Hack College Presents: How To Become A Radiation Technologist

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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.

Part I. The Industry

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.

An Overview of the Field

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:

  • Adjusting and maintaining imaging equipment
  • Preparing patients for procedures, including taking their medical history and answering any questions they may have about the procedure
  • Protecting the patient by shielding exposed areas during the x-ray process that do not need to be imaged
  • Operating the computerized equipment to take and process precise x-ray images
  • Working with radiologists to read scans and help to determine whether or not images need to be retaken

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:

  • Radiographers: use x-ray equipment to produce 2-D and 3-D images of the tissue, organs, bones and vessels of the body. Some radiographers specialize in a certain type of medical imaging such as mammography, which uses low-dose x-ray systems to produce images of the breast.
  • Magnetic resonance technologists: apply a combination of radiofrequency pulses and a powerful magnetic field to create detailed images of anatomy.
  • Nuclear medicine technologists: use radiopharmaceuticals and special cameras to produce images of organs and reveal their function.
  • Sonographers use high-frequency sound waves to create images of anatomy.
  • Radiation therapists administer highly focused forms of radiation to treat cancer and other diseases.

Salary and Career Outlook

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.

Part II. Top U.S. Programs

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.

Southeast Community College (Lincoln, Nebraska & online)

  • Specialized degrees: Much of the coursework for the two-year Applied Associate in Science in Radiologic Technology can be completed on SCC’s Lincoln Campus or online, and the clinical component can be completed at pre-approved hospitals and clinics in the student’s vicinity. Upon graduation students are eligible to take the national examination of the ARRT exam and apply for state licensure.
  • Industry perception: Ninety-four percent of SCC’s 2011-2012 graduates found work or continued their education, and since June of 2002, the radiography program has graduated more than 500 distance Radiography student with a 98-percent pass rate among online students. SCC as a whole is ranked in the top 10% (120 schools) of all U.S. community colleges by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program for both 2011 and 2012.
  • Tuition: In-state students will pay approximately $8,500 intuition and fees, and out-of-state students about $9,500.
  • Financial aid: SCC offers aid options in federal, state and institutional capacity through their extensive financial aid programs — more than 80 percent of the student body receives some form of financial assistance.

Pima Medical Institute (online & 8 campuses)

  • Specialized degrees: PIMA students earn an Associate of Occupational Science degree and become eligible to apply to sit for the ARRT certification exam upon completion. The program includes online courses, and 480 hours at a clinical site, local to the student. PIMA also offers an online Bachelor of Science Radiologic Sciences (BSRS) degree, which prepares graduates for management and leadership roles in the field.
  • Industry perception: The career services team, at PIMA is dedicated to helping students obtain positions upon graduation. The program is created with a built-in transition as many of the clinical experiences can turn into full-time employment once the student graduates.
  • Tuition: The cost of the associates program is $19,565 which includes tuition, books, and fees and takes a minimum of 49 weeks to complete. The BSRS program will cost around $106 per credit and take about 15 months to complete (students are expected to transfer in with at least 70 credits from a previous radiography program in order to be admitted)
  • Financial aid: Pima offers students the typical array of federal financial aid programs as well as aid opportunities unique to the Pima campus including grants and scholarships.

Bellevue College (Bellevue, WA)

  • Specialized degrees: Bellevue College is an example of an institution with a range of radiation technology options. Students can earn an Associate of Arts in Radiologic Technology, which can be continued on toward the Bachelor of Arts & Sciences degree in Radiation and Imaging Sciences. Students can also earn a certificate of accomplishment to prepare for a RT speciality career in positron emission tomography, Computed Tomography, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Vascular Interventional.
  • Industry perception: Students are well prepared to enter the industry with over 1,800 hours of clinical education at a local healthcare facility as part of the program. The selective admissions process allows for focused attention, with just 30 students admitted every year.
  • Tuition: Tuition is about $106.84 for Washington residents and $278.84 for non-residents.
  • Financial aid: Students are encouraged to apply for federal financial aid and contact the Bellevue College Financial Aid office to determine the best way to obtain funding depending on demonstrated financial need and merit.

University of Louisiana Monroe (online)

  • Specialized degrees: Bachelor of Science degree in Radiologic Technology (BSRT) is geared for ARRT Registered Radiologic Technologists to pursue the baccalaureate degree through the Registered Technologist Education Plan (RTEP). Registered technologists can awarded 39 semester hours of credit for their certification, which will be applied to the 120 degree requirement.
  • Industry perception: ULM makes an effort to transition and prepare students to be successful in a digital classroom. Their online orientation provides a number of tools to test the online coursework prior to signing up for courses to make sure it is right for you.
  • Tuition: The tuition and fees is $8321.45 for non-residents and $3035.45 for residents. Students who have completed at least 18 college-level hours of coursework and who meet a set of minimum requirements can be considered for an out-of-state fee waiver at ULM.
  • Financial aid: ULM offers a number of funding opportunities in addition to federal aid including state and institutional grants, scholarships and work-study programs.

Part III. Launching a Career

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.

Organizing the Job Search

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!