- An associate degree in radiology opens up several career paths for individuals pursuing radiologic sciences, such as sonography, magnetic resonance imaging, and nuclear medicine technology(1).
- Many radiography programs require applicants to complete prerequisite coursework in science, math, and English to help the applicants prepare for the program’s demanding nature.
- Earning a radiology associate degree provides individuals with the necessary radiology fundamentals and helps prepare these individuals for certification(2).
Education: Prerequisites, Requirements, Certificates
An associate degree in radiology is a route to becoming a radiology technologist, nuclear medicine technologist, or ultrasound technician (sonographer).
Many community colleges and technical schools offer associate degree programs in radiologic technology.
This degree can provide individuals with a solid educational foundation in radiology fundamentals and help prepare them for certification(3).
A radiology associate degree usually takes two years to complete. Individuals can accomplish this program without disrupting their current job in many cases.
A radiologic technology associate’s degree can have varying titles and can include the following:
- Associate of Science (AS) in Radiography
- Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Radiologic Technology
- Associate of Science (AS) in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Other related associate degrees include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear medicine technology.
Most programs include classes such as physiology, anatomy, and medical terminology.
Meanwhile, core radiology courses typically include radiology technology, patient positioning, radiation safety, and case studies.
Almost all programs provide a hands-on learning experience where individuals have an opportunity to take the knowledge learned in the classroom and apply that knowledge to real situations in the field.
Other schools may also offer online associate degrees. However, many of these programs still require hands-on learning, and thus, there may be limited options to enroll in a fully online degree.
Many schools that accept enrollees for the radiology degree typically prefer students who already took math and science courses in high school(4).
However, this condition does not necessarily mean that students who did not take these courses or have limited math and science education are not eligible.
Individuals interested in enrolling in a radiology associate degree program or related programs such as a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology should contact a school offering these subjects.
This inquiry allows the enrollees to know if they have the eligibility to enroll in such programs.
To gain admission to an associate degree program, the higher education institution requires enrollees to have a high school diploma.
Some schools may refer to this diploma as a general education diploma (GED)(5).
Other enrollment requirements, such as high school grade point average (GPA), can vary between schools.
Enrollees typically apply to the university or college of their choice by submitting their transcripts and other supporting documents.
Some schools, such as Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kansas, offer an online associate degree in radiologic technology. This program may suit students who are interested in healthcare and skilled in the computer science and technology field(6).
In many radiography programs, prospective applicants must complete math, science, and English prerequisite coursework. These requirements help prepare the applicants for the program’s rigorous nature.
After the school has deemed that the applicant meets the prerequisites, the student may formally apply and major in the radiologic technology program, especially when aiming to become a radiology technician.
Radiologic Technology Certificate
A certificate in radiologic technology, also called a radiology certificate, is the minimum education requirement for individuals to start working in the radiologic technology field.
Candidates seeking entry-level work may consider earning such certificates from limited scope X-ray programs, which can prepare individuals to work with X-ray machines safely and in a limited range of practice.
Working professionals can also use radiologic technology certificates to earn additional expertise that can be helpful in medical imaging specializations such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or sonography.
Radiologic technology certificates are available at the undergraduate level. However, individuals with science degrees or already working full-time within the radiology field may also consider this certificate to earn a second degree, such as a master’s degree in radiologic technology.
Individuals with no prior experience in the radiology field can find radiologic technology certificates helpful, usually in conjunction with an associate degree, when attempting to qualify for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) credentialing or state licensure.
Certificate programs are most commonly found on-campus. However, some schools may offer online radiologic technology certificates in select modalities for individuals already certified in one or more areas.
Such certificates usually take six months to a year to complete.
Individuals who graduate and earn this certificate may be required to acquire a state license or other certifications to practice in a radiologic technology modality.
Core Concepts and Coursework
After the enrollee has met all the program’s prerequisites, students can proceed to take foundational and theoretical courses on radiographic procedures, human anatomy, and safety.
Students also experience practical hands-on clinical courses where they can apply their learning.
In general, foundational coursework is completed before students can proceed to clinical learning.
