How Long Does It Take to Become a Radiology Technician?

  • Depending on the radiologic technology program they join, radiology technicians spend at least one year to four years in school.
  • A radiology technician should be able to operate imaging equipment, perform radiologic procedures, and provide proper patient care.
  • The career path for a radiology technician is promising. Compensation is fair, given that no bachelor’s degree is required to start practicing.
  • Several degrees, programs, and specializations are available to radiology technicians. To gain managerial positions and better compensation, individuals should focus on furthering their education and focusing on specialization.
  • Radiology technicians have to undergo extensive training, earn certifications, and pass examinations before working. These requirements vary depending on the state.
Beyond having the skill set to operate high-tech imaging equipment and produce accurate diagnostic images, radiology technicians should also possess people skills. They should deal with people who are seeking diagnoses for symptoms and signs of diseases.  These individuals may be in pain or looking for support. Hence, a radiology technician should be able to offer patient care. A radiology technician uses diagnostic imaging technology to capture 2D and 3D images of patients’ body parts. These medical images are sent to radiologists or physicians to make a diagnosis. How long it takes to become a radiology technician depends on the program an individual joins.  Some training and certificate programs take a year. Meanwhile, an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree program may take two to four years. Radiology technicians with more training have higher employability in hospitals, healthcare facilities, diagnostic laboratories, and local medical centers. 

Getting a Radiologic Technology Degree

Getting a degree in radiologic technology, also known as radiography, medical imaging, or radiologic science, begins with a certificate program and could extend to a doctorate.

Radiologic Technology Certificate

To enter the medical field of radiologic technology, an individual should first secure a certificate in radiologic technology Certificates for beginners traditionally include Limited Scope X-ray programs. They teach candidates radiation safety and how to operate X-ray machines through a limited range of practice. Medical imaging professionals get radiologic technology certificates to gain additional expertise. These other specializations include computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound.  To earn these certificates, which are available at the undergraduate level, individuals should study and train for six months to a year.

Radiologic Technology Associate Degree

Individuals may get an associate’s degree in community colleges and technical schools. This education level is the minimum requirement to secure a position in the diagnostic imaging team of hospitals and healthcare facilities. Here are the titles for a radiologic technology associate’s degree:
  • Associate of Science in Radiography
  • Associate of Applied Science in Radiologic Technology
  • Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (better known as ultrasound)
  • Associate of Science in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Associate of Science in Nuclear Medicine Technology
An associate’s degree coursework varies, depending on the major. Some classes include mathematics, medical terminology, and anatomy.  Students are also required to get hands-on clinical experience operating equipment and caring for patients. It would take around two years to complete an associate degree in radiologic technology. The hands-on training requires that the majority of the study should happen on campus. However, select courses are available online.

Bachelor’s Degree in Radiologic Technology 

In the United States, over 1,000 accredited bachelor’s degree programs in radiologic technology are available. These include:
  • Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Technology
  • Bachelor of  Science in Radiologic Sciences
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Radiologic Technology
  • Bachelor of Radiography
  • Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
  • Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Medicine Sonography
The coursework for a bachelor’s degree includes ethics, patient positioning, patient care, radiation safety and protection, pathology, anatomy, radiation physics, and more advanced topics. It takes around four years to get a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology. To practice radiologic technology, graduates should get a certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).  In some cases, a state requires that radiologic technicians secure licenses before being allowed to work.  Earning a bachelor’s degree is more promising, as it opens up individuals to better opportunities, higher salaries, and management positions.

Master’s Degree in Radiologic Technology 

Individuals with a bachelor’s degree who still want to further their education may get a master’s degree.  This degree allows them to learn more advanced skills and topics in biomedical imaging and associated research methods. As a full-time program, a master’s degree takes one to two years to earn. Meanwhile, a part-time master’s degree takes three years to complete. Individuals pursue this degree to become radiologist assistants, a more advanced type of radiologic technician with more responsibilities in radiological procedures and patient assessment.  Here are some titles for individuals who want to take up a master’s degree in radiologic technology:
  • Master of Science in Radiologic Science
  • Master of Science in Radiation Sciences
  • Master of Science in Biomedical Imaging
  • Master of Science in Radiologic ScienceRadiologist Assistant

Doctoral Degrees in Radiologic Technology 

Graduates may pursue more advanced opportunities in radiologic science by taking doctoral education.  Graduates who want to earn licensure and medical board certification as doctors may get the Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Radiology degree. Those who want further education in medical imaging research and get board certification as medical physicists may pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Radiology program. Medical physicists are equipment specialists that mostly work behind the scenes.

