Radiology and Radiologic Technologist Degrees Guide
In nearly all states, radiologic technologists (also known as rad techs or RTs) must have at least an associate’s degree in order to use diagnostic medical imaging equipment (although there are exceptions for limited x-ray techs, who typically must have a technical diploma). Earning a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology is another option that can lead to expanded career potential, particularly in supervision and management. Many states require rad techs to earn certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) in order to receive a state-issued license or permit to work with medical imaging equipment, while others view ARRT certification as sufficient on its own. According to O*NET OnLine data, 63% of radiologic technologists recommend that prospective RTs have an associate degree, while 24% recommend a postsecondary certificate and 6% recommend a professional degree such as a master’s degree.1
With additional training and experience, radiologic technologists can become chief radiologic technologists, supervisors, administrators, or directors. Many hospitals may require advanced coursework or a master’s degree in health administration or business for these more advanced roles.
What Can You Do with a Degree in Radiologic Technology?
Those who choose a career in radiologic technology (variously referred to radiography, medical imaging, and radiologic science, and sometimes incorrectly as radiology) use diagnostic imaging methods to administer and capture 2D and 3D images of specific parts of a patient’s body, which are analyzed by a radiologist or trained physician who uses these images to make diagnoses and treatment decisions. The exact imaging methods used will vary based on the tech’s education and training. Specific certifications are required in most states and by most employers in order to use the various types of diagnostic imaging equipment.
Equipped with a degree, radiologic techs are presented with a host of career options. With an associate’s degree, RTs are most commonly employed in hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and urgent care facilities. Rad tech associate’s and bachelor’s degree holders may also work in such areas as imaging sales and technology repair, while careers in academia and research are possible with a master’s or doctoral degree. These pathways are discussed in further detail below.
Radiologic Technology Degree Levels
Sometimes referred to as radiology technology degrees or radiology degrees, degrees in radiologic technology start at the certificate level and extend to the doctoral level. Each level represents different opportunities for certifications and licensure, which influence the career paths available, from limited scope x-ray technologists at the technical certificate level up to radiologist MDs at the doctoral level. Continue reading to learn more about what you can do with a degree in radiologic technology.
A certificate in radiologic technology (occasionally called a radiology certificate) is the minimum education required to enter the field of radiologic technology. For entry-level work, such certificates are usually encountered as limited scope x-ray programs, which prepare candidates to safely work with x-ray machines in a limited range of practice. Radiologic technology certificates can also be ideal for working professionals seeking to gain additional expertise in specialties of medical imaging like CT, MRI, or ultrasound. As an alternative to earning a second degree for those who are already working in radiologic technology, these certificates are often available at the undergraduate level. It typically takes six months to a year to earn a certificate.
After graduation, individuals may be required to obtain state or other certification to practice in the new modality. RT certificates can also be useful for people with no prior experience in the field, often in conjunction with an associate’s degree, to qualify for ARRT credentialing and/or state licensure. Certificate programs are most commonly found on campus, but online radiologic technology certificates may be available in select modalities for those who are already certified in one or more areas.
Associate’s degree programs in radiologic technology are offered at many community colleges and technical schools. An associate’s degree in radiologic technology is the minimum requirement to work in most healthcare facilities or hospitals as a member of a diagnostic imaging team. The titles for a radiologic technology associate’s degree vary and commonly include the Associate of Science (AS) in Radiography, Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Radiologic Technology, and Associate of Science (AS) in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (Ultrasound). You can also find associate’s degrees in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear medicine technology.
The coursework required will vary according to the major, though with any accredited program graduates will typically be qualified for work as entry-level radiologic techs after meeting state certification or licensing requirements. In addition to classes like math, anatomy, and medical terminology, students gain hands-on, clinical experience with equipment operation and patient care. It takes approximately two years to complete an associate degree in radiologic technology with full-time study. Due to the need for hands-on training to adequately prepare students to work with medical imaging equipment, the majority of study will likely take place on campus, though select courses may be offered online.
There are over 1,000 accredited bachelor’s degree programs in radiologic technology. While the terminology and details may vary, common names for these programs include Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Technology (BSRT), Bachelor of Science (BS) in Radiologic Sciences, Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Radiologic Technology, Bachelor of Radiography, and Bachelor of Science (BS) in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. It is also common to find Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nuclear Medicine Technology programs. In all modalities, a bachelor’s degree can lead to a higher salary, greater opportunities to assume leadership roles, and management opportunities.
Coursework typically covers patient care, patient positioning, ethics, and radiation safety and protection in addition to radiation physics, pathology, anatomy, and other advanced topics. Typically, it takes about four years to earn a bachelor’s in radiologic technology; graduates are required to become certified by the ARRT and/or licensed in most states prior to becoming a practicing radiologic tech. A growing number of schools are offering transfer programs that allow those who already completed an associate’s degree in medical imaging to earn an online bachelor’s degree in radiologic science.
