How to Become a Radiology Tech

  • Radiology technicians are health care specialists who conduct diagnostic imaging procedures, such as X-rays, computed tomography, CT (computerized tomography) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. 
  • Pursuing a career path in radiology technology requires passing the state licensure exam or certification program.
  • Radiology technicians must develop technical and non-technical skills.

What Is a Radiology Technician?

Radiology technicians screen patients for exams, move them to the proper position, operate the devices, and use basic radiology knowledge and expertise to reduce the patient’s radiation exposure.

Radiology is a field of medicine that uses medical imaging to identify disorders and generate treatment strategies for patients.

To confirm a suspected diagnosis, specific doctors, such as radiologists order radiology exams based on symptoms, diagnostic testing (such as labs and ECGs), and patient history.

The terms “radiology technician” and “radiologic technologist” refer to the same profession and are often interchangeable(1). Other synonyms for these terms include:

  • Radiographer
  • Radiologic tech
  • Radiologic technician
  • Radiology tech
  • Radiology technologist
  • Rad tech

Radiologic technologists are the third-largest group of health care professionals(2), trailing only physicians and nurses in terms of numbers, according to the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

This article aims to elaborate what radiologist technicians do, how aspirants become official radiology techs and the necessary skills for the job.

Job Description

Radiology technicians collaborate with doctors to treat patients of all ages, from newborns to seniors. Some everyday tasks and job duties include:

  • Assessing, examining, and evaluating patients
  • Positioning patients for diagnostic imaging procedures
  • Providing patient care during imaging procedures
  • Explaining the tests procedures to patients 
  • Maintaining and applying current knowledge of radiation protection and safety protocols
  • Preserving patient records, arranging images, ensuring image clarity, and relaying images to the doctor
  • Conducting or assisting a licensed practitioner in procedures 
  • Sterilizing and maintaining imaging equipment in the correct manner

Radiologic technologists have several different areas of specialization, including:

  • Bone densitometry
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Cardiac-interventional radiography
  • Vascular interventional radiography
  • Mammography
  • Sonography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT)

Education

Individuals interested in becoming radiology technicians should be competent in math and physics, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking. 

Anatomy and physiology, computer sciences, biology, chemistry, physics, and algebra are excellent high school courses aspiring radiology techs can take(3).

Prerequisites and Education Requirements

The following steps summarize the prerequisites and requirements for being a radiology technician:

  1. Having a high school diploma or passing the GED (General Educational Development) test.
  2. Earning a degree, e.g., bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree, or certificate in radiologic technology program.
  3. Acquiring certification. Most states and employers require certification from an accredited program.
    In some cases, pursuing a career path in radiology technology may involve passing the state licensure exam.
  4. Thinking about specializing. Taking X-rays is a typical entry-level task when beginning a career in radiologic technology(4).
    However, earning specialty certification may also help a radiology tech qualify as a sonographer, MRI specialist, or mammographer. 

Degrees and Programs

Most medical imaging centers and companies expect radiologist technicians to have a formal educational credential from a Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology(JRCERT) or an accredited hospital-based or college-based training program.

Radiologic science or radiology technology degree programs may focus on the following course subjects:

  • Human anatomy, physiology, and pathology related to radiology
  • Radiation physics
  • Radiation therapy treatment planning and dosimetry
  • Medical imaging procedures
  • Radiographic pathology
  • Patient care

Experience

An Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Radiologic Technology is an excellent educational program for individuals who intend to be on the cutting edge of patient care and technology.

Typically, an A.A.S. in rad tech is a 75-hour degree consisting of two parts: introductory classes and professional radiologic coursework(5)

Coursework

Completing an A.A.S. rad tech degree may involve the following steps:

  1. Applying and completing preliminary coursework
    The first step is to search for a university that offers a biological sciences-focused degree program that can provide the prerequisite coursework for a rad tech degree. 
    Applicants should expect to pay an application fee and submit transcripts from high school and college.
    Prerequisite coursework may include English, basic anatomy, healthcare, medical terminology, physiology, and psychology.
  2. Applying to the university’s radiologic technology degree program
    Upon completing the preliminary coursework, students may be eligible for admission to the university’s radiologic technology program.
    Students must pass a series of screenings and tests after admission into the program to pursue jobs as healthcare professionals.
  3. Completing the professional radiologic technology coursework
    Students may finish their remaining college credits, usually in a lock-step style. This option means that what the student learns in one subject is immediately applicable to the next.

