How to Become a Radiologic Technologist
Radiologic Technologist Job Description
The primary role of a radiologic technologist (also called an x-ray technologist or radiographer) is using medical imaging equipment to produce images of tissues, organs, bones, and vessels and, with advanced training, assisting in the administration of radiation therapy treatments.
Radiologic technologists can also specialize in specific areas of the radiology field such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), sonography, mammography, computed tomography (CT), nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy. Specializing in one or more areas can improve employment opportunities and earning potential.
How to Become a Radiographer
Although education requirements vary by state, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree are the most common educational routes for radiologic technologists. Most postsecondary education programs in radiography include theoretical and practical study in the classroom along with on-site clinical training. The typical curriculum is based on courses in anatomy, pathology, patient care, radiation physics, and of course, image production and evaluation. As they continue their training and education, most radiology technologists will choose to specialize in one or more particular modalities, such as mammography or MRI. Generally speaking, those with multiple specialties are more sought after by employers.
The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technologists (JRCERT) is a national organization that reviews and accredits radiologic technologist degree programs. Some states require that candidates for licensure complete a program that is accredited by the JRCERT; be sure to check the requirements at your state’s department of health. JRCERT accreditation is also a consideration for sitting for the credentialing exams offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
Once graduated from an accredited college, radiologic technologists may be required to be licensed to work in the profession. The requirements for licensing are set by state health boards and differ from state to state. However, in most cases, in order to obtain a state license, technologists must complete an approved radiology program and pass a state exam and/or the ARRT certification exam. Individuals who earn the main credential from the ARRT are known as Registered Technologists (RTs).
About 30 states require candidates to pass the ARRT certification exam to receive a state license. While some states don’t require the ARRT certification exam, ARRT certification is a requirement held by many employers. Students who graduate after December 31, 2014, will be required to have at least an associate’s degree to take the ARRT certification exam.4
Additional certifications or permits may be required beyond the basic state license to work in certain areas of the radiology field. For example, California has the Diagnostic Radiologic Technologist Certificate, the Mammographic Radiologic Technologist Certificate, the Radiologic Technologist Fluoroscopy Permit, and the Therapeutic Radiologic Technologist Certificate.
Once you have graduated from a radiologic technology program and passed your exam, the next step is to secure employment. You can read our panel interview of 26 radiologic technologists for advice on getting hired after graduation.
Some tips for getting hired provided by the experts include:
- Work hard to prove your value during clinical rotations.
- Start your professional networking early.
- Seek out a colleague or friend who has experience with different equipment and ask them to help you learn more.
- Be persistent.
- Always send a thank you note to the interviewer.
- Join your state affiliate society and network with imaging professionals who may know of job opportunities.
- Acquire an additional modality beyond radiography.
- Make sure you are very well prepared for the interview.
Radiologic Technologist Common Tasks
The daily tasks of a radiology technologist require precise work and attention to detail as well as adherence to strict safety procedures. Many times, physicians will confer with technologists in the evaluation process of a patient’s images.
Radiologic technologists are required to be knowledgeable in all terminology related to radiography, anatomy, and pathology. A professional technologist will also possess strong interpersonal skills and a pleasant bedside manner, similar to other healthcare professionals including nurses and medical doctors. A large part of the radiologic tech’s job requires giving instructions to patients who may be nervous regarding radiography procedures. A well-trained technologist will be able to give straightforward instructions as well as foster a sense of comfort and confidence in patients.
Examples of tasks radiologic technologists perform include:
- Explaining procedures to patients and answering questions.
- Preparing equipment for use as needed.
- Preparing examination rooms for patient exams.
- Positioning patients for imaging exams.
- Monitoring patients during exams.
- Documenting information with computers.
- Reporting important information to the physician.
- Ensuring safety of patients during exams.
- Producing diagnostic images of soft tissues.
- Using sound waves to obtain images of organs and tissues in the body.
- Administering targeted doses of radiation to the patient’s body to treat cancer or other diseases.
- Administering trace amounts of radiopharmaceuticals to a patient to obtain functional information about organs, tissues and bone.
- Measuring bone mineral density at a specific anatomical site.
Career Opportunities and Employers
Most radiologic technologists work in hospitals, but some professionals choose to work in private healthcare facilities, local medical centers, or private imaging centers. Opportunities may also be available in larger doctors’ offices and therapy centers. The average work schedule can easily surpass 40 hours and for most of that time, technologists are on their feet. Additionally, many rad techs are required to be on-call at night and on the weekends.
A career as a radiologic technologist can lead to advancement opportunities, including managing a radiology department, teaching at a college, and pursuing additional education to become a radiologist assistant or radiologist.
Radiologic Technologist Salary and Job Outlook
The average radiologic technologist salary varies from state to state. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average radiology tech salary in 2016 was $59,260 per year.2 The median salary was $58,960 in 2016 and the number of employed radiologic technicians totaled 200,650.1
The employment growth rate for radiologic technologists is considered faster than average, with a projected 9% increase in jobs through 2024.1 According to O*NET OnLine, 63% of radiologic technologists hold an associate’s degree, while 24% hold a postsecondary certificate and 6% hold a professional degree.3
The imminent increase in aging baby boomers may also affect the profession and career outlook because of the increased demands required to meet the needs of the large aging population. Bone fractures are common in the elderly population due to the effects of osteoporosis. The healthcare sector is one of the fastest growing industries in America and the number of medical imaging examinations performed in the US increases every year.1
Radiologic Technologist Career Interviews
- Read our career interview series with leaders in the radiologic technology field.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-1
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292034.htm
3. O*NET OnLine, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2034.00?redir=29-2034.01