Becoming a Radiologic Technologist - Education, Certification & Career
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Radiologic technologists—also known as rad techs— provide an important service in the healthcare industry. With skills that are learned in either a two-year or four-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 (2020), which sources its data from the US Department of Labor, 63 percent of radiologic technologists have an associate’s degree while 24 percent hold a bachelor’s degree. Interestingly, only 6 percent of technologists have a graduate degree. Compared to other professions that require just two years of school, radiologic technologists can make a good living, earning a median hourly wage of $28.62 in the US, which equates to an annual salary of $59,520 (Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2018).
Of course, this salary data, while compelling, does not tell the whole story. Prospective 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 that 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 use to make proper diagnoses. In addition, technologists maintain sophisticated imaging equipment and enforce safety standards around potentially hazardous equipment. They also work closely with patients to ensure that they are comfortable and informed throughout their procedures, treatments, or check-ups.
Licensing for radiologic technologists rests in individual certification and registration authorities that differ from state to state. There are no national radiologic technologist licensing requirements as of 2020. However, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers both certification and registration that is required by some states. Consult their state-by-state licensing authority list for more information. Beyond basic certification, technologists can specialize in a range of different procedures. These include, but not limited to, bone densitometry, breast sonography, computed tomography (CT), mammography, or vascular sonography.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that between 2018 and 2028, openings for radiologic technologists are expected to grow by 9 percent nationally, which is faster than the average growth expected for all jobs during that time (5 percent). Overall, there are good possibilities for radiologic technologists and those willing to put in the work to learn the necessary industry skills to do the job well.
Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to become a radiologic technologist.
Steps to Become a Radiologic Technologist
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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 two-year school, others will earn a bachelor’s degree. Each career path is unique, with rad-tech hopefuls coming from many different medical backgrounds.
The following steps represent the most direct path to becoming a radiologic technologist:
Step 1: Graduate from high school (four years): High school (or equivalency) is mandatory for any radiologic technologist. If you’re planning to go into the field as early as high school, it’s important to pay particular attention to science and mathematics courses. These will be useful for future educational opportunities. If possible, high school students should also try to work or volunteer in a healthcare setting to get an idea of what the career will entail.
Step 2: Apply for and attend an accredited undergraduate radiologic technology program (two to four years): Radiologic technologists may earn either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to be eligible for certification from the ARRT. As of early 2020, 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 associate’s 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.
Step 3: 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 the 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 the ARRT in areas such as mammography, bone densitometry, or cardiac-interventional radiography. Specializations include radiography, nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy, MRI, and sonography.
Step 4: Maintain ARRT certification (every two years): Technologists must renew their certifications every two years, which first requires compliance with all 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 the ARRT in other specialities.
Learn more about when certifications must be renewed and how they must be maintained by consulting the ARRT’s continuing education requirements.
Radiologic Technologist Salary
The salary ranges for radiologic technologists in the US, according to the BLS, offer new possibilities for a higher quality of living. Always an attractive choice for those who want to punch up, these great salaries provide incentive for prospective radiologic technologists to work hard. Here they are broken down into percentiles.
PayScale (2020) 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 5,786 technologists reporting:
- 10th percentile: $34,000
- 25th percentile: $41,000
- 50th percentile (median): $45,000
- 75th percentile: $53,000
- 90th percentile: $60,000
In addition to cost of living, geography definitely has an impact on how much they will be able to make. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2018) once more, the following states are where you will find the highest annual salaries for this particular profession:
- California: $81,060
- District of Columbia: $77,990
- Hawaii: $76,230
- Massachusetts: $74,820
- Oregon: $73,720
The highest paying states are not necessarily the ones that have the highest concentration of jobs. Those concentration figures are listed highest to lowest below. The following states have these amounts of registered radiologic technologists:
- California: 17,360
- Texas: 16,180
- Florida: 13,590
- New York: 12,780
- Pennsylvania: 10,210
Of course, a salary can only go as far as living expenses allow, so noting the cost of living in these areas is also important. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020), the most expensive states in the country were Hawaii, District of Columbia, California, Oregon, and New York. Notably, these states correspond almost exactly with the top paying states for radiologic technologists. By contrast, the most affordable states were Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Tennessee, none of which are one of the highest paying regions.
For the thorough researcher, there’s data available for salaries down to the metropolitan level. The BLS lists the top ten highest paying cities for this profession and perhaps unsurprisingly, all ten of those cities are in California. The average annual salaries for those cities are as follows:
- Vallejo-Fairfield: $101,880
- Salinas: $100,220
- Sacramento-Roseville-Arden: $96,660
- Sam Francisco-Oakland-Hayward: $93,530
- Stockton-Lodi: $88,450
- Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: $87,740
- Chico: $86,620
- San Diego-Carlsbad: $83,570
- Redding: $82,720
- San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande: $81,480
Although the trend for this profession is an expected growth of about 9 percent from 2018 to 2028, 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 work hard in their selected educational program, which means extensive study and networking with other professionals in the field.