Becoming a Radiation Technologist: Job Description & Salary Info

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A radiation technologist earns a median annual wage of around $56,000, but is it worth the education and training requirements? Learn the truth about what it takes to become a radiation technologist and find out about career prospects to make an informed decision about your career.
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The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Radiation Technologist

A radiation technologist may be referred to in several ways, including radiologic technologist, radiologic technician or radiographer. People in these professions perform diagnostic imagining examinations. As a radiation technologist, you must possess critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to communicate with patients. Although you'll wear gloves and shields for protection, you may still be exposed to some radiation. Reading the pros and cons of being a radiation technologist can help you decide if this is the career you want to pursue.

PROS of Being a Radiation Technologist
Faster-than-average employment growth (expected 21% growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Allows you to help others*
Certificate or associate's degree sufficient for entry-level positions*
Can work in various medical settings (hospitals, physicians' offices, outpatient centers, etc.)*
Specialization options are available (mammography, computed tomography, etc.)*

CONS of Being a Radiation Technologist
Work hours may include evenings, weekends and holidays*
May require lifting or turning heavy or disabled patients*
Possible exposure to radiation*
Work may require travel to remote locations*
Work may require standing for long periods*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Info

Job Descriptions and Duties

If you've ever had to have an x-ray, then you've probably been in contact with a radiation technologist. In addition to performing the traditional radiation x-ray, you may specialize in mammography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) or fluoroscopy. You'll prepare patients for procedures by explaining what's going to take place and helping them remove jewelry and other items that could cause problems.

You'll also move the patient's body so it's in the best position for the examination. When the preparations are done, you'll adjust the settings on the machine so the test is done accurately with as little radiation exposure as possible. Other duties include documenting patient records, preparing work schedules, maintaining equipment and overseeing the radiology department. Radiation technologists are required to be on their feet for long periods of time and may be required to travel to other locations to perform their work.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), radiologic technologists should experience faster-than-average employment growth, at a rate of 21% over the 2012-2022 decade. Contributing most to the projected growth is the aging population. The BLS reported that radiologic technologists earned a median annual wage of about $56,000 as of May 2014.

Education and Training Requirements

Formal training, licensing and possibly certification are generally what is required to get started in this career. Certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs are available, but associate's degree programs are the most common. The curricula in these programs combine classroom studies with clinical education. Course topics may include imaging principles, radiographic procedures, anatomy and physiology, imaging equipment, patient care and radiation protection. Upon completion of training, candidates are eligible to take exams for licensure or certification.

Licensure and Certification

Most states require radiologic technologists be licensed before they can practice. Although licensing regulations vary by state, most require candidates to take and pass an examination. Certification is usually voluntary, but employers may prefer to hire radiologic technologists who are certified. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers certification to technologists who pass a written examination. The ARRT exam is also used by many states for purposes of licensing. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) also offers certification exams for radiographers.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers usually specify state licensure and experience as requirements to apply for open positions. Travel is a part of many jobs. The following are examples of real job postings from March 2012:

  • A CA healthcare provider is in need of a licensed radiographer with at least one year of full-time experience within the past three years. The option to travel with expense reimbursement is available for this position.
  • A radiation technician is needed to work in an Arizona outpatient surgery center. The candidate must have at least two years of experience in a pain management setting working with c-arm machines. Certification is also required.
  • An Indiana healthcare organization is seeking a radiologic technologist to evaluate clinical study imaging and develop study-specific imaging protocols. The candidate will assist the manager of the imaging management team with training and other required duties. Applicants must be licensed graduates of 2-year radiologic technology programs and should be registered with the ARRT and ARDMS. Five years of hospital experience working in radiology and knowledge of multiple types of imaging are also required. Some traveling is required for this job.

How to Beat the Competition

Continuing Education

To remain competitive in the workforce, you'll want to keep up with the latest advancements by participating in continuing education. Continuing education is also required to maintain certification; ARRT certification requires 24 hours of continuing education every two years. With additional training and work experience, you may be able to advance to other positions, such as radiologist assistant or supervisor.

Get Specialized

Another way to maximize your skills is to specialize in a specific area of radiology. Three areas you may specialize in are computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging or mammography. You could then earn the title of CT technologist, MR technologist or mammographer, respectively. Becoming skillful in these specialties and obtaining certification can not only maximize your skills, but can also improve your employment options and salary potential.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

If you like the sound of becoming a radiation technologist but don't want to be exposed to harmful radiation, consider becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer. Certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in sonography are available. However, if you've already completed training in radiologic technology or nursing, you could learn the skills needed for this career through on-the-job training. Certification, which is usually voluntary, is available. Some states require licensure and may require professional certification before licensure is granted. According to the BLS, diagnostic medical sonographers could expect favorable employment opportunities, with an 44% employment growth predicted between 2010 and 2020. Workers in this profession earned a median annual wage of around $65,000 in 2011.

Licensed Practical Nurse

If you enjoy being part of a medical team and helping others but are not interested in medical imaging, you may enjoy a career as a nurse. To be a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you typically must complete a 1-year training program, which may be a diploma or certificate program. Training includes didactic courses and clinical education. Upon completion of training, you must obtain licensure by passing the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses) through the NCSBN (National Council of State Boards of Nursing). The BLS reported that LPNs were expected to experience a 22% job growth between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, LPNs earned an annual median wage of around $41,000, so you can expect to make less in this career than you would as a radiation technologist.

Registered Nurse

If you'd like more responsibility and more opportunities for career advancement, you may like to become a registered nurse. You can complete a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program to get started. As a registered nurse (RN), you can also choose from various specialty areas. You could later decide to pursue a master's degree and become an advanced practice nurse. RN training includes didactic courses, lab studies and clinical rotations in local hospitals or medical facilities. After you complete your training, you must obtain licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). Registered nurses were expected to experience a 26% job growth between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. As of May 2011, RNs earned an annual median wage of nearly $66,000.

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