Internships and Externships

At this stage, instructors may schedule students for clinical experiences (internships or externships) through the university’s affiliate providers’ network.

Certification and Licensing

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS, individuals who apply for a license in radiologic technology must be graduates of accredited programs(6). Moreover, the applicant must pass a certification exam from the state or acquire certification from an accreditation agency.

Multiple specialties are available for radiology technologists.

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers certificate programs for radiologic technologists.

The ARRT and the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Techs offer certification for MRI technologists (ARMRIT).

Contacting the state’s health board can provide information about specific licensure requirements for radiologic technologists and MRI technologists.

Salary and Benefits

According to the BLS(7), the median annual wage for radiologic technologists and technicians was $61,370 in May 2021.

The following were the median yearly wage for radiologic technologists and technicians who worked in the major industries in May 2021:

Federal government, excluding postal service$71,530
Outpatient care centers$67,240
Medical and diagnostic laboratories$62,410
Hospitals, state, local, and private$61,670
Physicians’ offices$59,500

Some benefits of becoming a radiology technician include:

  • An individual can become a radiology technologist with just a minimum of two years of study through an A.A.S. program.
  • As per the table above, the position of a radiology technician is one of the highest-paying full-time jobs in the United States.
  • The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reckons a 9% growth in overall employment of radiologic and MRI technologists from 2020 to 2030(8). This prediction means that rad techs have a favorable job outlook.
  • There are various options for radiographers to expand the scope of their careers. Certified and registered radiology technicians may pursue additional training in related specializations.

Career Outlook

As stated above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9% increase in overall employment of radiologic and MRI technologists from 2020 to 2030.

Over the next ten years, the BLS anticipates 20,800 job opportunities per year for radiologic and MRI technologists.

Many of those opportunities above may result from the need to replace individuals who change occupations or leave the workforce for other reasons like retirement(9).

Career Opportunities

Career opportunities for radiology technicians may include becoming a(10):

  • Radiographer
  • Computed tomography (CT) technologist
  • Mammographer
  • Nuclear medicine technologist
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologist
  • Diagnostic medical sonographer
  • Radiation therapist
  • Radiology nurse
  • Radiologist assistant

Skills Needed

Radiology technicians need technical skills, sometimes known as “hard skills,” to accomplish their work. Examples of hard skills include:

  • Anatomical and medical skills: Radiologist technicians should have a thorough understanding of human anatomy, cross-disciplinary clinical expertise, and general medical and surgical knowledge.
  • Technological skills: Radiologist technicians must be able to calibrate radiology equipment, employ imaging techniques, and modify the amount of radiation exposure time and intensity.
  • Sensitometry skills: Radiology technicians should be able to use sensitometers to measure and analyze how radiation and processing influence the film emulsion.

Radiology technicians must also have specific non-technical skill sets called “soft skills” to meet the demands of their work. Examples of soft skills are(11):

  • Collaborative problemsolving
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Attentive listening
  • Writing technical documents
  • Critical thinking
  • Teamwork ability

Roles and Responsibilities

The daily roles and responsibilities of a radiology technician may involve:

  • Examining the diagnostic image quality
  • Positioning patients for treatment or assessment
  • Adjusting imaging equipment’s settings and position
  • Operating diagnostic imaging devices
  • Preparing medical supplies or equipment for use
  • Checking to see if medical activities or operations meet standard requirements
  • Informing patients or family members about medical treatments or test results
  • Keeping an eye on the patient’s condition during treatments, procedures, or other activities

X-ray Technologist vs. Radiological Technologist

Radiologic technologists and x-ray techs are specialists working in medical imaging. These professionals work with patients in medical settings under the supervision of specific physicians.

Following the recommendations of a physician, X-ray technicians take radiographic photographs of body parts to identify medical concerns. 

