Becoming a Radiographer: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A radiographer's mean annual salary is $57,510, but is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Get the truth about the job description and possible careers to decide if becoming a radiographer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Radiographer

A radiographer, often called a radiologic technologist, uses diagnostic imaging methods to create pictures of the body's internal structures and also helps prepare patients for procedures, positions them during imaging sessions and records results for a physician's review. If you're wondering whether this is a career you might enjoy, take time to consider the pros and cons below.

Pros of Becoming a Radiographer
Faster than average job growth expected (9% increase from 2014-2024)*
Some positions require only a certificate*
Many places to train (more than 1,000 programs in the U.S.)**
Many places to work (61% work in hospitals)*

Cons of Becoming a Radiographer
Physically demanding work (standing, stretching, lifting)*
Possible exposure to radiation*
State license usually required*
May work nights, weekend, and holidays*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Society of Radiologic Technologists

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Radiographers use equipment to take 2- or 3-dimensional pictures of the body's bones, tissues, organs and blood vessels. Radiographers work under the orders of physicians, so you must have knowledge of medical terminology and the ability to work as part of a team. You may have to physically lift and maneuver the patient into position, so it's important to think about whether you'd be comfortable doing this. Mechanical ability also helps because radiographers must align their equipment correctly and set the controls to obtain the desired images.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median salary for radiological technologists in 2014 was $55,870. Employment for radiological technologists was projected to increase by 9% from 2014-2024, faster than average for all occupations. An aging population and an increasing reliance on diagnostic imaging to monitor disease treatment account for this increase in demand, the BLS said.

Career Paths and Specializations

While many radiographers use X-rays, others specialize in alternate forms of imaging, such as computed tomography (CT), an X-ray scan that produces a cross-sectional look at parts of the body. Some radiographers work as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists, using non-ionizing radio frequencies to generate 3-dimensional images. Mammographers, who take images of breast tissue, are also radiographers. The BLS says radiographers trained in more than one specialization will have the best chances for employment.

While most radiographers work in hospitals, this isn't your only option. Radiological techs work in physicians' offices, medical and diagnostic laboratories and outpatient treatment centers. They sometimes travel to patients in specially equipped buses where they perform imaging procedures.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

There are several paths to becoming a radiographer. At a hospital, community college or technical school, you can complete a certificate program in less than two years. An associate's degree is the most common educational path, according to the BLS. Colleges and universities also offer 4-year bachelor's degrees. Coursework includes communications skills, equipment operation, anatomy, radiation safety and physics.

Certification and Licensing Requirements

While not mandatory, most techs take certification exams offered by the American Registry of Radiological Technologists (ARRT). Many employers require certification. The ARRT offers general certification and specialty certification. Most states require that radiographers be licensed, and many states use the ARRT exams for licensing. After Dec. 31, 2014, the ARRT will only certify applicants who hold associate's degrees.

Useful Skills

It would be helpful to take courses in math, biology, chemistry and physics while you're in high school. Good communications skills also help, because you'll be working with patients and with other health care professionals. You also need to be aware of your patients' psychological needs.

Job Postings from Real Employers

State licensing and experience are the main credentials for employment as a radiologic tech. Many job postings specify the type of facility where the tech will be working, and many openings are with temporary agencies that specialize in the health care professions. Below are some examples of job postings on in March 2012:

  • A temporary employment firm is looking for a radiologic tech with 2-5 years experience to work part-time at a federal prison in Texas. The job requires taking X-rays of the spine, chest and skull.
  • A hospital in North Carolina needs a tech with knowledge of various types of X-ray equipment. The individual must be a graduate of a board-certified program and hold ARRT certification or be willing to obtain it. The ad stated the tech would be fired if he or she failed the certification test three times.
  • A hospital in Connecticut is seeking a licensed, certified tech to provide a variety of imaging services. The person would also be responsible for stocking and maintaining supplies and medications.
  • In California, an orthopedic practice is looking to hire an experienced, licensed X-ray technologist to work in a fast-paced environment.

How to Stand Out in the Field

As the BLS notes, developing expertise in several specialties, such as CT scans, MRIs and mammography, may make you more attractive to employers. Some schools include these specialties as part of their bachelor's degree programs in radiography. At other schools, you can earn certificates of achievement in CT or MRI after completing an associate's or bachelor's degree program. You should take the ARRT certification test in all the fields for which you are qualified.

Other Career Options

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

If you like being with patients but don't want to deal with the licensing requirements, a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer might be worth considering. After completing a 2- or 4-year degree program at a college or university, you'll be trained to use high frequency sound waves to create images of internal structures in the body. The most familiar example is an image of an ultrasound of a fetus. The BLS reports that employment of diagnostic medical sonographers could rise by 18% from 2008-2018. The median salary for this occupation was $64,000 in 2010.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Interested in a field that pays more money? If you're a trained radiographer looking to specialize, you could work as a nuclear medicine technologist. Nuclear medicine technologists administer radioactive drugs to patients and track their progress through the body to diagnose illnesses. The BLS reports that the median salary for nuclear medicine technologists was $69,000 in 2010. The BLS expected employment of nuclear medicine technologists to increase by 16% from 2008-2018, faster than average for all professions. However, the BLS noted that competition for jobs will be keen, and techs trained in several procedures will have the best chances of finding employment.

Radiation Therapist

Working in a hospital or cancer treatment center, a radiation therapist treats cancer patients by using machines called linear accelerators to administer radiation to targeted areas of the body. Radiation therapists can hold certificates, associate's degrees or bachelor's degrees. Most states require radiation therapists to be licensed, and most employers want them to hold ARRT certification. The BLS predicted that employment could grow by 27% from 2008-2018, much faster than other occupations. The median salary for radiation therapists was $75,000 in 2010.

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