A master’s degree is designed for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree and are seeking an advanced understanding of biomedical imaging and associated research methods. A master’s degree usually takes one to two years to complete while studying full-time and three years to complete as a part-time program. A common reason for pursuing a master’s in radiologic technology is to become a radiologist assistant (RA), who is a type of advanced practice radiologic technician with greater responsibilities in the areas of patient assessment and radiological procedures. Degree titles you may find at this level include Master of Science in Radiologic Science (MSRS), Master of Science (MS) in Radiation Sciences, Master of Science (MS) in Biomedical Imaging, and Master of Science in Radiologic Science (MSRS)-Radiologist Assistant (RA).
Doctoral Degrees in Radiology
At the undergraduate and master’s levels, most degrees are radiologic technology degrees rather than true radiology degrees. This changes at the doctoral level, where a radiology degree prepares graduates to pursue advanced careers in radiologic science. The Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Radiology is the most common, which prepares graduates to work as medical fellows and seek licensure and medical board certification as doctors. You can also find Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Radiology programs, which lead to careers in medical imaging research and possible board certification as medical physicists, who are “behind the scenes” equipment specialists.
Online Radiology Degree Options
As noted above, learning how to safely use radiologic technology typically requires hands-on learning that can’t be replicated in an online setting. As a result, most undergraduate degrees in radiologic technology that lead to first-time certification or licensure will be primarily, if not fully, on campus. Some programs may be in a hybrid format, allowing you to complete general education courses (such as math, English, and basic science) online while radiologic technology courses occur on campus. However, for those who already have an associate’s degree in radiologic science, there are online certificates and bachelor’s degrees for rad techs designed as add-on or transfer programs. It is also fairly common to find online master’s degrees in radiologic science that schedule coursework around the needs of working professionals.
Radiologic Technology Degree Types
At all levels, radiology or radiologic technology degrees will have a major, concentration, or specialization. The most common major is in radiologic technology/radiography, but you will also see programs that allow students to major in ultrasound, nuclear medicine technology, and MRI, among others. At the certificate level, you will also see programs for limited scope x-ray. These options are discussed in further detail below; as you read, keep in mind that the major you select will influence the professional certifications and/or licensure areas for which you are eligible.
Radiologic technology and radiography are often used interchangeably when referring to degree programs. Such programs will focus on the use of x-ray (full scope, as compared to limited scope discussed in further detail below), fluoroscopy, and sometimes other modalities such as CAT/CT scans and MRI. Individuals with degrees in radiologic technology have completed academic and clinical education to prepare them for medical imaging careers. After graduation, radiologic techs with a radiography degree may be employed at clinics, medical institutions, urgent care facilities, and physicians’ offices.
After earning a radiologic technology degree, radiography techs may be required to pass the national certification exam(s) from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), depending on the licensing rules in their state. Whether or not it is required, ARRT certification is a helpful credential that is held in high regard by many employers.
A degree in radiation therapy or radiotherapy prepares graduates for certification in this specialty field, which uses radiation as a treatment for certain types of cancer. Most commonly found as a bachelor’s degree (a Bachelor of Science in Radiation Therapy (BSRT)), radiation therapy programs can also be found as one- to two-year certification programs for those who already have a radiologic science associate’s degree. Somewhat more rarely, there are select radiation therapist associate degree programs, though these are often intended as combined or transfer programs. In addition to courses in radiation physics and patient care, radiation therapy students will take courses in oncology (the diagnosis and treatment of cancers), medical dosimetry, and advanced anatomy. Multiple clinical placements during the course of study are another typical feature of radiation therapy programs.
Most commonly found as associate’s degrees but also as bachelor’s degrees and occasionally advanced certificate programs, diagnostic medical sonography degrees (also known as ultrasound degrees) prepare graduates to become sonographers (also known as ultrasound technicians). Common titles for this degree include Associate of Science (AS) in Diagnostic Medical Imaging and Bachelor of Science (BS) in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The curriculum and clinical work for this degree will cover the use of sonography equipment and patient positioning, medical terminology, and the fundamentals of patient care in a medical imaging setting. Many sonography degree programs are structured to address the certification exams of subspecialties like breast sonography and abdominal sonography. After earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in ultrasound technology, it is also possible to earn a specialty certificate in one or more areas of sonography, such as cardiovascular sonography. There are also degree programs with this level of specialization, though they are somewhat less common.