X-ray technicians work closely with patients to help the latter prepare for the treatment mentally and keep them relaxed throughout. These technicians also clean all parts of the machine and maintain the equipment. 

An X-ray technician requires at least an associate’s degree and a license.

In contrast, radiology technologists usually work with chemicals and various imaging equipment.

Radiology technologists use X-rays, ultrasonography, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and PET (positron emission tomography) scans. Radiologic technicians may be required to utilize substances, such as iodine and barium, to create verifiable images.

Furthermore, rad techs may require a license or certification and a minimum of an associate’s degree. Still, some companies may prefer individuals with a bachelor’s degree(12).

Where Do Radiology Technicians Work?

Many rad techs work in hospitals(13). However, radiology technicians can also work in surgical centers, pain clinics, orthopedic offices, and outpatient imaging centers

Rad techs’ day-to-day activities may differ depending on their work environment. For example, radiologic technologists use portable machines to X-ray patients in the imaging department or the emergency department at hospitals. 

On the other hand, radiology technicians at an orthopedic facility or outpatient imaging facility may use static images to X-ray fractured and healing bones or abdominal or chest anatomy.

Is It Hard Being a Radiology Tech?

Transitioning from high school to a career as a radiology technician may not be as hard as some suggest. 

There are no formal mathematics classes in rad tech coursework. However, radiology technicians need a comprehension of mathematical equations and the ability to do basic algebraic calculations. 

Similar Occupations

The list below includes occupations with job duties that are similar to those of radiology technicians:

  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses
  • Nuclear medicine technologists
  • Cardiovascular technologists and technicians
  • Diagnostic medical sonographers
  • Endoscopy technicians
  • Radiation therapists
  • Dental assistants
  • Surgical technologists
  • Neurodiagnostic technologists
  • Dental hygienists
  • Veterinary technologists and technicians
  • Ultrasonographer

Common Misconceptions About Radiology Technicians

There are many misconceptions regarding the rewarding field of radiology technology. Some misconceptions include:

  • The task of radiology techs ends after capturing the image that a physician needs. The work of radiologic technologists does not end after taking x-rays and performing MRIs. 

Rad techs also guarantee that the photos captured are high quality. They also maintain imaging equipment and support physicians in making diagnoses.

  • The only thing radiology technicians do is take X-rays. People usually link X-rays with radiologic technologists. 

However, medical professionals can choose from various specialties, such as sonography, mammography, and magnetic resonance imaging


  1. What’s the Difference Between a Technician and Technologist in Radiology?
    https://www.cambridgehealth.edu/blog/whats-the-difference-between-a-technician-and-technologist-in-radiology/
  2. What Do Radiologic Technologists Do?
    https://www.arrt.org/pages/about-the-profession/learn-about-the-profession/what-do-radiologic-technologists-do
  3. Radiologic Technologist
    https://college.mayo.edu/academics/explore-health-care-careers/careers-a-z/radiologic-technologist/
  4. What Is a Radiology Technologist?
    https://www.allalliedhealthschools.com/radiology-technician/ 
  5. Radiologic Technologist (Radiographer): 3 Steps to Be One
    https://www.cleveland.edu/blog-post/~post/radiologic-technologist-radiographer-3-steps-to-be-one-20201020/
  6. Radiologic and MRI Technologists
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-4
  7. Pay
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-5
  8. Radiologic and MRI Technologists
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
  9. Ibid. 
  10. A World of Career Opportunities in Radiologic Technology
    https://www.ahra.org/AHRA/Careers/A_World_of_Career_Opportunities.aspx
  11. Remember 3 Things on the Way to a 2-Year Radiographer Degree
    https://www.cleveland.edu/blog-post/~post/remember-3-things-on-the-way-to-a-2-year-radiographer-degree-20181220/
  12. X-Ray Technician Vs Radiologic Technologist: Comparison & Salary
    https://bestaccreditedcolleges.org/articles/x-ray-technician-vs-radiologic-technologist-salary-schools.html
  13. Everything You Need to Know About a Career as a Radiologic Technologist
    https://www.herzing.edu/blog/everything-you-need-know-about-career-radiologic-technologist

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