Students taking up the radiologic technology associate degree program typically take the following courses:
- Introductory anatomy
- Introductory biology
- Diagnostic concepts
- Foundational radiographic procedures
- Patient care and management
- Radiographic anatomy and positioning
- Specialized clinical imaging
- Radiographic or radiation protection
Licensure and Certifications
Individuals planning to pursue a technologist career in the radiologic sciences should consider earning ARRT credentials, which can help them stand out among other job candidates.
In some cases, employers will only need an applicant to have an ARRT certification and registration to be eligible to work in that organization.
However, some states require job seekers to obtain a license before working there as radiologic technologists or radiology technicians. This license differs from ARRT certification and registration.
Radiologic technologists assist doctors in analyzing injuries and diagnosing illnesses using imaging machines such as CT, MRI, X-ray, or mammography equipment(7).
Meanwhile, radiology technicians are personnel who work with radiologists to help prepare similar imaging equipment and assist patients with radiology procedures(8).
Radiologists are medical doctors who use radiology or medical imaging tools to diagnose and treat patients.
These similarities suggest that radiology technicians may have the same certification and licensing opportunities as radiologic technologists.
According to the ARRT, more than 75% of United States (US) states have licensing laws covering radiologic technology practice(9).
Such laws require individuals to obtain a state license before pursuing a radiologic technologist work opportunity in these states.
Additionally, many of these states use ARRT credentials or exam scores when evaluating license applications.
However, earning an ARRT credential does not automatically make an applicant eligible to work in a particular state. They need to meet that state’s requirements.
For example, some states can require an applicant to be ARRT-certified and registered for these individuals to obtain a state license.
Individuals applying for a state license must do the following steps(10):
- Contact the state to apply directly and get instructions on the application process.
- Once the state confirms the applicant’s eligibility to take the licensing exam, the individual pays the exam fee.
- ARRT processes the individual’s candidate status report, containing information the applicant needs to schedule an exam appointment at a Pearson VUE test center.
- The applicant must schedule and complete the exam within a 90-day exam window specified in the candidate status report.
- Individuals who need a window extension must contact the state directly. Exceptions include California, which automatically allows a 365-day eligibility period, and Florida, which grants a 180-day eligibility period(11).
The ARRT also administers the many licensure exams for technologists in different states. These ARRT-administered exams include the following disciplines(12):
- Radiation therapy
- Nuclear medicine technology
- Other state-approved postprimary disciplines
The ARRT also developed the following exams and administered them specifically for state licensing purposes(13):
- Bone densitometry equipment operator
- The limited scope of practice in radiography
The ARRT radiography certification and registration are given to an individual who passes the ARRT certification exam and becomes qualified to perform the role of a radiographer.
Radiographers are also sometimes called radiologic technologists(14).
Certification and registration require fulfilling certain professional standards in medical imaging, radiation therapy, or interventional procedures.
Many employers, state licensing authorities, and federal regulators consider ARRT credentials as legitimate confirmation that the individual has met rigorous professional standards.
As of 2022, more than 330,000 technologists are ARRT credential holders. Individuals who apply and qualify for an ARRT certification and registration can join the ranks of these qualified professionals(15).
Although an ARRT certification and registration are not job prerequisites, many employers prefer their technologists to have such credentials.
One reason for this preference is that employers acknowledge these credentials as proof that the applicant is committed to giving high-quality patient care(16).
Individuals pursuing an ARRT certification and registration must at least complete an associate degree or higher, such as a bachelor of science degree, to be eligible.
Moreover, the individual must earn the degree from an educational institution accredited by an ARRT-approved agency.
These accrediting bodies include the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, and the Higher Learning Commission(17).
When choosing a school and program for radiography, one essential consideration is the accreditation, which serves as an accrediting agency’s “seal of approval” granted for that curriculum.
What Is a Radiographer?
Radiographers or radiologic technologists comprise the third largest group of healthcare professionals after physicians and nurses(18).
Radiologic technologists specialize in producing digital images of the human body to help doctors discover a patient’s medical problem(19).
Radiographer’s Role and Responsibilities
The primary responsibility of many radiologic technologists is to produce images of parts of the patients’ bodies using diagnostic imaging equipment.
These imaging procedures can help doctors diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. Radiographers can use X-ray, CT, MRI, fluoroscopy, or sonography equipment.
