Pros and Cons of a Career in Radiographic Technology
Radiography is a branch of medicine that involves using x-ray technology to produce images of areas of the human body, which physicians use to diagnose and treat illnesses and diseases in patients. If you're interested in becoming a radiologic technologist, scan some of the pros and cons of the career listed below.
|Pros of a Radiologic Technology Career|
|High job-growth field (21% growth between 2012-2022)*|
|Lofty pay compared to other health technologists (on average $57,510 as of 2014)*|
|Needed in various settings (hospitals, imaging centers, diagnostic labs, government facilities, etc.)*|
|Usually requires only an associate's degree*|
|Opportunities for advancement to radiologist assistant positions*|
|Cons of a Radiologic Technology Career|
|Risk of exposure to radiation*|
|Licensure or certification is generally required*|
|Continuing education needed to maintain credentials*|
|Physically demanding (long hours spent on your feet as well as lifting, moving and positioning patients)*|
|May need to be on call and work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' schedules*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Job Description and Duties
Radiographic technicians are more commonly known as radiologic technologists. In fact, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) reveals that 'technician' in respect to this field is an outdated term that was replaced with 'technologist' about 50 years ago. Today's radiologic technologist has more education and a greater scope of responsibility than technicians once had.
A radiologic technologist performs diagnostic imaging procedures, such as x-rays, on patients. These professionals may also specialize in different types of imaging, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). You could also specialize in mammography, which involves taking breast scans with low dosage x-rays. While some technologists focus their careers on one type of imaging procedure, others choose to conduct multiple types of these procedures.
In addition to operating the imaging machinery, you may take patients' medical histories, file patient records and maintain x-ray equipment. You'll also explain the procedure to the patient in order to ease any anxiety he or she might have. During a procedure, you'll be responsible for the correct positioning of the equipment and patient to ensure proper exposure and minimum risk to the patient and staff. After the procedure is finished, you may evaluate the resulting images for accuracy and clarity and record the results as well as communicating with the radiologist and attending physicians to aid in diagnosis and the ensuing treatment.
Job Growth and Salary Information
As stated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of radiologic technologists was expected to increase 21% from 2012-2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. The high projection may be due in part to an increasing senior population and the associated increase in the need for healthcare services. While most positions are in hospitals, radiologic technology positions are also on the rise in doctor's offices and imaging centers. Additionally, as a result of advances in technology and in the effort to mitigate patient expenses, outpatient care may be on the rise.
As of 2010, the mean annual salary for radiologic technicians and technologists was roughly $57,510, according to the BLS. Those who earned the highest average salaries worked at companies that rent and lease commercial and industrial machinery and equipment, earning about $72,500 per year.
What Are the Requirements?
According to the BLS, most radiologic technologists hold associate's degrees in radiography or radiologic technology. These programs take about two years to complete and lead to an Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science degree. You can expect to learn through both didactic and clinical instruction and cover topics like radiographic exposure, anatomy and physiology, radiographic positioning and procedures, imaging systems and radiation physics. Alternatively, some schools offer certificate and bachelor's degree programs in this major.
The BLS also reports that most states require radiologic technologists to be licensed or certified. Licensure requirements may vary by state but typically include completion of a program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) and passage of a certification exam. Some states have their own exams, though many use the certification exam administered by the ARRT. Certification must be renewed every two years by completion of 24 continuing education credits.
Along with education and licensure, there are certain physical traits that may play a part in determining if you're qualified to become a radiologic technologist. For example, you'll need moderate strength and stamina in order to lift and maneuver patients on the imaging table and stand for long periods of time. Other beneficial qualities include:
- Good vision
- Strong attention to details
- Ability to operate complex machinery
- Solid interpersonal and communication skills
Job Postings from Real Employers
Technologists are needed in wide range of healthcare settings, including hospitals, outpatient centers, specialty clinics and physicians' offices, and for both part-time and full-time positions. The primary qualifications that employers look for in applicants include registration with the ARRT and applicable experience in radiography. Below are some examples of job postings available in March 2012:
- An outpatient imaging center in California is looking for a temporary, part-time radiology technician who is licensed by the state, ARRT-certified in general diagnostic radiology and CPR-certified. The employer prefers that applicants have at least two years of outpatient imaging experience.
- A company located in South Carolina is advertising for an ARRT-registered radiologic technologist to fill a temporary, part-time position. The company prefers that applicants have at least one year of diagnostic imaging experience, which can include training from an approved radiologic technology program.
- A urology group in Kansas is seeking an ARRT-registered radiologic technologist for a full-time position. The company prefers that applicants have 1-2 years of experience.
- A surgical center in Texas is advertising for a full-time radiology technician who has 2-2.5 years of experience. Applicants must be ARRT-registered as a radiologic technologist as well as certified in CPR and magnetic resonance technology.
How Can I Stand Out?
Obtain Multiple Certifications
The BLS points out that employment opportunities may be more plentiful for radiologic technologists who have numerous certifications. Aside from the basic certification exam used for licensing, the ARRT offers both primary and post-primary certifications in specialty areas like mammography, CT scanning, MRI, sonography and cardiac-interventional radiography. To earn primary certification in a specialty, you must have completed an approved radiologic technology program and pass a specialty exam. Obtaining post-primary certification involves holding primary ARRT certification as well as passing an exam specific to the specialty. Earning additional certifications can also be used to substitute the continuing education needed to maintain licensure.
You may want to expand your duties in radiologic technology by becoming a radiologist assistant. This is an advanced-level radiographer position and builds on the duties of a radiologic technologist. Becoming an ARRT-registered radiologist assistant involves holding ARRT registration in radiography, having one year of full-time clinical experience and earning a radiologist assistant bachelor's degree. You'll then need to pass a certification exam to use the Registered Radiologist Assistant (R.R.A.) credential. You may also need to obtain separate state licensure, though ARRT certification might fulfill this requirement.
Other Career Paths
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
If you want a career in diagnostic imaging, but you don't want to work with x-rays, consider a career in diagnostic medical sonography. A sonographer applies sound waves generated by specialized imaging equipment to a patient's body to create computerized images of specific areas. Sonogram, ultrasound and echocardiogram images all are used to assess and diagnose an organ's condition. Generally, you'll need a certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree from an accredited program, and employers often require sonographers to hold certification. Some states require these professionals to be licensed, which is often dependent on certification.
A career in sonography generally entails greater job prospects and earnings than a career in radiologic technology. The BLS reports that jobs for sonographers were projected to increase at a rate of 44% from 2010 to 2020, placing it among the fastest-growing occupations in the nation. These professionals earned a mean annual wage of around $66,000 as of May 2011.
If you want a career in radiology but don't want to work in diagnostic imaging, you may enjoy working as a radiation therapist. In this job, you'll be part of an oncology team that consists of radiation oncologists and physicists, oncology nurses and dosimetrists, which works together to treat patients suffering from cancer. In addition to keeping the patient informed about the procedure, you'll be responsible for the correct, efficient and safe operation of a high-energy x-ray machine called a linear accelerator that reduces or eliminates cancerous cells in patients' bodies.
In order to qualify to become a radiation therapist, you typically must hold at least an associate's degree in radiation therapy and, in most states, licensure or certification. The BLS reports that jobs in this field were expected to grow by 20% from 2010-2020, and the mean salary of these professionals was more than $79,000 as of 2011.