes referred to as a limited scope technician, has a limited scope of practice and is not allowed to perform certain imaging procedures. The licensing and scope of practice for radiologic technologists and radiologic technicians varies by state, so you can check with your state’s health department for details.

Learn more about how to become a radiologic technician here.

Ultrasound Technician / Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

An ultrasound tech utilizes diagnostic imagery equipment that uses sound waves to do more than just identify the sex of a baby. Diagnostic medical sonographers are skilled technicians who use ultrasound technology on a wide range of soft-tissue procedures, including obstetric and gynecologic sonography, abdominal, cardiac, and neurosonography.

Employment of ultrasound technicians is projected to grow at a rate of 26% between 2014 and 2024, which is at a much faster rate than average.5 With a median salary of $67,530 in 2015, larger metropolitan areas such as San Jose, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco in California tend to compensate especially well.5 Although hospitals remain the main employer of medical sonographers, the number of jobs expected to increase even faster in diagnostic and medical laboratories, as well as in physicians’ offices.6

As one of the most popular type of radiology careers, the growth of ultrasound technology is largely due to the fact that patients will continue to choose to avoid exposure to radiation and other invasive procedures when given the option. Additionally, ultrasound imaging technology is popular with medical facilities because it is an excellent substitute for other more costly and invasive procedures.

Equipped with excellent social and patient care skills, there is no formal licensure process in for ultrasound techs most states. However, most employers will require a candidate to have passed a certification exam conducted by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) and will require clinical experience. While there are bachelor’s programs in ultrasound technology available, most students choose to get a two-year associate’s degree.

MRI Technician

MRI techs operate a magnetic resonance scanner to obtain two- or three-dimensional maps of various tissue types within the patient’s body that are used by physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of pathologies. After entering and monitoring the patient’s data, the MRI technician transfers images from disk to magnetic media in order to create a transparency and then develops the film for the doctor or radiologist to analyze.

The median average MRI tech salary in the United States is $67,720, making it one of the more desirable radiology careers.1 While many radiographers hold an MRI tech bachelor’s degree, at least two years of experience is typically required in the field or in a related area, as well as registration with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

CT Tech / CAT Scan Technologist / CT Scan Technologist

With a median average salary for a CAT scan technologist of $56,670, a CT tech is responsible for producing computerized tomographic scans of certain sections of the patient’s body.1 CAT scan technologists perform abdominal scans, gynecological and obstetric scans, ultrasound examinations, as well as retroperitoneal scans to create three-dimensional cross-sections or slices of the body.

In addition to a high school diploma, CT techs typically complete rad tech training and ARRT registration and begin their careers in radiology with at two years of experience.

Radiology Schools by State

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
2. US News & World Report Careers, Radiologic Technologist: http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/radiologic-technologist
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292034.htm
4. HR Reported Data as of February 2013: http://www1.salary.com/CAT-Scan-Technologist-Salary.html
5. US News & World Report Careers, Diagostic Medical Sonographer: http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/diagnostic-medical-sonographer
6. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-6