Choosing a Specialization

Whichever radiologic technology degree individuals choose to pursue, they must pick a major or specialization.  Professional certifications and licensure areas depend on what an individual chooses to major in.

Radiologic Technology

The radiologic technology program is often used interchangeably with radiography. The program includes full-scope use of the X-ray and fluoroscopy. Sometimes other specializations, such as CT scans and MRI, are included. Fluoroscopy is a medical imaging technique that features a continuous X-ray image on a monitor, like an X-ray movie. Majoring in radiologic technology allows radiologic techs to work in medical institutions, physicians’ offices, urgent care facilities, and clinics. Some state licensing rules require radiologic techs (rad techs) to pass the ARRT’s national certification exam.

Radiation Therapy

Graduates who choose to major in radiation therapy or radiotherapy learn how to use radiation to treat certain types of cancer. The coursework of this specialization includes oncology, advanced anatomy, and medical dosimetry. Oncology refers to cancer diagnosis and treatment. Meanwhile, medical dosimetry is a program that produces healthcare professionals who become a part of the radiation oncology team. The radiation therapy program also requires radiation physics and patient care courses.  Individuals with a radiologic science associate’s degree may complete radiation therapy programs in one or two years.

Sonography

Diagnostic medical sonography degrees are better known as ultrasound degrees. Standard degree titles include Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Imaging and Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Individuals who choose this specialization learn about using sonography equipment, patient positioning, patient care in the medical imaging setting, and medical terminology. Sonography degree programs are often structured to prepare individuals for certification exams of subspecialties, such as abdominal sonography and breast sonography People who already earned an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in ultrasound technology may also get a specialty certificate in at least one sonography field, like cardiovascular sonography.

Nuclear Medicine Technology

Students who are taking associate’s degrees or bachelor’s degrees may join nuclear medicine technology programs.  These programs focus on using radiologic agents introduced into the body orally or intravenously (through or within a vein) to create medical images. The coursework for nuclear medicine technology includes radiation physics, nuclear medicine technology equipment, radiochemistry or radiopharmacy, and complete clinical placements. Most programs also include CT courses and allow students to earn dual certification or licensure in CT and nuclear medicine technology.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technology

Students may take the MRI program beginning at the associate degree level. Often, students combine this program with radiography or ultrasound programs.  Sometimes, they take the MRI program as a post-secondary certificate.  MRI tech programs usually take one year. Students take them as part of a degree or an add-on option for degrees in radiologic technology and sonography. Some degree titles include Associate of Science in Radiologic Science or Bachelor of  Science in Imaging Sciences.

Limited Scope X-ray

Limited Scope X-ray programs are also known as Limited Medical Radiography and Basic X-ray Machine Operator programs.  They are commonly offered as certificate programs and usually cover how to conduct X-ray examinations, prepare patients, and explain the procedure to them.  Those who take this program also learn how to position the equipment and the patient based on proper safety guidelines. To join this program, students should present a high school diploma or a general education development certificate.  To pursue a career as a limited scope X-ray tech, individuals should pass ARRT exams or register and get licensed in the state where they want to practice. They may find job opportunities in hospitals, outpatient care centers, laboratories, and doctors’ offices.