In some cases, radiographers may need to prepare and inject radiopharmaceutical agents into patients to be scanned before creating the images(20).
Radiopharmaceuticals are agents used to diagnose certain medical conditions or treat diseases(21).
Radiographers can assist physicians in performing procedures such as stent insertion or angioplasty to help treat heart and blood vessel conditions without surgery.
Radiologic technologists can also administer therapeutic radiation doses for treating diseases such as cancer(22).
Like other medical professionals, radiographers provide the highest level of patient care and promote safety in their daily work.
Individuals taking up this profession can expect to work in a hospital, a physician’s office, or a laboratory. They may have to split their work between technological duties and patient interaction in most cases.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 212,100 radiologic technologists and technicians in 2020(23). The largest employers of these professions include the following:
- State, local, and private hospitals: 60%
- Physician offices: 19%
- Outpatient care centers: 7%
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories: 7%
- The federal government, excluding postal service: 3%
Individuals interested in more statistical information on radiologic technologists and other radiology-related data can visit the BLS website at www.BLS.gov.
Radiologic technologists may meet individual patients once or rarely, such as when a patient takes mammograms or X-rays. In this case, the radiologic technologist should welcome these patients so that their concerns are eased.
There are also times when radiographers encounter repeat patients regularly, such as when administering radiation to cancer patients.
In this situation, the radiographer will know these clients, address their fears, and share their medical milestones throughout the treatment’s course.
Radiographers interested in a career as radiologist assistants may achieve this goal through advanced education.
Regardless of specialization, radiologic technologists are an essential part of the medical team. They will help uncover health issues and be instrumental in saving lives(24).
Pursuing an associate degree in radiology opens up various career paths for individuals interested in radiologic sciences. The ARRT provides a list of professional disciplines available for individuals who want to become technologists in this field:
A bone densitometry technologist creates images using specialized X-ray equipment. This specialization helps doctors diagnose issues involving an individual’s bone health.
For example, if the test shows bone loss, patients and their health providers can talk about treatment options, such as medications and lifestyle changes.
Thus, bone densitometry technologists can help doctors verify bone-related conditions before making treatment recommendations to help individuals maintain healthy and strong bones(25).
Breast sonographers use a transducer (a device that converts sound energy to electronic signals) on an individual’s breasts to produce images.
A breast sonogram is often used for following up on an abnormal clinical exam or mammogram. A doctor analyzes the images and uses them in diagnosis. Breast sonographers can also assist in interventional procedures like biopsies.
Breast sonograms are noninvasive and do not use radiation. However, patients may be nervous or have questions about this procedure. Thus, breast sonographers must be capable of explaining the process and help calm the patients.
Cardiac Interventional Radiography
Cardiac interventional radiographers assist doctors through minimally invasive, image-guided procedures to diagnose and treat heart problems and blood vessel diseases without requiring the patient to undergo surgery.
These radiographers work using sophisticated fluoroscopic equipment to capture images of the heart and its blood vessels.
Individuals in this profession can assist with procedures such as angioplasty, stenting, thrombolysis, embolization, ablation, and biopsies.
Obtaining ARRT certification in cardiac interventional radiography can provide the necessary experience and skills to take part in these essential procedures.
Computed Tomography (CT)
A CT technologist will likely work in an imaging center or a hospital and perform scans on all parts of the body for various reasons.
For example, some patients may need imaging to help diagnose an acute condition or disease. Others need CT scans in emergencies for physicians to understand the extent of injuries and develop the appropriate treatment.
While performing these procedures, the CT technologist’s skills and confidence will be crucial, especially when balancing image quality with radiation dose.
CT technologists will also interact with patients and help inform and calm them during scanning procedures.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI technologists use an MRI, which utilizes the atoms’ resonant frequency properties within a magnetic field to create images of anatomic (relating to body structure) or physiologic conditions of the body.
These technologists are responsible for obtaining high-quality images for physicians to diagnose diseases and injuries effectively.
Patients may feel pain, distress, or claustrophobia during the MRI procedure. MRI technologists interact with patients through the procedure to provide support and information.
MRI technologists also work with radiologists and play an essential role in the patient’s medical team.
Mammographers help physicians detect and diagnose breast diseases using a mammogram, a piece of imaging equipment used to take X-ray images of breasts.
