How to Become a Radiologic Technologist

    The primary role of a radiologic technologist (also called radiographers, rad techs, or RTs) is using medical imaging equipment to produce images of soft tissues, organs, and bones. This is done using equipment including x-ray machines, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, and computed (axial) tomography (CT/CAT) machines. RTs can specialize in specific areas of the radiology field such as sonography, mammography, and nuclear medicine. Specializing in one or more areas can improve employment opportunities and earning potential. With advanced training, RTs may also assist in the administration of radiation therapy treatments; the common term for this specific job role is medical radiation therapist. Continue reading to learn more about careers, salaries, and the job outlook for radiologic technologists.

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    Radiologic Technologist Job Description

    Radiologic technologists take medical images of the body under the direction and supervision of doctors. Rad techs are required to be knowledgeable in terminology related to radiography, anatomy, and pathology. As members of the care team, they must coordinate with other healthcare professionals, including nurses, doctors, and other technologists, to ensure continuity of care and appropriate follow-up with patients. They must be able to work with patients who may be nervous, in heightened emotional states, and/or have limited mobility. A well-trained technologist will be able to give straightforward instructions as well as foster a sense of comfort and confidence in patients. Most of an RT’s day will center on preparing patients for procedures and taking images, but as may be expected in any healthcare environment, there is substantial paperwork and other patient and equipment tracking tasks that must be done throughout the workday. RTs may be required to perform basic maintenance tasks on the equipment they use, especially in smaller medical offices that might not have dedicated equipment engineers.

    Radiologic Technologist Requirements and Common Tasks

    Technologists are responsible for verifying that the type of medical imaging requested is appropriate to the diagnostic goal; for example, an x-ray is typically an appropriate diagnostic test to view a suspected broken bone, but an x-ray typically would not be appropriate to view a suspected soft tissue injury. RTs review a patient’s chart and perform calculations relating to the radiation dose the patient will receive, equipment settings, and other important computations. RTs prepare patients for the medical imaging procedure to be done, which in some cases may involve the oral or intravenous administration of contrast agents in order to improve image quality or obtain a specific type of image. RTs must also ensure patient safety, which includes not only the proper positioning of the patient but also taking steps to limit radiation exposure on parts of the body that do not require imaging through the use of additional equipment such as protective vests and helmets.

    RTs must view the images taken during a session in order to ensure that the image is satisfactory for a diagnosis. However, they may not make diagnoses or provide diagnoses to patients; instead, they convey their impressions or findings to the medical doctor (MD) who ordered the imaging, who is ultimately the professional who will make the diagnoses as well as plan for further treatment. The average work schedule can easily surpass 40 hours per week and for most of that time, technologists are on their feet. Additionally, many rad techs are required to work or be on call at night and on the weekends.

    How to Become a Radiologic Technologist

    Education requirements for radiologic technologists vary by state. An associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree are the most common educational routes for RTs. This is in large part because the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), which provides a national voluntary certification program for many types of radiologic technology, requires candidates to have a minimum of an associate’s degree. The typical process to become an RT is:

    1. Earn an associate’s degree in radiologic technology.
    2. Complete internships with hands-on clinical experience during your degree program.
    3. Pass a qualifying exam, such as that offered by the ARRT.
    4. Apply for a medical imaging license in the state where you wish to practice.
    5. Begin applying for open positions.

    Radiologic Technologist Education and Job Training

    As noted above, an associate’s degree is the entry-level requirement to work as a radiologic technologist. 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 specific modalities, such as mammography or MRI. Generally speaking, those with multiple specialties have a more competitive outlook in the job market.

    According to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), only six states do not require RTs to be licensed or certified: Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Washington DC.1 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 a credential from the ARRT are known as Registered Technologists and may use their credential as part of their official title, such as R.T.(R) for a Registered Technologist in Radiography.

    About 30 states require candidates to pass the ARRT exam in Radiography, Nuclear Medicine Technology, or Radiation Therapy to receive a state license. After passing the exam, candidates also may choose to apply for voluntary ARRT certification (note that some states require RTs to maintain ARRT certification as a condition of licensure). Many employers prefer to hire candidates who are ARRT certified, so even in states that do not require it, passing the ARRT exam for their primary practice area is a step taken by many RTs. The ARRT also offers certification in certain postprimary disciplines for those who have already passed at least one of the three primary exams noted above.