Other Specializations

Professionals may specialize in operating different medical imaging equipment types, including functional MRI scanners, X-ray machines, electrocardiography machines, and CT scanners.  They may also specialize in producing accurate diagnostic images of particular body parts, like the bones, heart, internal organs, veins, and arteries. These niche medical imaging specializations increase an individual’s employability. Some of these specialties include the following:
  • Mammography – using MRI and other X-ray techniques to produce internal images of breasts for cancer screening
  • Bone imaging – the most common use of the X-ray to take images of potentially damaged bones
  • Cardiac imaging- using an electrocardiogram machine to create internal images of the heart
  • Brain imaging – usually conducted by nuclear medicine technologists or MRI specialists to diagnose damages inside the head

Education Requirements 

Most US states require rad techs to have at least an associate’s degree before operating diagnostic imaging equipment. However, limited X-ray techs are allowed to work as long as they have technical diplomas. To earn a supervisory or management position, individuals must get a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology. Most states require rad techs to earn an ARRT certification to get a state license or permit.  These permits allow them to work with medical imaging equipment. However, some states require ARRT certification only. To take the ARRT’s certification test, individuals must finish at least a two-year associate’s degree program Limited X-ray technologists should earn a post-secondary technical diploma. Meanwhile, rad techs and ultrasound technicians should earn an associate’s degree. To become a radiologist assistant, one should earn a bachelor’s degree or degrees with a higher education level. Licensed professionals are required to renew their license every two years by taking 24-hour classes.  These additional courses guarantee that professionals keep updated on more current technologies and research in the radiologic technology field. Specializations require additional training and ARRT certifications

Training, Licensing, and Certification

The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology is the organization that accredits radiography training programs. People who want a career in radiologic technology should take accredited programs and training. These programs increase licensure eligibility. They also allow professionals to transfer credits to another program. There are two kinds of accreditation given to schools, namely, regional accreditation and programmatic accreditation. Schools that receive regional accreditation get recognized by one of the six regional accreditors acknowledged by the US Department of Education.  Some states only accept candidates who graduated from accredited schools. Students who need to make federally-backed student loans or receive any type of financial aid may also be required to graduate from institutions with regional accreditation. Students who want to transfer credits to regionally-accredited schools should also come from institutions that hold regional accreditation. Meanwhile, specialty organizations are responsible for giving programmatic accreditation.  These agencies include the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT), and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). To be accredited, programs are thoroughly reviewed and undergo a vetting process. Thus, several states and exam administrators consider programmatic accreditation in the licensing process.  For the accreditation of radiologic technology degree programs, the US Department of Education only recognizes JRCERT Some of the programs the organization accredits include radiation therapy, radiography, magnetic resonance, and medical dosimetry programs. JRCERT accreditation is not necessary for radiologic technology program graduates to take the ARRT or the Medical Dosimetry Certification Board licensing exams. However, JRCERT accreditation allows graduates to take these tests after graduation. CAAHEP accredits health education programs, such as advanced cardiovascular sonography and diagnostic medical sonography Accreditation from CAAHEP does not count during the ARRT licensing process. However, CAAHEP-accredited ultrasound courses are more likely to be on the list of ARRT-approved programs. Meanwhile, JRCNMT accredits nuclear medicine technology programs. Only graduates who have completed JRCNMT-accredited programs are eligible to take the exams for the nuclear medicine technologist certification board.  The educational paths of individuals significantly influence their career opportunities. It is essential to note that the requirements for modalities or specializations vary and depend on the state’s radiologic technology licensing board. To get a license, individuals must graduate from an accredited program and pass a state certification exam or the ARRT exam. Individuals with queries on state-specific requirements may ask the state’s health board.

Why Choose Radiologic Technology

The Pros

  • Radiologic technology programs are flexible. Individuals looking for a job may take six-month or year-long programs. Meanwhile, those who want to further their career may take four-year programs, continuing education courses, or more in-depth training.
  • Radiologic technology programs are specialized. Hence, individuals may pursue their particular interests and passions.
  • The career path of rad techs, especially those with further education, is a promising source of income.

The Cons

  • To get higher salaries and better positions, rad techs should spend more time and money on training and education.
  • Radiologic technologist programs do not focus on imaging skills alone. Rad techs should enhance their interpersonal skills, as they need to communicate with their patients. Their job description includes managing vulnerable patients who may be extremely emotional because of their pending diagnoses. 
  • Rad techs work long hours. They are either standing or helping patients move around. 