Since 1990, mammography has been essential in lowering breast-cancer deaths by almost one-third(26).
Many mammography patients require routine screenings, especially when they may have lumps or other breast cancer symptoms.
Mammographers operate mammograms to help physicians detect breast cancer and other breast diseases in their earliest stages.
Some individuals may become anxious when undergoing mammography procedures. Thus, mammographers can help provide a comforting presence while these individuals undergo exams and screenings.
Nuclear Medicine Technology
Nuclear medicine technologists create diagnostic images to aid physicians in diagnosing and evaluating critical conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
The responsibilities in this role include preparing and administering radiopharmaceutical agents to patients and using a scanner or camera to capture the images.
Nuclear medicine technologists also support and help prepare nervous patients by explaining clearly what the patients should expect.
A radiation therapist is a part of the team that helps, plans, and administers treatments to patients and monitors their conditions.
Radiation oncologists and radiologists usually prescribe radiation therapy to patients with cancer or other serious illnesses. One of the radiation therapist’s responsibilities is to use special equipment that produces ionizing radiation to administer therapeutic radiation doses.
Some patients may find dealing with a severe disease challenging and frightening. Thus, radiation therapists must be skilled and caring enough to make a significant difference in the patient’s experience.
Radiologic technologists often enter the profession as radiographers. Individuals with this job capture images of patients’ bones, internal organs, and soft tissues using X-ray equipment. Radiographers also assist radiologists with various procedures, including gastrointestinal exams or fluoroscopic imaging.
Individuals working in this field become essential members of a medical team that diagnoses and treats individuals with various injuries and diseases.
Registered Radiologist Assistant
Increasing patient demand for medical imaging services can cause radiology teams and resources to be stretched thin. Thus, medical facilities look for registered radiologist assistants (RRAs) to help provide high-level support to radiologists and improve patient care efficiency.
An RRA’s job responsibilities include managing and assessing patients and performing certain clinical procedures.
Sonographers operate specialized pieces of equipment that use non-ionizing, high-frequency sound waves to produce images of an individual’s tissues and internal organs. Individuals in this profession can perform this procedure for various purposes, such as creating images of a child inside its mother’s womb.
Sonographers, also called ultrasound technologists, typically work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and diagnostic clinics.
Individuals with ARRT credentials in sonography can acquire the knowledge and confidence to provide high-quality patient care(27).
Vascular Interventional Radiography
The main responsibility of vascular interventional radiographers is to assist physicians using minimally invasive and image-guided vascular procedures, such as angioplasty, thrombolysis, and stenting.
Angioplasty is a medical procedure to open blocked coronary arteries(28).
Meanwhile, thrombolysis is a procedure to break up blood clots restricting the blood flow in the arteries and veins(29).
Lastly, stenting is the use of a tiny, expandable metal mesh coil in angioplasty procedures to help keep the newly opened artery from narrowing or closing again(30).
Vascular interventional radiographers are responsible for creating images of blood vessels by using fluoroscopic equipment.
Individuals aiming to work in this field are likely to work in hospitals, clinics, laboratories, or outpatient centers and become part of a medical team that cares for patients.
Vascular sonographers use ultrasound machines that produce high-frequency sound waves to create images of the patients’ arteries and veins.
These images show the internal organs’ structure and movements or the blood’s movement through vessels. Physicians utilize these images to diagnose and treat various medical conditions.
Vascular sonographers also support and provide information to patients and contribute to the overall function of the medical team.
1. Can an individual be a radiologist with an associate’s degree?
An associate degree in radiology allows individuals to qualify for most entry-level medical imaging jobs.
However, a radiologist typically needs to complete a four-year undergraduate degree followed by another four years in medical school plus one year of internship(31).
Thus, individuals wanting to become radiologists need more than an associate degree.
Some schools also require four-year residency training in diagnostic radiology. These physicians can also pursue a sub-specialty fellowship, adding at least one year of further training.
2. How much does a radiologist with an associate’s degree make?
There is no official data on how much radiologists make relative to their associate degree.
However, a 2020 physician compensation report stated that radiologists made an annual average of $427,000 plus an incentive bonus of $77,000(32).
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