Becoming a Radiologic Technologist - Education, Certification & Career
Radiologic technologists—also known as rad techs— provide an important service in the healthcare industry. With skills 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 (2023), which sources its data from the US Department of Labor, 73 percent of radiologic technologists have an associate’s degree while 17 percent hold a bachelor’s degree. Interestingly, only 11 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. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the median hourly wage in the US is $31.97, which equates to an annual salary of $66,490 (BLS May 2021).
Of course, this salary data, while compelling, does not tell the whole story. Prospective students and potential technologists will undoubtedly 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 do not interpret the images, they ensure that they 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 they are comfortable and informed throughout their procedures, treatments, or check-ups.
Licensing for radiologic technologists rests on individual certification and registration authorities that differ from state to state. However, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers both certification and registration that is required by some states. Consult the ARRT’s state-by-state licensing authority list for more information.
Beyond basic certification, technologists can specialize in a range of different procedures. These include, but are not limited to, bone densitometry, breast sonography, computed tomography (CT), mammography, or vascular sonography.
The BLS (2022) reports that between 2021 and 2031, openings for radiologic technologists are expected to grow by 6 percent nationally, which is slightly 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
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, paying particular attention to science and mathematics courses is essential. 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 understand 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 June 2021, 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 complete list of those accrediting agencies is available from ARRT.
Earning a bachelor’s degree instead of an associate’s degree does not make an applicant more qualified for certification. Still, it may help further one’s education or find and matching 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): There are no national licensing requirements for radiologic technologists, though many states 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 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 to stay current with their certification or be awarded further certifications from the ARRT in other specialties.
Learn more about when certifications must be renewed and how to maintain them by consulting the ARRT’s continuing education requirements.
Radiologic Technologist Salary – How Much Do Rad Techs Make?
The salary ranges for radiologic technologists in the US offer new possibilities for a higher quality of living. Here they are broken down into percentiles (BLS May 2021):
- 10th percentile: $46,850
- 25th percentile: $48,900
- 50th percentile (median): $61,370
- 75th percentile: $77,290
- 90th percentile: $94,880
PayScale (2023) is a salary aggregator where radiologic technologists and other professionals report their salaries. The ranges reported here are useful as a comparison to BLS data and are as follows for the more than 4,329 radiologic technologists reporting:
- 10th percentile: $41,000
- 50th percentile (median): $57,487
- 90th percentile: $80,000
In addition to the cost of living, geography impacts how much they will be able to make. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021) once more, the following states are where you will find the highest average annual salaries for this particular profession:
- California: $95,170 average annual salary
- Hawaii: $84,100
- Massachusetts: $79,360
- District of Columbia: $79,320
- Oregon: $78,800
The highest-paying states are not necessarily the ones that have the highest employment levels. Those concentration figures are listed from highest to lowest below. The following states have these amounts of registered radiologic technologists (BLS May 2021):
- California: 18,290 rad techs
- Texas: 16,870
- New York: 15,180
- Florida: 13,560
- Pennsylvania: 10,940
Of course, a salary can only go as far as living expenses allow, so noting the cost of living in these areas is also essential. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2021), the most expensive states in the country were Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, California, 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, Kansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa—none of which are among 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 (BLS May 2020):
- Vallejo-Fairfield: $127,890
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $118,480
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward: $118,100
- Santa Rosa, CA: $112,270
- Sacramento-Roseville-Arden: $107,450
- Stockton-Lodi, CA: $101,350
- Modesto, CA: $100,340
- Salinas, CA: $96,930
- Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: $94,660
- Redding, CA: $94,660
Although the trend for this profession is expected to grow about 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, competition for radiologic technologist jobs will likely still be stiff, particularly in areas with a low concentration of employment. 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.