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Radiology Technician Schools

Radiology technology schools have a lot to offer, and the gratification that can come with learning how to help others is only the beginning. One benefit: Mastering in-demand skills. According to a 2013 analysis from the nonprofit Brookings Institution, health care is the fastest-growing industry in the nation.

For perspective, at least one in 10 jobs across 100 of the largest U.S. cities in 2013 was in the health care sector. In some cities, that ratio doubled to one in five. Many of these jobs are in the field of radiology, and include both radiologists -- practitioners who spend years and years in school -- and the technicians who support them. Even quicker-entry support positions are highly specialized, however. The right training is crucial. This is where radiology programs come in.

Radiation technology schools teach students how to use equipment such as X-ray machines to help doctors diagnose, monitor and treat patients. Courses vary, but according to The College Board, topics covered usually include areas like anatomy and physiology, radiographic exposure, radiographic positioning and clinical practice. In addition, radiology programs can serve as stepping stones to a surprising range of jobs. Radiation technologists, radiation therapists, nuclear medicine technologists, and many more professionals get their start in such schools. Read on to learn more about these radiology specialists, including key training and career trends.

Snapshot: Radiology careers and specialties

For such a seemingly niche specialty, radiology is a diverse field where your title determines both what you do in the workplace and how you prepare for it. Some professionals, such as radiologists, graduate from radiology schools with advanced degrees. For others, like radiation technicians, requirements are much less steep. Here is a brief review of many different types of radiology professionals, what they do, and how they train, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • Radiologic technologists use equipment like X-ray machines to capture diagnostic images for physicians and surgeons.
  • Medical assistants can be either administrative or clinical. Administrative medical assistants do not provide any sort of direct patient care, but clinical medical assistants can perform some hands-on tasks -- including preparing patients for X-rays -- under the direction of a physician or radiologist.
  • X-ray technician is a somewhat outdated title for radiologic technologists, but may at times be used to distinguish professionals specializing in X-ray from those who use other types of imaging technology, like MRI and sonography machines.
  • Ultrasound technicians -- also called diagnostic medical sonographers -- specialize in sonographic imaging, meaning they capture diagnostic images using sound waves instead of radiation. Some ultrasound techs specialize in one or more areas of sonography, like cardiology, obstetrics and abdominal care.
  • Cardiovascular technologists specialize in diagnostic imaging procedures involving the heart, including electrocardiograms (EKGs) and sonographs.
  • MRI technicians are radiology support professionals who specialize in magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Nuclear medicine technologists perform radiological imaging exams that require patients to take radioactive drugs called radiopharmaceuticals.
  • Radiologist assistants, as defined by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, are advanced-practice radiologic technicians who become qualified to perform more advanced diagnostic imaging procedures through additional certification.
  • Radiologists are medical doctors who specialize in interpreting diagnostic images and administering radiation therapies.

Learn the ropes: Radiology degrees and certificates

All of the radiology professionals detailed may all work in the field of radiology, but their duties -- and, in turn, training requirements -- can vary tremendously. For instance, radiologic technologists and medical assistants are entry-level support professionals, meaning they can typically enter the field with an associate degree or less. The following list details common education requirements for various radiological specialties, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Radiologic technologists: The BLS reports that though radiology technician schools offer a wide range of certificates and degrees, associate degrees are the most common entry-level requirement. Some, but not all states require radiologic technologists to be licensed or certified by an organization like the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
  • Medical assistants: Most medical assistants earn postsecondary certificates before entering the field, though not all states require them.
  • X-ray technicians: Most X-ray technicians earn associate degrees from radiology technician schools, and some states require additional certification through the ARRT.
  • Ultrasound technicians: Most ultrasound techs have associate degrees, but bachelor's degrees are increasingly common. Some states now require techs to become certified before entering the field.
  • Cardiovascular technologists: Most technologists earn associate or bachelor's degrees before entering the field; the BLS reports that one-year certificates are only useful for students who already have related health care experience and training. While not all states require candidates to be certified to practice, most employers prefer to hire those who are.
  • MRI technicians: The BLS reports that an associate degree is the most common credential for MRI technologists, and some states require additional certification from organization like the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology.
  • Nuclear medicine technologists: Because they administer these medications, MRI technicians usually need at least an associate degree, if not a bachelor's degree to enter the field. Students who have already earned degrees in related fields can usually segue into nuclear technology by completing a 12-month certificate program. The BLS notes that some states require nuclear medicine technologists to become licensed or certified by organizations like ARRT or the nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board.
  • Radiology assistants: RAs are by definition certified. Certification requirements vary by organization, but the ARRT stipulates that candidates seeking its certification credential must complete an approved, upper-level program resulting in a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Radiologists: As the most advanced radiology professionals, radiologists must complete several years of advanced medical education (an M.D.) beyond the undergraduate level -- not to mention additional internships and residencies -- at accredited radiologic schools. Licensure is mandatory.

