Diagnostic radiology, or simply radiology, is a broad medical field wherein medical professionals utilize various imaging technologies to diagnose and treat a patient’s medical condition.
Different medical sectors, such as oncology, obstetrics, surgery, pediatrics, and infectious diseases, rely on radiology to produce an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Radiology professionals must have a grasp of basic radiology procedures. Later on, they may pursue further education and specialize in performing a particular discipline.
Possible disciplines include computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scan, sonography, and mammography.
Careers in Radiology
There are various viable career options available for individuals looking to enter radiology. Career opportunities range from being a radiologist, who has a medical degree, to being a radiology technician who provides technical support.
All radiology professionals must have an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, physics, radiation safety and protection, and patient care.
|Job Title||EducationRequirement||Job Responsibilities||Average Annual Salary|
|Radiologist||Medical degree||Analyzes and interprets imaging and test results; recommends treatment||$401,000(1)|
|Radiologic Technologist||Associate’s degree orBachelor’s degree||Conducts various diagnostic imaging procedures||$69,266(2)|
|X-Ray Technician||Associate’s degree orBachelor’s degree||Conducts X-ray procedures||$57,865(3)|
|MRI Technologist||Associate’s degree orBachelor’s degree||Conducts MRI procedures||$76,117(4)|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographer||Associate’s degree orBachelor’s degree||Conducts ultrasound procedures||$77,825(5)|
|CT Scan Technologist||Associate’s degree orBachelor’s degree||Conducts CT scan procedures||$69,896(6)|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologist||Associate’s degree orBachelor’s degree||Administers radiopharmaceutical treatments||$83,385(7)|
|Registered Radiologist Assistant||Bachelor’s degree||Assists radiologists||$108,494(8)|
Specialized physicians who perform analysis and interpretation on imaging and test results and provide diagnosis and treatment recommendations are called radiologists.
Their job entails regular consultations with fellow physicians and working closely with other radiology professionals in preparing the patients for the diagnostic procedure.
In addition to diagnosis, radiologists may specialize in oncology and nuclear medicine and use radiation to treat cancer patients. These professionals are called interventional radiologists.
Other specializations include breast imaging, musculoskeletal radiology, emergency radiology, cardiovascular radiology, and neuroradiology.
As medical doctors or MDs, radiologists spend at least ten years for education. They must finish a bachelor’s degree – usually in biology, chemistry, or physics – before proceeding to medical school.
Afterward, they must earn a physician’s license and complete a residency program in radiology. Aspiring radiologists are also required to obtain a certification from the American Board of Radiology (ABR)(9).
The ABR provides initial and subspecialization certification. Subspecialties may include hospice and palliative medicine, neuroradiology, nuclear radiology, pain medicine, pediatric radiology, and interventional radiology.
Physicians are among the highest-paid professionals among all occupations. In 2017, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated the median physician’s salary as $208,000(10).
According to a 2019 medical publication, radiologists may receive an average annual wage of $401,000. This data signifies that physicians’ yearly income increased by more than 48% within two years(11).
In 2020, New York and Massachusetts emerged as the top-paying states for physicians, as these professionals receive an annual income of $355,429 and $352,068. Meanwhile, North Carolina lags behind with $260,673, followed by Florida with $273,754(12).
Radiologic technologists or radiographers create medical images using diagnostic imaging procedures.
Radiologic technologists also interact with patients in explaining and guiding them through medical procedures.
Knowledge of and adherence to strict protocols are also part of a radiographer’s job. These procedures ensure that patients are not exposed to unnecessary radiation.
Aspiring radiographers typically finish a two-year associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree before moving forward and pursuing a specialization in one or more radiology disciplines.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) reports that around 75% of US states require individuals to undergo a certification process and obtain a license before practicing radiologic technology(13).
In a 2019 member survey, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) estimated the average annual salary for radiologic technologists across the United States as $69,266 or an hourly rate of $33.30(14).
