Radiology Career Guide
Radiologic technologists (commonly abbreviated as RTs, and also known as rad techs and radiographers) use medical imaging equipment to produce images of the human body under the direction of a doctor or other medical professional. The equipment that radiologic technologists commonly use includes x-ray, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. RTs who specialize in a certain area may use a specific title, such as nuclear medicine technologist (NMT), CT tech, x-ray technician, radiologic and MRI technologist, or ultrasound technician (sonographer).
Ranked as the #15 Best Healthcare Support Job (out of 30) by US News & World Report, a career in radiology working as a radiologic technologist can be a smart choice.1 Due to their integral role on the healthcare team, job prospects for rad techs starting their careers in radiology are expected to remain strong through 2028, with job growth of 9% projected.2 Job seekers can stand out in a growing field of qualified professionals by completing a degree in radiologic technology. It also helps to gain hands-on experience through internships and other introductory work experience. Certification and/or licensing requirements can be met in most states by completing a formal education and one or more exams that test the candidate’s knowledge of safety procedures and imaging technology. On this page, you’ll learn more about radiology careers, what radiologic technologists do, their typical roles and responsibilities, and how to become one.
Table of Contents
- What Does an RT Do?
- RT Career Information
- Radiology Career Information by State
- RT Career Interviews
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a Radiologic Technologist Do?
Radiologic technologists may specialize in a variety of radiography careers. However, no matter which type(s) of equipment they are qualified to use, a rad tech’s primary responsibility is to assist physicians and radiologists, who analyze the images a rad tech takes in order to diagnose illness and injury. To be successful in this role, rad techs must be able to interact with patients in a caring manner while accurately and safely positioning patients and operating diagnostic equipment.
Radiologic Technologist Career Expectations
Competently perform foundational and advanced radiographic imaging procedures. Radiologic technologists must take accurate and detailed medical images while minimizing the patient’s exposure to harmful radiation. Professionals must safely move patients and position specific parts of the body to ensure that images are accurate while providing protection from the potentially harmful effects of radiation for themselves, patients, and the healthcare team.
Act in a professional and ethical manner. Frequent interaction with patients of diverse backgrounds and medical histories who may be in pain or under stress requires attention to detail and a positive professional demeanor. Since RTs also interact with other members of the care team, including doctors and nurses, they must be able to adhere to patient confidentiality and meet the professional expectations and medical ethics guidelines for their field and the healthcare field overall.
Use leadership and problem-solving skills. The healthcare system is complex, requiring managers with excellent analytical and communication skills. As they gain experience, RTs may learn how to lead and manage teams of healthcare professionals and interning students in healthcare settings. Those who move into formal leadership roles will learn how to work with other healthcare professionals to understand and tackle challenging administrative and systematic processes that impact departmental functions and the patient experience.
Radiologic Technologist Career Information
Earning a degree or certificate from one of the many schools with radiology programs is the first step towards a career in this helping profession. There are several different types of radiology careers to choose from, though in all cases you may need to be licensed and/or certified. With a certificate in x-ray technology, you can become licensed as a limited x-ray technologist in many states. With an associate degree or higher, you can become qualified as a radiologic technologist, working in various areas of radiologic technology including x-ray technology. A bachelor’s degree is a common entry point for nuclear medicine technologists and radiologist assistants (RAs) and also provides a more competitive education for rad techs in all areas of the field. Finally, master’s degrees lead to advanced careers in radiology assisting; designing, developing, and testing radiologic equipment (also known as medical physics); and management. There are also doctoral degrees in the radiology field, but nearly all candidates who pursue a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Radiology become radiologists, rather than working in other areas of radiologic technology.
CT Scan Technologist
A CT scan technologist (also known as a CT tech or CAT scan technologist) is responsible for producing computerized tomographic (CT) scans of certain sections of the patient’s body. CT scan technologists perform abdominal scans, gynecological and obstetric scans, and scans to create three-dimensional cross-sections or slices of the body. In addition to a high school diploma, CT techs typically complete training through an associate degree program, and many colleges for radiology technicians offer CT scan certification programs. You can find out about CT scan technologist salaries in our salaries table.