Although all of these degree programs differ in scope and duration, most build off the same basic knowledge or skill set. That means that radiologists and radiologic technicians, for instance, often take some of the same courses. Contact prospective schools directly to learn more.

What is professional certification?

Professional certifications are awarded by professional organizations rather than radiology schools and programs, and they certify a candidate's knowledge or specialized expertise. They are typically earned in addition to any other required postsecondary certificates and degrees. Some employers prefer or require professional certification; some states also require certification in the course of licensure. Certification requirements depend on your professional specialty, as well as the organization providing the credential. Contact the certifying organization to learn more.

By the numbers: Salary and career trends

Job titles and education requirements are not the only things that change from one radiological specialist to the next: Career outlook and earnings vary, too. The following table offers career projections and salaries by specialty, as reported by the BLS. Keep in mind that other factors can influence earnings and hiring, including experience, certification and past job performance. Some professional organizations maintain employment and salary records by certification. Visit the BLS to research additional job trends.

Career

Projected Growth:
2012 to 2022 (BLS.gov)

Mean annual wage, May 2013
(BLS.gov)

Radiation Therapists

23.5%

$81,740

Radiologic Technologists

20.8%

$56,760

Medical Assistants

29.0%

$30,780

Ultrasound Technician

46.0%

$67,170

Cardiovascular Technologist

30.4%

$53,990

MRI Technician

24%

$65,960

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

20%

$71,970

Radiologist

18.7%

$187,200

Location matters: High-demand states for radiology professionals

Location is another key driver of earnings and employment demand. In many cases, the two are related, as some employers are willing to offer better salaries when qualified candidates are in short supply. Though a number of trends can impact regional demand from one job to the next, there are a few states in which occupational outlook is well above average across several professional specialties.

The BLS projects that each of the following states will rank among the top five nationally in terms of overall employment growth between 2012 and 2022, and across several radiology-related fields. These include:

Texas

  • Ultrasound technicians: 57.6% growth
  • Cardiovascular technologists. 44.3% growth
  • Radiologic technologists, 30.4% growth
  • Radiation therapists: 30.1% growth
  • Nuclear medicine technologists: 30.5% growth
  • MRI technicians: 31.3% growth

Arizona

  • Ultrasound technicians: 54.9% growth
  • Cardiovascular technologists: 40.5% growth
  • Radiologic technologists: 29.4% growth
  • Nuclear medicine technologists: 27.5% growth

Utah

  • Ultrasound technicians: 54.9% growth
  • Cardiovascular technologists: 44.7% growth
  • Radiologic technologists: 32.5% growth
  • Nuclear medicine technologists: 30.2% growth
  • MRI technicians: 29.3% growth

Colorado

  • Ultrasound technicians: 54.1% growth
  • Cardiovascular technologists: 37.9% growth
  • Radiologic technologists: 25.9% growth
  • Radiation therapists: 28.2% growth
  • Nuclear medical technologists: 25.2% growth
  • MRI technicians: 27.7% growth

It is important to remember that the right training can give radiology professionals an edge in even the tightest job markets, so it pays to invest in your education. Contact prospective radiology and radiology technician schools to learn more about your options.

Next steps: Where to start

The decision to launch a career in radiology is a major step toward entering a dynamic field, but it is only the first step. The second? Choosing a degree program and school. We have detailed several specialties and their respective education requirements above, but it pays to do your own research. Request more information from prospective radiologist and radiology technician schools to get started.

Sources:

"Healthcare Metro Monitor Supplement," The Brookings Institution, July 1, 2013, Martha Ross and Siddharth Kulkarni, http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2013/07/01-healthcare-metro-monitor

May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: United States, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

Occupational Outlook Handbook: A-Z Index, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/a-z-index.htm

"Major: Medical Radiologic Technology," Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-allied-health-diagnosis-intervention-treatment-medical-radiologic-technology

Radiologist Assistant, American Society of Radiologic Technologists, http://www.asrt.org/main/careers/radiologist-assistant

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