Nuclear Medicine Technology
Degrees in nuclear medicine technology are typically found at the associate’s and bachelor’s levels, with bachelor’s degrees (typically a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nuclear Medicine Technology) being more common. As an area of the radiologic sciences, nuclear medicine technology centers on using radiologic agents introduced into the body (most commonly orally or intravenously) to produce medical images. Students in nuclear medicine technology programs can expect to take courses in radiation physics, radiochemistry/radiopharmacy, and nuclear medicine technology equipment, as well as complete clinical placements. Many nuclear medicine technology programs also include courses in computed tomography (CT), potentially leading to dual certification and/or licensure in CT and nuclear medicine technology.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technology
As a degree program, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is typically found at the associate degree level as an Associate of Science (AS) in MRI or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in MRI. It is somewhat more common to find the study of MRI as part of a combined degree program with radiography or ultrasound, or as a postsecondary certificate. Combined programs such as these may have titles including Associate of Science (AS) in Radiologic Science or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Imaging Sciences. MRI tech schools often offer certificate programs in MRI intended for professionals with previous training and/or experience in diagnostic imaging who are seeking to expand their skills and marketability. One-year MRI tech programs are common and are sometimes offered as part of a degree or as an add-on option for a degree in radiologic technology or sonography.
Limited Scope X-Ray
Also known as limited medical radiography and, more rarely, basic x-ray machine operator programs, limited scope x-ray technician programs are most commonly found as certificate programs and require a high school diploma or GED for admission. Students who study limited medical radiography learn to conduct x-ray exams, prep patients and explain the procedure, and position the equipment and patient according to proper safety standards. To work as a limited scope x-ray tech, you must pass the appropriate ARRT credentialing exam and/or pursue the appropriate registration or license with the state in which you wish to practice. Appropriately credentialed graduates may find work in hospitals, labs, outpatient centers, and doctors’ offices.
Finding Accredited Radiologic Technology Programs
Completing an accredited program in radiologic technology is important because accreditation can impact your eligibility for licensure as well as your ability to transfer credits to another program, such as if you wanted to earn a certification for a new modality or transfer to a four-year program after completing a two-year program. There are two types of accreditation to be aware of: regional (also known as institutional) accreditation and programmatic accreditation. Regional accreditation means that a school has been recognized by one of the six regional accreditors recognized by the US Department of Education. Some states require this type of accreditation as part of the rad tech licensing process, and most credentialing exams require candidates to have graduated from an accredited school. This type of accreditation is also required for students to be eligible for federally-backed student loans and certain other types of financial aid. Finally, a school that holds regional accreditation will generally require any transfer credits to be from institutions that also hold regional accreditation.
The second type of accreditation to consider is programmatic accreditation. Programmatic accreditation means that a program has been accredited by a specialty organization. In the medical imaging field, there are three major program accreditors: the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT); the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP); and the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT). These accreditations are an indicator of quality as programs must go through a thorough review and vetting process to earn accreditation. As a result, many states and credentialing exam administrators consider programmatic accreditation in the licensing process. Each of these three accreditors is recognized for specific modalities.
The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) is the only organization recognized by the US Department of Education for accreditation of radiologic technology degree programs. JRCERT specifically accredits radiography, radiation therapy, magnetic resonance, and medical dosimetry programs. You can find the accreditation status of a program by searching the JRCERT database. While JRCERT accreditation is not required for rad tech program graduates to be eligible to take the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) or the Medical Dosimetry Certification Board (MDBC) licensing exams, JRCERT accreditation typically means that candidates are eligible to take these exams upon graduation.
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT) are smaller accreditors in the medical imaging field. CAAHEP accredits various health education programs, including the medical imaging modalities of advanced cardiovascular sonography and diagnostic medical sonography, from the diploma to the master’s level. CAAHEP accreditation is not considered in the ARRT licensing process, though CAAHEP-accredited ultrasound schools may be more likely to be on the ARRT approved programs list.
The JRCNMT specifically accredits programs in nuclear medicine technology. Graduation from a JRCNMT-accredited nuclear medicine technologist degree program is required to be eligible for the Nuclear Medicine Technologist Certification Board (NMTCB) exam, though graduates from non-JRCNMT accredited programs may still be eligible to take the ARRT exams.
As you plan your career in radiologic technology and medical imaging, it is strongly recommended that you check with your state’s RT licensing board(s) for specific requirements in the modalities you wish to practice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is radiography?
Radiography can be used as a synonym for the x-ray modality; less commonly, it is used as a synonym for radiologic technology. There are many certificate programs in limited medical radiography as well as associate’s degrees and postprimary certificates in x-ray therapy, x-ray and fluoroscopy, and x-ray and proton therapy which fall under the radiography umbrella.
What are the qualities of successful radiographers?