    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.

    Radiologic Technologist Salary and Job Outlook

    As of 2020, there were 206,720 RTs employed in the US.2 The states with the highest employment levels of rad techs were California (16,670), Texas (16,660), and Florida (14,170).2 Most of these professionals work in hospitals, but doctor’s offices, private healthcare facilities, local medical centers, and private imaging centers also hire rad techs.2

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average radiologic technologist salary was $64,840 as of 2020.2 The average salary varies from state to state. The states with the highest average salary for rad techs were California ($95,010), Hawaii ($82,990), and Washington DC ($82,270).2 Salaries also vary according to industry and work setting. Nationally and during the same timeframe, the highest average salary for radiologic technologists was in outpatient care centers ($76,200), followed by work in federal facilities ($72,480) and general medical and surgical hospitals ($65,130).2

    The projected employment growth rate for radiologic technologists is considered faster than average, with a 9% increase in jobs predicted through 2030, compared to a national average growth rate of 8%.3 The aging population is expected to drive increasing demand for trained RTs. For example, 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 the US and the number of medical imaging examinations performed increases every year.3

    Radiologic Technologist Career Interviews

    Once you have graduated from a radiologic technology program and met the licensing or certification requirements, the next step is to secure employment. You can read our panel interview of 26 RTs for advice on getting hired after graduation, as well as our interview series with leaders in the field.

    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.

    Additional Resources

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is a radiologic technologist?

    A radiologic technologist is a person who by education and training is qualified to use diagnostic medical imaging equipment to take images of the body. There are many different types of RTs, including diagnostic medical sonographers (ultrasound techs), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists, CT/CAT scan technologists, radiation therapists, and nuclear medicine technologists.

    How much does a radiologic technologist make?

    According to the BLS, the average salary for radiologic technologists was $64,840 as of 2020.2 Salaries tend to vary by geographic area; California RTs averaged much more, at $95,010 per year, while in Alabama they averaged much less, at $47,300 per year.2 RTs can also earn more by moving up the career ladder. Advancement opportunities include management, academia, and pursuing additional education to become a radiologist assistant (RA) or radiologist.

    How long does it take to become a radiologic technologist?

    According to O*NET OnLine, 63% of current rad techs recommend that new technologists hold an associate’s degree.4 Some modalities, such as radiation therapy, typically require a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree is also the minimum requirement for ARRT certification and a standard for licensure in many states. An associate’s degree typically takes at least two years of full-time study and may take three to four years with part-time study (though many radiologic technology degrees require a full-time commitment during the clinical phase of the program). A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years of full-time study and five to six years with part-time study. Prospective rad techs should also allow three to six months to study for and take the credentialing exam appropriate to their modality, which is commonly one of the exams offered by the ARRT.

    What states require state licensure for radiologic technologists?

    Almost all states have published credentialing or licensure requirements for radiologic professionals. As of 2021, the only states which do not have specific requirements are Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Washington DC.1 However, local and national associations are advocating for these states to legislate minimum education and training requirements; be sure to check with your state board of health or radiation safety for current guidelines.

    Is radiologic technologist the same as a radiographer?

    Yes, radiologic technologist is typically used to mean the same thing as radiographer. Radiologic technologist is somewhat more common in the US, whereas radiographer is somewhat more common in other English-speaking countries.

    What is the difference between a radiologic technologist and an x-ray technician?

    An RT is someone who holds the proper credentials to perform x-ray examinations as well as use other radiologic equipment, such as CT/CAT scanners and MRI machines. Some states recognize a more entry-level area of practice for x-ray technicians, who may only perform x-ray examinations. This category of practice is variously known as x-ray technician, limited x-ray operator, or limited medical radiologic technologist. However, people new to the field often search for this career using older terms, such as radiology technician or radiologic technician.

    Are ultrasound technicians and MRI technicians radiologic technologists?

    Yes, ultrasound and MRI are specific practice areas for radiologic technology, so someone working in these areas would be considered an RT. Visit the ARRT website to learn more about professional standards by practice area.

    1. American Society of Radiologic Technologists, Individual State Licensure Information: https://www.asrt.org/main/standards-and-regulations/legislation-regulations-and-advocacy/individual-state-licensure
    2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292034.htm
    3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Radiologic-technologists.htm
    4. O*NET OnLine, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2034.00?redir=29-2034.01