Limited Scope X-Ray Technician
An x-ray technician, sometimes referred to as a limited scope technician or radiologic technician, has a limited scope of practice. X-ray technician careers generally involve working in urgent care centers and doctor’s offices. X-ray technician colleges usually offer certificate programs that can be completed in less than one year. There are also associate degree programs that emphasize x-ray careers, though at the associate level graduates are more likely to pursue careers as radiologic technologists since an associate degree commonly includes training in additional RT modalities. Read more about how to become a technician, including licensure requirements, on our radiologic technician career guide. For salary information, check out our salaries table.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists, also known as MRI techs, operate MRI machines to obtain two- or three-dimensional maps of various tissue types within the patient’s body. To produce an image following an MRI procedure, the 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. Most medical imaging jobs for MRI techs require an associate degree in radiologic technology, though many radiologic tech colleges offer MRI certificates for those who already have a degree in another field. For MRI technologist salary information, refer to our salaries table.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Another competitive radiology technician career is nuclear medicine technology. Nuclear medicine technologists (NMTs) administer radiologic agents to patients and use diagnostic imaging equipment to capture images of how those agents behave in the body. Examples of how this type of procedure can be used include mapping the veins of the body or detecting a blockage in the heart. Like other technologists in this field, NMTs must be adept at patient care and know how to properly position patients for the procedure to be performed. Because they also introduce radiologic agents into the body, NMTs are typically expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree. You can find out about NMT salaries in our salaries table.
Radiation therapists use ionizing radiation in order to treat patients who are fighting cancer and other diseases that respond well to radiation therapy. As a member of the oncology (cancer diagnosis and treatment) team, radiation therapists interact closely with specialist nurses, doctors, dieticians, and others who oversee the various aspects of cancer treatment. In addition to caring for patients while preparing for and undergoing procedures, radiation therapists must monitor patients for adverse or unusual reactions to treatment following procedures. A minimum of an associate degree is required for this career, and it is not uncommon for radiation therapists to have a bachelor’s degree. For salary information, check out our salaries table.
Radiologist assistants (RAs) are technologists who are qualified to provide advanced patient care and assist radiologists with diagnostics. They may also undertake certain invasive or advanced procedures that are outside of the permitted scope of radiologic technologists. Thus, while they still must be supervised by a medical doctor, RA is one of the positions in radiology that has more responsibilities than a technologist. To perform this work, RAs typically have at least a bachelor’s degree and many pursue a master’s degree in radiology assisting. For RA salary information, refer to our salaries table.
Radiologic technologists (also known as RTs, rad techs, or radiographers) create medical images using x-ray, MRI, and other medical imaging equipment for radiologists and other physicians to read and analyze. Most radiographer jobs require an associate or bachelor’s degree. In addition to a degree, in most states, radiologic technologists must be licensed and/or certified to have careers in radiology. Even in states that do not formally require a license, nearly all employers require prospective radiologic professionals to be certified by a recognized national association such as the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). You can find out about rad tech salaries in our salaries table.
“Radiologic technician” is often confused with the term x-ray technician, although these are two separate careers. Radiologic technician was, for a time early in the profession, used to refer to what are now called “radiologic technologists.” The term “technologist” better encompasses the scope of practice and responsibility for what RTs do in a modern healthcare setting. At the same time, to avoid confusion with “radiologic technologist,” the term “x-ray technician” was introduced to more specifically describe the work that limited scope x-ray technicians do. Accordingly, the term “radiologic technician” has been retired and is no longer used by professionals in the field to describe roles in radiologic technology. For radiologic technician salary information, check out our salaries table.
Physicians and surgeons who use advanced diagnostic and treatment methods in medical imaging and radiology are called radiologists. Assisted by radiologic technologists, radiologists are medical doctors who use radiologic technologies to identify and treat illness and disease. In addition to providing diagnoses, radiation oncologists and nuclear medicine specialists also treat cancer and other diseases using radiation. Radiology can be divided into several different fields including breast imaging, cardiovascular radiology, emergency radiology, musculoskeletal radiology, and neuroradiology. A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in radiology is required to become a radiologist. You can find out about radiologist salaries in our salaries table.
An ultrasound technician (also known as ultrasound tech or sonographer, and formally as diagnostic medical sonographer) utilizes diagnostic imaging equipment based on sound waves (as compared to radiologic technology, which uses different types of radiation). Ultrasound technology is used across a wide range of soft-tissue procedures, including obstetric and gynecologic sonography, abdominal and cardiac sonography, and neurosonography. Ultrasound imaging technology is popular with medical facilities because it can be a substitute for other more costly and invasive procedures while avoiding exposure to the radiological agents used in other types of radiologic technology. The most common pathway to this career is completing an associate degree in ultrasound technology. For ultrasound tech salary information, refer to our salaries table.
Radiology Career Information by State
Radiologic Technologist Career Interviews
- Deborah Murley, Past President, Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists
- Julie Gill, Past President, American Society of Radiologic Technologists
- More career interviews with leaders in the field of radiologic technology.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the outlook for radiology jobs?
With the number of radiologic technologists in the US projected to increase by 9% through 2028, the field of radiologic technology is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations.4 Including replacement positions, an average of 14,000 radiology tech jobs are expected to open in this field annually.4
What degree do you need to be an ultrasound technician?