To be successful in radiography or radiologic technology, you should be passionate about patient care and healthcare, proficient at math and science, skilled at working with patients, interested in anatomy and physiology, and have effective interpersonal skills. An accredited radiologic technology degree program will help you build skills in these areas and prepare for your career.
What are the job opportunities with a radiologic technology degree?
Depending on the area(s) (also known as modalities) in which they are trained, rad techs produce images and assist in the delivery of treatments using computerized tomography (CT), cardiac laboratories, mammography, sonography/ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy. Technologists performing these tasks will most often be found at hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics. A smaller number of radiologic technologists work in medical and diagnostic laboratories or outpatient care centers.
Which radiology technologist degree should I choose?
The right degree for your needs will depend on a variety of factors. For first-time certification, you will need to choose a degree that offers a major (also known as a concentration, emphasis, or specialty) in the modality you wish to practice: MRI, ultrasound, radiography, and so on. Ensuring that your degree is appropriately accredited is also key since this will influence your eligibility for certification and/or licensure. For first-time certification you will typically need at least an associate’s degree; however, depending on your educational background and goals, a postsecondary certificate or bachelor’s degree may be a better fit. Review the available programs and be sure to speak with program admissions advisors to plan your path.
Do I need a degree to get ARRT certification?
Yes, to qualify for certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), you must meet minimum formal education requirements. These minimums include a postsecondary technical diploma for limited x-ray technologists, an associate’s degree or the equivalent for radiologic technologists and ultrasound technicians, and a bachelor’s degree or above for radiologist assistants. Visit the ARRT website for further guidelines.
How long does it take to become a radiology tech?
It typically takes at least two years to become a radiologic tech (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a radiology tech). This is because in most states that require licensure for rad techs, and in all states that require ARRT certification, an associate’s degree is the minimum education required to use most types of radiologic imaging equipment.
How long is radiology school?
When searching for the term “radiology school,” people typically mean to search for radiologic technology school. For first-time RTs, an associate’s degree in radiologic technology takes about two years of full-time study to complete, while a bachelor’s degree takes about four years of full-time study. Those who are already certified in one or more areas of radiologic technology may be able to earn additional certificates in less time. Those seeking advanced careers via a master’s degree will need to plan for at least five years of study (four years for a bachelor’s plus one to two years for a master’s). By comparison, it typically takes 10 years to become a radiologist (four years for a bachelor’s, four years in medical school, and at least two years of residency).
How long does it take to become an x-ray tech?
Since in most cases becoming a limited scope x-ray tech only requires a postsecondary technical certificate or diploma, you may be able to become an x-ray tech in less than a year. Limited scope x-ray tech programs are offered at many community colleges and technical schools. To become a full-scope x-ray tech, you will typically need at least an associate’s degree in radiography, which takes two years to complete with full-time study (depending on the program and your educational background).
Are there online radiology degrees?
Those who are pursuing first-time certification and licensure in radiologic technology should plan for on-campus study since it is not possible to adequately learn the fundamentals of radiologic science and patient care through an online radiology tech degree. However, for those who have a degree and are already certified in at least one modality, there are online options. Perhaps the most common is an online bachelor’s degree for those who already have an associate’s degree; these are typically structured as transfer programs. It is also common to find online master’s in radiologic technology and online master’s in radiology assistant degrees, which are designed for working professionals with a bachelor’s degree in the radiologic sciences.
Can I attend sonography school online?
If you do not already have at least an associate’s degree in ultrasound/sonography, you should expect to complete at least some on-campus study for your first degree. This is because hands-on learning is critical in order to safely use medical imaging equipment. However, if you already have an associate’s degree in sonography, it is possible to complete a bachelor’s degree in ultrasound technology online via a transfer program. You may also be able to earn online sonography certificates in specialty areas, such as vascular sonography, if you already hold an associate’s degree. Check with the schools you are considering for details on options and requirements.
How do I know if radiology tech programs will qualify me for licensure or certification?
The best source of information on whether a given radiology tech program will qualify you for licensure is your state board of radiation safety, radiologic technologists, or public health (the overseeing agency varies by state). Many states follow the ARRT’s guidelines for certification in whole or in part; if your state is one of these, you should also review the ARRT’s requirements for first-time (primary) and/or add-on (postprimary) credentials.
What is the difference majoring in sonography vs. radiology (radiologic technology)?
While sonography is a subfield of radiologic technology, it is a different modality because it uses ultrasound waves instead of radioactive or radiologic agents to produce medical images. As a result, in order to become a sonographer or ultrasound technician, you will need to specifically earn an ultrasound degree or certificate. Similarly, a radiology technician education prepares you to specifically use radiographic imaging, such as x-rays and CT scans; you typically will not qualify for ultrasound certification if you have a radiography degree.
1. O*NET OnLine, Radiologic Technologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2034.00