Radiography Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's & Online Program Info

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Associate's and bachelor's degrees in radiography can lead to careers in diagnostic radiology. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Radiography: Degrees at a Glance

Radiography involves the use of x-ray machines to diagnose and treat patients. Radiologic technologists operate x-ray equipment, while following proper safety procedures and keeping detailed patient records. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that radiologic technologists could gain the necessary training from certificate, associate's or bachelor's programs, but that the most common path is to complete an associate's degree. Most states require radiologic technologists to be licensed by the state or certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). You can check with your state's health board to learn about pertinent requirements.

The BLS predicted that radiologic technologists and technicians would see a 28% increase in jobs from 2010-2020. Radiography positions are available at hospitals, imaging centers and doctors' offices. The BLS indicated that the job outlook is best for radiologic professionals who hold more than one certification.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking an entry-level position in radiography Students looking for mid-level positions in radiography and related areas that require in-depth training
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Radiologic technologist or technician ($55,000)*
- CAT scan technologist ($60,000 - May require two years' experience)**
Bachelor's degree holders are prepared for the same positions as associate's degree holders plus:
- Diagnostic imaging supervisor ($79,000 - Three to five years of experience typically needed)**
Time to Completion Usually between two and three years, full-time About four years, full-time
Common Requirements - Roughly 15-20 courses in radiography
- About two or three courses in science, math or healthcare
- Capstone/practicum course
- Roughly 20 courses in radiography
-Completion of general studies courses
- Practicum/clinical experiences
Prerequisites - High school diploma or its equivalent
- SAT or ACT scores (varies between programs)
- Specific high school or college courses, usually in science or math
- Some programs require completion of general studies courses with a minimum GPA
- Students may be required to pass background checks and drug screenings
- High school diploma or its equivalent
- Completion of general education and pre-professional courses (usually four semesters)
- Standardized test scores (required by some programs)
- Completion of any required prerequisite courses
- ARRT certification (varies between programs)
Online Availability Select courses may be available to students who already have radiography training Online programs are available to students who already have an associate's degree and who are ARRT certified

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com figures (as of December 2012).

Associate's Degree Programs in Radiography

You can usually find associate's degree programs at community colleges and technical schools. These programs typically take at least two years to complete and may prepare students for ARRT certification. Programs usually offer students the chance for hands-on learning at nearby laboratories or healthcare facilities. Upon completion of the program, students should have a solid understanding of safety procedures, how to operate x-ray and related equipment and how to read diagnostic results. Although an associate's degree can demonstrate competency and provide the option for transfer to a bachelor's degree program, a shorter certificate program may also provide the requisite training.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some programs prepare students to take the ARRT exam after graduation
  • Students can receive in-depth radiography training not found in other healthcare associate's degree programs
  • These programs may prepare you to continue your studies at the bachelor's degree level (some bachelor's programs require incoming students to have completed two years of coursework and possess ARRT certification)

Cons

  • Programs generally limit the number of students they admit each year
  • Certificate programs can also provide the necessary training for radiologic technologist positions, meaning an associate's degree may not be necessary
  • Skills gained are usually only useful for radiography careers and are not easily transferable to other career fields

Common Courses and Requirements

Associate's degree programs in radiography usually have students working on subject-area coursework almost immediately. Some of the courses you might take include:

  • Radiographic exposure
  • Radiographic imaging
  • Protection from radiation
  • Radiographic anatomy
  • Pediatric radiography

Most programs also require students to complete math, science or health courses. You can expect to have extensive hands-on learning opportunities, and some programs may even include more than one practicum or clinical experience.

Online Degree and Course Info

Since radiography training requires significant hands-on learning and clinical work, it does not translate very well into an online program, and strictly online programs in radiography are not available. Some schools may offer online radiography courses to students who have previous radiography training and/or work experience.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you're interested in working with a specific type of equipment like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CAT) scans, you may want to begin learning about it while in school. You may even be able to tailor your clinical experiences and select a facility that commonly uses the type of equipment with which you plan to work.

To maintain your ARRT certification, you'll need to complete continuing education courses. Joining an organization such as the American Society of Radiologic Technologists can provide you with access to the necessary materials to earn ARRT continuing education credits. You can also receive newsletters and access journals to keep up with the latest developments in the field and stay ahead of other job candidates.

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Radiography

Some schools offer a four-year bachelor's program that can prepare students for ARRT certification, while others provide a two-year program that requires incoming students to hold ARRT certification and to have completed general education courses. Bachelor's degree programs are commonly divided into pre-professional and professional sections that each take about two years to complete.

Some programs offer specialization options within radiologic science, such as ultrasound, mammography and MRI. Bachelor's programs typically give students multiple opportunities to obtain hands-on experience through clinical practicums and labs.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Four-year programs can prepare you for ARRT certification
  • Programs provide the chance for you to gain hands-on experience using industry-standard equipment
  • These programs may give you access to specialization options not available at the associate's degree level

Cons

  • Most positions you'll qualify for only require a certificate or an associate's degree
  • You may face strong competition for a spot in a program
  • Skills and knowledge obtained in these programs typically don't lead to many careers outside of radiography

Courses and Requirements

Most programs begin with pre-professional courses over the first two years, which may include general education requirements and specific science and health courses designed to prepare you for the radiography curriculum. Your final two years are focused on radiography studies and consist of courses in radiographic exposure, radiation protection, radiation therapy and radiobiology, among others. The final part of the program typically includes a practicum or clinical internship; some programs offer multiple clinical experiences throughout the professional portion of the program.

Online Degree Options

The bachelor's program is available completely online, but students usually must have an associate's degree and ARRT certification to qualify for admission. Some schools also require incoming students to have work experience in radiography. Online bachelor's programs usually feature the same coursework as on-campus ones, but without the hands-on learning opportunities.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Before enrolling in a program, you may want to find out what additional internship opportunities are offered at each school you're considering. Some schools have internships that allow students to work with specific technologies, such as MRI, CT scanning or mammography. Students who gain experience working with these technologies while in school may have an edge over other job candidates who didn't gain specialized experience.

Students who plan on using specific radiography equipment like CT scanners or MRI machines may also want to consider obtaining additional certifications. Students can pursue the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Certification or the Computed Tomography Certification from ARRT, both of which can be obtained after becoming certified in radiography. These certifications require candidates to pass an examination and complete ongoing continuing education courses.

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