An associate’s level is the generally accepted minimum to become an ultrasound technician (also known as a diagnostic medical sonographer or simply a sonographer). Because sonography uses ultrasound waves rather than ionizing radiation like other forms of RT, sonographers typically complete a major specifically in sonography. However, there are options to return to school and earn a bachelor’s degree or certificate in sonography if you already have an associate degree. Check with programs of interest and the licensing board in your state to learn more about your options.
What is the difference between sonography and ultrasound?
Sonography and ultrasound both refer to the same general field of using sound waves in order to produce diagnostic images. However, within the field, the words do mean slightly different things. “Ultrasound” refers to the actual technology and equipment used, whereas “sonography” refers to the practice of using ultrasound. “Sonographer” and “ultrasound technician” therefore refer to the same practitioner, a person using ultrasound to create medical images.
What is the job outlook for ultrasound technicians?
Employment of ultrasound technicians is projected to grow at a rate of 19% through 2028, which is a much faster rate than average.4 Larger metropolitan corridors such as New York-Newark-Jersey City, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin have the highest employment of medical imaging specialists in this field, while ultrasound techs working in metropolitan areas in California tend to be the highest-paid in the field.6
What is the difference between technician and technologist?
The difference between technician and technologist is largely a historical one. Within the RT field, practitioners typically prefer to be called “technologists” because technologist implies a wider scope of practice than “technician.” In the early days of the RT field, technician was commonly used to refer to an x-ray specialist, but over time as new equipment was added, the practice evolved to include CT, MRI, and other technologies. At the same time, there are still individuals who only practice within the x-ray modality. These individuals are commonly known as limited scope x-ray technicians, which are different from radiologic technologists who typically use x-ray as well as other modalities.
Do you need to be licensed to work as a rad tech?
Most states either require rad techs to be licensed by the state board of health or radiation safety, certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), or both. Check with your state’s licensing board for exact requirements.
What is the difference between x-ray and MRI?
While a radiologic technologist may perform both x-ray and MRI procedures, there are important differences between the two technologies. X-ray imaging relies on x-ray radiation, which passes through the various parts of the body at differing rates. For example, because bone is so dense, it does not allow many x-rays to pass through, resulting in the familiar bright white images of bones on x-ray plates. By contrast, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) relies on realigning protons in the body with the magnetic field emitted by the MRI machine. Since protons in soft tissue are more likely to respond to this type of stimulation, MRI is better for soft-tissue images. Because they involve markedly different technologies, RTs must have formal training in the specific modality in order to safely practice MRI and/or x-ray imaging.
What can radiologist assistants do?
Radiologist assistants can perform all of the tasks as radiologic technologists (provided they are properly licensed and/or qualified as RTs) as well as perform additional tasks related to diagnosis and treatment. As the name suggests, many of a radiologist assistant’s tasks relate to directly assisting a radiologist (MD). Examples of what a radiologist assistant can do that an RT typically cannot include, but are not limited to, perform standard RT procedures without “in the room” radiologist supervision; administer contrast media for radiological procedures involving the core of the body; and participate in the administration and monitoring of moderate/conscious sedation. These greater responsibilities and the greater level of education and certification required generally result in a higher rate of pay compared to that of RTs.5
How long is radiology school?
While in some states you can become an x-ray technician with a certificate program that can be completed in under a year, the training required to become a radiologic technologist is typically an associate degree. With full-time study, most associate programs in radiologic technology can be completed in two to three years. Students who study part-time typically complete such a program in three to five years. It is also not uncommon for RTs to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years to complete with full-time study or about six years with part-time study. If you’re thinking of pursuing a master’s in radiology, you should expect to devote one to three years of study after completing your bachelor’s.
What else can I do with a radiography degree?
Aside from common professions in radiology that involve hands-on work with patients, a radiography degree can lay the groundwork for advanced study in a master’s degree or doctoral program. With an advanced degree, there are further opportunities to work behind the scenes designing and testing medical imaging equipment. With an associate or bachelor’s degree, there may be opportunities to work in positions delivering, setting up, and repairing equipment.
Where do radiology technicians work?
The work environment for radiologic technicians varies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of radiologic techs (122,750) work in general medical and surgical hospitals, followed by physicians’ offices (41,500).3 Other potential workplaces include outpatient care centers and medical and diagnostic labs. Radiologic technologists can also be found working in equipment development, sales, and repair as well as in forensics and in federal government facilities.
1. US News & World Report Best Healthcare Support Jobs, Radiologic Technologist: https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/radiologic-technologist
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292034.htm
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
5. American Society of Radiologic Technologists, Radiologic Technologist Wage and Salary Survey: https://www.asrt.org/docs/default-source/research/radiologic-technologist-wage-and-salary-survey-2016.pdf
6. 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