How Can I Become a Medical Radiographer?
Research what it takes to become a medical radiographer. Learn about education requirements, certification, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.
What Is a Medical Radiographer?
Medical radiographers, also known as radiologic technologists or x-ray technicians, are medical professionals who specialize in the operation of sophistic equipment for diagnostic imaging purposes. They may use x-ray, mammography and/or computed tomography (CT) scanning machines to create images that physicians can use to diagnose a patient's condition. They may also administer nonradioactive substances into a patient's blood as part of a diagnostic test. After a procedure, they assist physicians with image evaluation in order to determine whether the images are sufficient for a diagnosis or if more need to be taken, and, if so, what adjustments need to be made in future tests. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of what you need to know to enter this field.
|Degree Required||Associate's degree most common; bachelor's degrees also available|
|Education Field of Study||Radiography or medical radiography|
|Key Responsibilities||Examine patients using imaging equipment such as x-ray, mammography &/or CT machines; assist doctor in analyzing images for diagnosis; maintain patient medical records|
|Licensure/Certification||Licensing &/or certification requirements vary by state|
|Job Growth (2018-2028 )||9% (for all radiologic technologists)*|
|Average Salary (2018)||$61,540 (for all radiologic technologists)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What Are the Requirements to Become a Medical Radiographer?
Prospective medical radiographers have the option of pursuing an associate's degree in radiography or a bachelor's degree in medical radiography. Associate's degree programs usually take two years to complete. Programs that are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) meet requirements that prepare you to take the certification exam offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) accredits the JRCERT, so any program they accredit will also meet CHEA and USDE requirements. In an associate's program, you will typically study basic radiographic imaging, anatomy and physiology, radiographic safety, medical ethics, laboratory skills, communication skills, proper patient positioning and basic job skills.
Bachelor's degree programs can take from two to four years to complete, depending on the program you choose. Some programs require that you already have an associate's degree and ARRT certification before entering the bachelor's program. These programs take two years to complete. Other bachelor's degree programs are 4-year programs that require a high school diploma or GED. Bachelor's degree programs also have the flexibility of offering you a career track specializing in x-ray, Computed Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance (MR) imaging.
Do I Need to Become Certified and Licensed?
To qualify for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certification exam, you must have completed coursework from a program accredited by the CHEA, USDE or JRCERT. Beginning in 2015, everyone who applies to be certified through the ARRT must have an academic degree before applying for certification. To apply for certification, you have to meet the specific ARRT-approved list of clinical procedures and competency requirements. There are also ethical requirements that applicants must meet and maintain in order to apply for certification. The ARRT exam will test your cognitive understanding of radiographic technology and your professional skill-set. Once you pass the exam, you will be certified, but to remain registered, you must renew your certification annually, which includes completing continuing education requirements.
Licensing is done on a state level. Thirty-seven U.S. states use the ARRT exam results in their decision to license radiographic technologists. Each state has its own laws regarding the licensing of medical radiographers, and it is up to you to understand and meet your state's requirements. Applying for state licensing has to be done through your state regulatory boards and cannot be done through ARRT.
What Happens After I Graduate?
As a medical radiographer, you have the choice to work in hospitals, physicians' offices, diagnostic labs, imaging centers and outpatient centers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 205,590 radiologic technologists working in the U.S. in May 2018, with jobs expected to increase by about 9% from 2018-2028; this is faster than average. In addition, the average annual income for radiologic technologists was $61,540 in the same month. The largest percentage of these workers, 121,310, was employed by hospitals.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
If you are interested in diagnostic imaging, you may want to think about getting a job as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologist. MRI technologists are experts in the operation and maintenance of MRI scanners, which are also used to diagnose patients based on radiographic images. Like medical radiographers, MRI technologists need an associate's degree. Another related occupation is a job as a radiation therapist. Instead of using radiation technology for patient diagnosis, these professionals use linear accelerator machines to apply radiation for treatment purposes, most commonly to treat patients with cancer. The minimum educational requirement for this job is an associate's degree.