Radiation technologists work at an interesting nexus — the field requires an understanding of science as well as images — it’s part science and part art. Practicing radiologic technologists often follow a wide array of paths to enter the field. This guide will help you navigate the options, and launch a career.
Radiologic technologists, often called registered technologists or RTs, are on the cutting edge of technology and use the latest tools and computer programs to advance medical care. As a member of the patient care team, RTs help produce the x-ray images to detect anything from a broken bone to assisting with radiation therapy that will aim to fight a cancerous tumor. A radiation tech will assist the medical team through diagnosis and treatment, and they will help translate the technology to the patient. It is a key role in determining the problem, developing a prognosis and creating a treatment plan.
RTs are primarily responsible for performing diagnostic imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), RT tasks typically include:
RTs are experts in x-ray, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment. They may be called CT technicians or MRI technicians, and many often become certified in specific specialties. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) breaks down the specialties as:
In 2010 the average RT earned a salary of $54,340 per year or $26.13 per hour, according to the BLS. With experience, additional education or supervisory responsibilities, salaries can reach $65,000 to $85,000 per year, depending on area of specialization, according to the ASRT.
Job outlook for the field looks bright — demand is expected to grow by 28 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is a rate that is much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS attributes that growth to a number of reasons. An increasing number of elderly people in the U.S. population as aging baby boomers enter the golden years, is one such factor, since this generation will require a lot of medical attention to care for the normal breaks, fractures and osteoporosis that individuals often experience as they age.
Technologists will also be needed to maintain and use the diagnostic equipment, which are most often housed in hospitals. However, a growing number of new jobs will be outside of the hospital environment as more physicians’ offices will begin to create in-house imaging centers as a focus on outpatient care becomes the new priority in health care. Third-party payers prefer outpatient care to save money since technological advances are making it possible for procedures to be done outside of hospitals with less expensive equipment and patient care.
The ASRT also believes the emergence of the radiologist assistant career path is an indication of the growing opportunities in the field, and expanding opportunities for advancement.
An associate’s degree is the most common way to become educational path into the field — and most technologists are required by state law to graduate from an accredited program and pass a certification exam from either the state or from The American Registry of Radiologic Technologist (ARRT). Upon completion and a passing grade, students will earn a license or a certification that enables professional practice. The body who is most well-respected for the accrediting is the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), which looks at both educational and training programs in radiography.
State health boards regulate the requirements for each state, so it is best to check with the state you want to practice to ensure the education program you select will be best suited. To keep their certification, RTs must meet continuing education requirements. Regulations are soon changing nationwide — anybody who graduates from a radiology technologist educational program after December 31, 2014, will be held to a requirement that he or she must have an associates degree in order to to be eligible for certification.
According to the ASRT, most RT education programs are housed in universities, community colleges, hospitals, military hospitals and other institutions. They most often award a two-year certificate, a two-year associate degree or a four-year baccalaureate degree; some offer post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees.
To earn accreditation, programs follow a standardized curriculum developed by the profession’s membership associations in consultation with educators and managers to earn accredited status. There are over 1,000 accredited programs in the United States. This list of resources from the ASRT includes a number of directories for students to use to browse potential programs.
One of the great opportunities in almost all radiologic education programs are the internship components, which allow students to get practical experience in a clinical setting. Many of these experiences can turn into a full-time job after you complete the course — but at the very least they are an excellent opportunity for you to network with other professionals. There are some other routes to boosting your resume to help land your ideal job, listed below.
Compare professional benefits — Radiation technologists are in high-demand and many employers will actually reimburse tuition costs. Be sure to compare the benefits between different job offers before accepting one. You’ll also want to research the scholarship opportunities available through professional organizations such as the Association of Collegiate Educators in Radiologic Technology.
Make your resume stand out — Be specific and clear about the experience, setting and clinical hours you have thus far. Read this advice from these professional R.T.s who’ve helped sort thousands of resumes.
Keep your qualifications updated — Continuing education credits, certificates and training are an added benefit in any medical career. It shows employers that you want to stay abreast of the fast-pace of technological advancements in the medical world, which is especially important for RT work.
As technology continues to improve the medical world, a career as a radiologic technologist is bound to be exciting. This is a field that will continue to adapt and keep you on your toes as a professional. It is a career that will be critical in the lives of others — and one that treats you well for your efforts!