According to the same survey, radiologic techs’ salaries are reported highest in California, Hawaii, and Alaska. California has an average yearly income of $101,699, while Hawaii and Alaska reported $89,497 and $85,19.
Meanwhile, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas are states with the lowest salaries, at $54,122, $55,898, and $56,113 respectively.
X-ray technicians are radiography specialists in charge of producing the patient’s medical diagnostic images via an X-ray. Radiologists use these images in diagnosing the patient’s medical condition.
X-ray technicians closely coordinate with physicians and operate the imaging equipment whenever required.
Technicians are also responsible for explaining and guiding patients and keeping an accurate record of their completed medical procedures.
Aspiring X-ray techs share almost the same educational path with radiologic technicians. Both careers require at least an associate’s degree with coursework in anatomy, radiation safety and protection, patient positioning, examination techniques, equipment protocols, and patient care.
However, X-ray technicians may finish their degree programs in as early as nine months.
X-ray techs often work in hospitals or imaging centers. Before they gain employment, they are first required to undergo an accreditation process.
California requires X-ray techs to acquire a license on three limited X-ray technology: chest, torso-skeletal, and extremities.
Other states do not have licensure laws but have chosen to defer to the standards of accreditation institutions, such as ARRT.
The ASRT estimated that the national average wage for X-ray techs in 2019 is $57,865 or $27.82 per hour(15).
In the same report, ASRT identifies the top-paying states for X-ray techs: California, Hawaii, District of Columbia (DC), and Alaska.
The organization states that California X-ray technicians earn an average of $87,323, while Hawaii pays its technicians approximately $77,806 annually. DC offers technicians $75,174, and Alaska technicians earn an average of $73,780(16).
An MRI technologist produces 3D, high-definition images of the patient’s internal organs via the MRI scanner. The resulting images help physicians provide an accurate and reliable diagnosis of the patient’s ailment and propose an appropriate treatment.
Patient care is also an essential part of MRI technologists’ job description. MRI techs are responsible for guiding and communicating with patients on the vital aspects of the MRI procedure.
Patients may sometimes feel intense anxiety akin to claustrophobia during the procedure. A level-headed, compassionate, and reliable MRI tech is essential in keeping the patients calm and steady.
When patients are agitated during the procedure, the MRI techs may get inaccurate and unusable medical imaging results.
MRI technologists are not the same as MRI technicians, who follow directions from physicians when preparing patients for MRI scans(17).
MRI technologists are required to have at least an associate or a bachelor’s degree. An additional one or two years training on MRI technology may follow.
Requirements vary depending on the state, but aspiring MRI technologists must pass a certification exam before employment.
In their 2019 report, the ASRT estimated the average annual salary for MRI technologists to be $76,117 or $36.59 an hour(18).
While salaries may vary across job experiences and educational attainment, ASRT’s 2019 report also identifies DC, California, and Alaska as the top-paying states for MRI technologists. DC salary averages at $124,779, while California comes in second with $103,369.
Alaska ranks third at $92,775, while low-paying states include Mississippi, Delaware, and Alabama(19).
Ultrasound Technicians or Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasound technology to produce detailed images of the internal body through sound waves. This soft-tissue diagnostic procedure may be used in obstetrics, gynecology, and neurosonography.
Sonographers also analyze the patient’s test results and submit their interpretations to the supervising physician for an official diagnosis and treatment recommendation.
They must complete a two to four-year sonography program, or earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Clinical experience and certifications from private organizations, such as the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), may prove invaluable to employers(20).
Sonographers may expect an average annual income of $77,825 or an hourly rate of $37.42. However, entry-level professionals may expect around 25% less wage at $58,016 per year.
California, Hawaii, and Utah are the top-paying states for sonographers; Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama are the lowest-paying states(21).
CT Scan Technologists
CT scan or CAT scan technologists use computerized tomography or CT equipment to create three-dimensional, cross-sectional images of the skeleton, tissues, and internal organs.
The three-dimensional images allow physicians to detect abnormalities, including tumors and cancer.
