Radiation Technician: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for radiation technicians. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Cardiovascular Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Radiation Technician?

The job title 'radiation technician' could refer to a radiologic technologist or a radiation therapist. Radiologic technologists are medical imaging professionals who use x rays to obtain diagnostic images of a patient's body. In order to get a clear image, technologists must position patients in the correct place. They use computerized equipment to take the images and work with medical professionals to evaluate the images.

Radiation therapists aid oncologists in treating diseases like cancer by using focused radiation from a machine called a linear accelerator. These therapists prepare patients for the procedure and use safety precautions to shield them from overexposure, then operate the linear accelerator to target the cancer cells.

The following chart provides an overview about these two career fields, which have similar requirements.

Degree Required Associate's for radiologic technologists; associate's or bachelor's degree for radiation therapists
Education Field of Study Radiologic technology, radiation therapy
Key Responsibilities Operate and maintain imaging and radiation therapy equipment; follow doctor's orders to obtain images or deliver radiation therapy; position patients properly for imaging or radiation therapy; take patient history and make accurate entries in patient records
Licensure or Certification Licensure or certification is required in all states for radiologic technologists and in most states for radiation therapists
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9% (radiologic technologists); 14% (radiation therapists)
Median Salary (2015)* $56,670 (radiologic technologists); $80,220 (radiation therapists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a Radiation Technician Do?

Radiologic technologists may perform a variety of diagnostic imaging procedures. For example, fluoroscopies involve injection or ingestion of sensitive liquids that can be imaged using radiation techniques. Other procedures may include CT (computed tomography) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Mammograms involve imaging the breast, and some radiologic technologists specialize in mammography.

Radiation therapists use radiation to diagnose and treat a variety of ailments, especially cancers. Often, this involves carefully planning and situating the patient to receive the proper dose of radiation in the right place. Radiation therapists usually work alongside physicians to develop plans for a patient's radiation therapy, which includes calculating the dose and timeline of the treatment.

What Are the Employment Opportunities?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), radiologic technologists were expected to have a good employment outlook, with a projected job growth rate of 9% during the years 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Radiation therapists have an even more positive outlook with 14% growth over that decade. A growing elderly population and replacement of retired workers is the main reason behind these outlooks, as well as advancements in medical technology.

What Are the Education Requirements?

First, students should pick a school that's accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). Becoming a radiologic technologist requires an Associate of Applied Science in Radiologic Technology, while aspiring radiation therapists should obtain either an associate's or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy. These programs usually include some similar courses, such as anatomy and physiology, patient care procedures, radiation protection, medical terminology, positioning of patients and medical ethics.

All states require radiologic technologists to be certified or licensed, and most states require the same of radiation therapists. The American Registry of Radiological Technologists (ARRT) offers applicable certification for both careers. The ARRT certification involves verifying clinical experience, submitting an application and passing an exam.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One similar career option in the imaging field is nuclear medicine technology. Nuclear medicine technologists first give patients radioactive drugs, then use equipment to take an image of the body. The radioactive drugs allow physicians to better see problem areas in the patient's body on the image. These technologists need an associate's degree and, in many cases, licensure and/or certification from the ARRT.

Those who are interested in medical imaging might also want to consider diagnostic medical sonography. Sonographers use an ultrasound machine to produce images via sound waves. Specializations exist in areas like abdominal sonography and OB/GYN sonography. These professionals need a certificate or an associate's degree, and many gain certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

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