Begin a new career path in allied health
A radiologic technologist, also known as a radiographer, rad tech, or ARRT R.T. (R) X-ray technologist, performs X-ray exams and other diagnostic imaging procedures. These images are then reviewed and interpreted by doctors to help diagnose and treat injury and illnesses.
If you are interested in technology, anatomy, and science, as well as hands-on patient care, a career in radiology may be a great fit.
Here are four steps to become a radiologic technologist:
1. Understand the role of a Radiologic Technologist
A radiology tech (short for “technologist” in this article) is a medical professional who performs diagnostic imaging exams, such as X-rays. Radiology techs may also study and test to add additional modality credentials to their license after they become ARRT radiographers. Some post primary specialties listed by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologist (ARRT) are Bone Densitometry (BD), Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MR), Mammography (M), and Vascular Interventional Radiography (IR).
Radiology techs work closely with radiologists—doctors who interpret the results of the images. They may also work with a radiology tech assistant or aide, who helps transfer patients and position them for their images.
Some key duties of a radiology tech include:
- Preparing the exam room and imaging equipment, which includes machines and shielding devices to protect patients
- Explaining the exam procedure to patients and providing instructions for the exam, such as asking them to remove jewelry and items with metal, and answering any questions they may have
- Positioning patients for the imaging exam and calibrating or adjusting the equipment as needed
- Operating computerized equipment to capture images
- Checking the clarity of images and preparing them and other information for the radiologist to review
- Working with physicians to evaluate images and determine if more are needed
Depending on their specialty and after becoming registered as a radiologic technologist by the ARRT, an RT may continue their education with an advanced modality such as the ones listed above. Depending on the post primary specialty, radiology techs may also:
- Administer small amounts of radiopharmaceuticals to patients, which helps their tissues, organs, and bones to be seen more clearly on an exam
- Administer radiation doses to a patient as part of cancer or other disease treatment
- Use sound wave technology to get images of a patient's tissues and organs
- Measure a patient's bone mineral density
Important note on “radiologic technologists” vs “radiologic technicians”
These are different roles! “Technicians” cannot perform many of the same exams “technologists” are educated and qualified to perform. Technicians can take a short course and get certified as a Basic Machine Operator (BMO), but technologists must earn an associate degree to become qualified to perform a wider variety of exams technicians cannot perform.
What skills are needed to become a radiologic technologist?
In addition to having completed a radiology program and earning your associate or bachelor’s degree, the following soft skills are important:
- Attention to detail
- Communication, both written and verbal
- Problem solving ability
Where do radiologic technologists work?
Radiology techs typically work in hospitals (operating rooms, emergency departments, procedural suites, and specialized imaging departments), clinics or doctor’s offices. However, radiology techs may also be found working in stand-alone facilities that specialize in diagnostic imaging, medical labs and even nursing homes.
Many radiology techs work 40 hours a week, but depending on their employer, their shifts may vary in length from long to short. Some radiology techs travel to different locations or states to work for a temporary period, based on the needs of the particular employer.
How much do radiologic technologists make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual wage for radiologic technologists and technicians is $70,240 per year ($33.77 per hour). Keep in mind this figure includes additional specialty modalities.
What is the job outlook for radiologic technologists?
The job outlook for radiology technologists is positive; overall employment of radiologic and MRI technologists is projected to grow 6% from 2022-2032, faster than the average for all occupations.*
2. Earn your degree in an ARRT approved radiologic technology program
To become a radiology technologist, you’ll need to earn either an associate or a bachelor’s degree.
- Associate degree: Radiology technologists need to have at least an associate degree in radiologic technology to work in entry-level positions in hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices. These programs are typically two years and include health science courses, such as anatomy and physiology, as well as courses specific to radiology. It’s important to attend a school that has met the requirements of the ARRT. This will allow you to take the National Boards and become registered and credentialed as a Registered Technologist in Radiography R.T.(R). All employers require this.
- Bachelor’s degree: It’s not mandatory to have a bachelor’s degree to work as an entry-level radiology technologist; however, techs may choose to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree in radiology to advance their career and prepare for specialized or supervisory positions.
3. Become certified
To work as a radiologic technologist, states require candidates to pass the ARRT exam at the end of their radiography program. This is a national licensing requirement. There are additional state license requirements after submitting proof of ARRT passage. The requirements vary from state to state. 1
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers a variety of exams to certify and register individuals in medical imaging, radiology, and related procedures.
4. Choose a specialization
Radiology technologists may choose to further their education and specialize in different areas, including:
- Bone densitometry: Bone densitometry technicians measure bone density by using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) or CT scans. They are used to diagnose osteoporosis and determine the risk of bone fractures.
- Cardiac-interventional radiography: Cardiac-interventional radiography technologists work with fluoroscopic equipment to take images of the heart and the blood vessels surrounding it. Techs may also help doctors and other medical staff with procedures such as biopsies, stenting, angioplasty, thrombolysis and more.
- Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan): CT techs administer patients with a contrast material that highlights internal organs, bones, soft tissue, and blood vessels to provide three-dimensional images. CT scans help diagnose muscle and bone disorders, such as tumors and fractures, show the location of a tumor or blood clot and help guide procedures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI technicians operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to create diagnostic images to help identify issues in the brain, musculoskeletal problems, sports injuries, and spinal conditions.
- Mammography: Radiology techs who specialize in mammography administer mammograms, which help identify diseases such as breast cancer.
- Vascular interventional radiography: Vascular interventional radiology techs capture real-time, active images of the blood vessels using fluoroscopic equipment. They also help physicians with minimally invasive, image-guided vascular procedures, including angioplasty (using a balloon to help open a narrow or blocked artery), placing stents to open arteries or thrombolysis (breaking up blood clots).
- Nuclear medicine: Nuclear medicine radiology techs inject very small amounts of radioactive materials, or radiopharmaceuticals, into a patient and then use a scanner or camera to capture images so physicians can examine their organ function or structure. This allows physicians to see where blood is flowing and can identify issues, such as tumors. Nuclear medicine scans are often used to diagnose problems in the brain or heart.
- Sonography: Sonographers, or ultrasound technicians, use high-frequency sound waves to produce visual images of organs, tissues, or blood flow inside the body. While sonography is often associated with pregnancies and OB/GYNs, it is also used to view organs in the abdominal area.