How to Become a Radiologic Technologist

Radiologic technologists (rad techs) provide an important service in the healthcare process. With skills that are learned in either a 2-year or 4-year program, they work closely with radiologists to take images of patients and determine the suitability of those images for diagnostic purposes. According to O*NET (2016), which sources its data from the US Department of Labor, 63% of radiologic technologists have an Associate’s Degree while 24% hold a Bachelor’s degree. Only 6% of technologists have a graduate degree.

Compared to other professions that require just 2 years of school, radiologic technologists can make a good living, earning a median hourly wage of $28.13 in the U.S., which equates to an annual salary of $58,520 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

Of course, this salary data, while compelling, does not tell the whole story. Interested students and potential technologists will certainly want to know what a day in the life of a radiologic technologist looks like. At its core, the job involves taking diagnostic images of patients in a clinical setting. The images a radiologic technologist captures typically require the use of an x-ray machine, or other imaging equipment. While technologists themselves do not interpret the images, they do ensure that the images are clear enough for physicians and radiologists to examine and make proper diagnoses. In addition, technologists will maintain sophisticated imaging equipment, enforce safety standards around potentially hazardous equipment, and work closely with the patients to ensure they are comfortable and informed throughout their procedures.

Licensing for radiologic technologists is left up to individual states. There is no national licensing requirement as of 2016. However, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers both certification and registration that is required by some states. Beyond basic certification, technologists may choose to specialize in a range of different procedures, including but not limited to bone densitometry, breast sonography, computed tomography (CT), mammography, or vascular sonography.

Through 2024, the demand for radiologic technologists is expected to grow by 9%, which is a bit faster than the growth expected for all jobs during that time, which stands at just 7% (BLS, 2014). Overall, there are good possibilities for radiologic technologists and those willing to put in the work to learn the skills and technologies necessary to do the job well. Keep reading for the specifics of how to pursue this career.

Steps to Become a Radiologic Technologist (Rad Tech)

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Not every radiologic technologist follows the same path to achieve their career goals. While some technologists may seek out an accredited radiologic technologist program at a 2-year school, others will earn a bachelor’s degree and many may make professional or educational stops along the way.

The following steps represent a direct path to becoming a radiologic technologist:

  • Graduate from high school. High school is certainly a prerequisite for any radiologic technologist. For those who are lucky enough to know they want to pursue this career at a young age, it is important to pay particular attention to science and mathematics courses that will be useful in future educational opportunities. If possible, high school students should try to work or volunteer in a healthcare setting to get a good idea of what they might be doing down the line.
  • Apply for and attend an accredited undergraduate radiologic technology program (2-4 years). Radiologic technologists may earn either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree to be eligible for certification from the ARRT. As of January 1, 2015, all applicants for ARRT certification in Radiography, Nuclear Medicine Technology, Radiation Therapy, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or Sonography must have graduated from a school that is accredited by a body recognized by the ARRT. A full list of those accrediting agencies is available from ARRT. Earning a bachelor’s degree as opposed to an AS degree does not make an applicant more qualified for certification, but may be useful in furthering one’s education or in finding and matching with job opportunities. It should be noted that the degree earned, although it must be from an accredited institution, does not have to be in radiologic technology.
  • Apply for certification and registration with ARRT (timeline varies). As mentioned, there are no national licensing requirements for radiologic technologists, though many states do have their own licensing process. To maximize potential employability and establish expertise, most radiologic technologists choose to pursue certification with ARRT. This process involves submitting proof of an acceptable academic record, filling out and submitting an ethics pre-application, and passing an exam that “assesses the knowledge and cognitive skills underlying the intelligent performance of the tasks typically required of staff technologists practicing at entry-level within the discipline.” For entry-level positions, a certification in Radiography is the most applicable. After a time of working in this capacity, radiologic technologists may want to pursue specialty certification with ARRT in such areas as Mammography, Bone Densitometry, or Cardiac-Interventional Radiography.
  • Maintain ARRT certification. Technologists must renew their certifications each year, which first requires compliance with ARRT regulations, adherence to the ARRT standards of ethics, and completion of the required number of continuing education hours. Renewing technologists must either earn 24 credit hours each year in order to stay current with their certification, or must be awarded further certifications from ARRT in other specialities.

Radiologic Technologist Salary Data

Any career must be able to offer a good living for it to be an attractive choice and radiologic technology certainly does. The salary ranges for radiologic technologists in the U.S., according to the BLS, are as follows:

  • 10th percentile: $38,110
  • 25th percentile: $45,870
  • 50th percentile (median): $56,670
  • 75th percentile: $69,480
  • 90th percentile: $81,660

Payscale is a salary aggregator where radiologic technologists and other professionals report their own salary. The ranges reported here are useful as a comparison to BLS data and are as follows for the more than 500 technologists reporting:

  • 10th percentile: $33,000
  • 25th percentile: $40,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,000
  • 75th percentile: $57,000/li>
  • 90th percentile: $69,000

Clearly the self-reported salaries are significantly lower, particularly in the top range.

Where a radiologic technologist works can definitely have an impact on how much he or she is able to make. The following states are where you will find the highest salaries for this particular profession, according to the BLS:

  • California: $76,070 annual average salary
  • District of Columbia: $74,910
  • Massachusetts: $71,790
  • Alaska: $69,870
  • Hawaii: $69,100

The highest paying states are not necessarily the ones that have the highest concentration of jobs, which are as follows:

  • California: 16,540 radiologic technologists employed
  • Texas: 15,570
  • New York: 13,300
  • Florida: 12,810
  • Pennsylvania: 10,390

A salary can only go as far as living expenses will allow, so noting the cost of living in these areas is also important. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERC), in 2015 the most expensive states in the country were Hawaii, District of Columbia, New York, California, and Alaska. Notably, these states correspond almost exactly with the top paying states for radiologic technologists. By contrast, the most affordable states were Mississippi, Indiana, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, none of which represent the highest paying regions for this particular profession.

For the thorough researcher, there is also data for salaries down to the metropolitan level. The BLS lists the top 10 highest paying cities for this profession and perhaps unsurprisingly, 9 of those cities are in California. They are as follows:

  • Vallejo-Fairfield, CA: $102,970 annual average salary
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $95,770
  • San Rafael, CA: $92,100
  • San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA: $92,040
  • Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA: $89,650
  • Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA: $87,150
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: $85,200
  • Stockton-Lodi, CA: $83,720
  • Hanford-Corcoran, CA: $82,420
  • Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, MA: $80,600

Although job growth for this profession is expected to grow about 9% from 2014 to 2024, as noted above, competition for radiologic technologist jobs will likely still be stiff, particularly in areas with a low concentration of jobs. Those who wish to pursue the career successfully should be prepared to excel in their selected educational program, and to network effectively.