Jobs and Salaries

Individuals who take up radiologic technology have a promising career path

Radiology Technicians

Radiology technicians are responsible for operating the diagnostic imaging machines, positioning the patients, and following imaging procedures to produce high-quality digital images of body parts.  They use these images to diagnose illnesses. Entry-level education, usually an associate’s degree, is required.

Radiologic Technologists

Radiologic technologists, sometimes called radiographers, have a similar job description as radiology technicians. However, these occupations differ in the required level of education.  To become a radiologic technologist, most individuals take up a four-year bachelor’s degree. Associate degree holders may also apply for radiologic technologist positions. However, employment opportunities are more promising for four-year degree holders. Radiologic technologists are in charge of equipment operation and conducting exams using X-ray, CT, MRI, or mammography technologies to create digital images of a patient’s body parts. Radiologic technologists are also more qualified to become supervisors. In May 2019, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the mean annual salary of radiology technicians and technologists is $63,120(1) This compensation for radiology technicians is promising for a career that does not require a bachelor’s degree.

Radiology Assistants

The ARRT recently recognized the position of radiology assistant.  The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) shared that radiologist assistants are experienced radiologic technologists who acquired additional education, training, and certification(2). These additional credentials allow them to work as radiologist extenders. They work closely with radiologists to give advanced patient care, conduct imaging tests, and share their preliminary image observations with the radiologist. However, only licensed radiologists can make official diagnoses from radiologic images. The average annual salary of radiology assistants is $138,823(3).

Radiology Nurses

Becoming a radiology nurse requires that registered nurses should complete the training that involves treating patients undergoing radiologic procedures.  Radiology nurses must assist patients during testing, ensure their safety and comfort, and help them recover, especially if other complications arise. Traditionally, radiology nurses went to nursing school and took extra courses in radiology. They should pass the registered nurse certification exam and the radiology nurses certification exam. The average annual salary of radiology nurses is $81,942(4).

Radiologists

Radiologists are licensed medical doctors who have undergone specialized training in performing radiological tests and interpreting diagnostic images. They are versed in diagnosing illnesses through radiologic images. It takes around 13 years for an individual to become a radiologist. An individual has to spend four years on his undergraduate degree, four years in medical school, four years of radiology residency, and a year of internship with a hospital or medical facility. A radiologist makes around $416,290 on an average annually(5).

What Is Radiography?

Radiography refers to the use of X-ray techniques to visualize the body’s internal parts. These techniques generate and record X-ray patterns and provide patients with static images. An X-ray beam passes through the body during a procedure. X-ray patterns are recorded on film or electronically.

X-ray Technicians vs. Radiology Technicians

The main difference between these occupations is the scope of work. X-ray technicians may only conduct X-rays of the chest and limbs (hand, wrist, and foot). Individuals spend an average of 14 months studying to become an X-ray technician. Meanwhile, radiology technicians do the work of X-ray technicians. However, they also have other responsibilities, including performing MRI and CT scans.

Radiology Technologists vs. Sonographers

Radiology technologists use X-rays, CT scans, and MRI technology to capture internal images of the body. Meanwhile, sonographers specialize in producing diagnostic images of the body through sound waves and ultrasound technology.

Conclusion

The career path for a radiology technician is promising. Individuals who want to start working and earning may take up programs that take six months or one year. Those who want to further their education or get into other related medical fields may begin with a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology A radiology technology program’s difficulty is manageable as long as the student is willing to put in the work and the hours studying. The degree of difficulty may vary, depending on the program and specialization one chooses. The job descriptions and salaries for radiologic technology-related careers vary, depending on the position. The further one’s studies, the higher their employability and the more promising their compensation. A radiology technician goes beyond producing diagnostic images. The job also entails caring for emotional or vulnerable patients who may be fearful of their potential diagnosis.
  1. Radiologic Technologists and Technicians. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292034.htm
  2. Careers in Radiologic Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asrt.org/main/career-center/careers-in-radiologic-technology
  3. Radiologist Assistant Annual Salary. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Radiologist-Assistant-Salary
  4. Radiology Nurse Annual Salary. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Radiology-Nurse-Salary
  5. Radiologist Salary. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.salary.com/research/salary/alternate/radiologist-salary

Need more?