Like other technologists, CT scan technologists should learn patient care, as they are responsible for explaining the procedure and answering patients’ questions.
Technologists also determine the best positions to accomplish the scan on the intended area, while keeping in mind the patients’ comfort and ability.
CT scan techs must finish at least a two-year associate degree program. However, some educational institutions also offer bachelor degrees.
Most states require aspiring CT scan techs to go through a licensing process before getting employed.
ASRT recorded the annual median salary among full-time CT Scan technologists to be $69,896 or $33.60 per hour. The mean wage only slightly varies among the states(22).
According to ASRT, when it comes to wages, the positive outliers include California with $101,049, Alaska with $94,169, and Massachusetts with $87,502. Alabama, Arkansas, and Nebraska are among the negative outliers among the states, with as low as $51,048 annual salary or an hourly wage of $24.54(23).
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Nuclear medicine technologists operate the necessary diagnostic equipment. They also assist oncologists in administering radiopharmaceutical treatments to cancer patients
These technologists are usually part of a radiology team and work under a supervisor.
A nuclear medicine tech regularly administers radioactive atoms to patients. Hence, a strong training foundation on nuclear technology is required.
Nuclear technologists accomplish an associate or a bachelor’s degree, focusing on nuclear physics, radiation, and medical terminology. Acquiring certification in related fields, such as radiology, may help improve one’s expertise.
Various states also require aspiring nuclear medicine technologists to acquire a professional license and commit to continuing education.
ASRT estimates that nuclear medicine technologists receive $40.08 an hour or a median annual salary of $83,385, second only to medical dosimetry. The average wage increases as one gains more work experience or pursues continuing education(24).
Medical dosimetry is a radiology specialization, which involves designing, generating, and measuring appropriate dose distributions and dose calculations for patients’ radiation therapy.
Meanwhile, technologists with a master’s degree are also estimated to earn an average of $87,781, while having a doctoral degree may garner an annual wage of $96,189(25).
California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are the top three highest-paying states for nuclear medicine technologists. Meanwhile, West Virginia, South Dakota, and New Mexico have the lowest pay(26).
Registered Radiologist Assistant****s
A registered radiologist assistant (RRA) performs tasks that a radiologist would otherwise perform, such as patient assessment and management. RRAs may also execute diagnostic imaging procedures and evaluate the resulting images.
They work under the direct supervision of radiologists but do not require constant monitoring when interacting with patients.
Registered assistants are required to finish a four-year bachelor’s degree, followed by at least one year of clinical experience.
Earning certifications are strongly encouraged and may be part of states’ or employers’ requirements.
ARRT offers a certification program for aspiring registered radiologist assistants, provided the applicants have satisfied the organization’s criteria(27).
The mean annual wage for full-time RRAs is higher than the salary for most radiology jobs at $108,494, with entry-level assistants receiving $71,591 a year or $34.42 per hour. Senior RRAs may expect 36.65% more income at $113,002(28).
Connecticut, Michigan, and California are the top three highest-paying states for an aspiring RRA. Meanwhile, South Carolina, Texas, and Oregon report the lowest annual salary(29).
The Future of Radiology Careers
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a positive, faster-than-average job growth rate for the field of radiology from 2018 to 2028.
The job rate for surgeons and physicians, including radiologists’, is projected to grow up to 7% in ten years(30). Radiologic technology, including its modalities, has an estimated growth rate of 9%(31).
The BLS credits this positive job outlook to an increasingly fast-aging US population. A fast-aging population is likely to trigger a demand for the latest medical technology and high-level patient care(32).
The high employment probability for radiology makes it a viable career path for aspiring healthcare workers.
Radiology provides numerous opportunities that might lead to a challenging yet rewarding career. Based on recent data, jobs in the field of radiology will be in demand in the next ten years, despite possible limiting factors.
Radiology can cater to a wide range of individuals, with degree options ranging from associate’s degrees to doctoral degrees. Additional certifications and job experience provide better opportunities for career advancement and salary increase.