The practice of radiology uses nearly 20,000 terms for disorders and imaging observations, and entails learning over 50,000 causal relations (Arazi, 2020). If that is not challenging enough already, technological advancements have made radiology more intimidating. They make it possible to spot things but they also require intensive training and continuous learning. Robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, and intelligent business management software are just some of the technologies that continue to advance the radiology industry, also referred to as the field of radiologic technology.
There are different ways to pursue a career in radiology. You can enroll for a certificate or go for an associate degree. The latter takes only two years to complete and will allow you to become a professional quickly. But you can go the long way and study for a bachelor’s in radiologic technology which takes a minimum of four years. It is also possible to enroll in an online community college program The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certifies and registers radiologic technologists, those in a range of disciplines in medical imaging. In 2020, the median radiology tech salary was $61,900 annually.
While most radiologic technologists hold a bachelor’s degree, some practitioners opt to further their specializations as technological developments continue to unfold in the field. A master’s degree can lead to more advanced positions, such as managers and supervisors, or clinical educators. Radiologists and radiation oncologists have a doctorate degree, or what we know as Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Radiology. The American Board of Radiology (ABR) administers board certification exams to radiologists.
Radiology primarily trains students on how to safely use radiologic technology as a diagnostic and treatment tool. Based on the records of the American College of Radiology (ACR), there are roughly 40,000 doctorate degree holders in radiology. They are the diagnostic radiologists, radiation oncologists, interventional radiologists, nuclear medicine physicians, and medical physicists.
This article provides a comprehensive view of the various careers in radiology, the credentials and certifications needed to advance in the field, as well as the related career paths that a radiology major can consider.
Radiology professionals prepare, perform and assess radiologic tests and procedures. In the course of performing their everyday job, they are able to help and bring comfort to patients that are anxious and even fearful of their health status. Pursuing a career in the field of radiology can be rewarding and at the same time challenging. But being at the forefront of technological milestones in medical imaging makes this career exciting.
Radiographers, also referred to as radiologic technologists or medical imaging technologists, are healthcare professionals who perform diagnostic imaging procedures. They are responsible for the accurate positioning of patients while imaging is conducted, in order to produce quality diagnostic images. Radiologic technologists work closely with radiologists—the physician specialists who analyze medical images to either identify or rule out injury or disease. They are also conversant in healthcare administration.
Radiologic technologists also perform procedures involved in diagnostic imaging, such as injecting special fluids into a patient’s bloodstream. Radiologic technology professionals may further concentrate on more specialized imaging procedures, such as cardiovascular-interventional radiography, bone densitometry, mammography, computed tomography, nuclear medicine, magnetic resonance imaging, and radiation therapy scanning techniques.
The Association of American Medical Colleges reported that the shortage of radiologists and other physician specialists could surpass 35,000 by 2034 primarily due to aging and population growth (Stempniak, 2021). In pursuing a career in radiology you will have the opportunity to contribute to improving healthcare services while at the same time acquiring expertise in the field. In becoming a radiologic technologist, you will be assisted by complex machines powered by cutting-edge technology in creating images that provide crucial input to diagnosis.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Employment in healthcare occupations, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, is expected to grow by 15% from 2019 to 2029. For radiologic and MRI technologists, the projected job growth is 7%, while for diagnostic medical sonographers the growth is expected at 15%. The annual median salary for MRI technologists is 74,690, and $61,900 for radiologic technologists (BLS, 2021).
Careers in radiology are classified under the group of healthcare professionals that perform diagnostic imaging procedures such as X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Radiology professionals also do mammography, cardiac and vascular intervention, ultrasound procedures, and nuclear medicine. Every week, radiologic technologists perform tens of thousands of these procedures to be able to produce high-quality images that are crucial to a medical team’s ability to provide accurate diagnoses of patients’ injuries and diseases.
While most careers in the healthcare industry require a bachelor’s degree, radiology technologists with an associate’s or any two-year degree can sit for a license or certification, and bring home an above-average salary. The table below shows the median salary for select radiology professionals.
|Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist||$73,410||7%|
|Computed Tomography (CT) Scan Technologist||$63,710||7%|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologist||$79,590||5%|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographer||$75,920||12%|
Although radiologic technologists tend to be in the background in the majority of patient interactions, the short encounters with patients still require skills that can demonstrate mechanical and technical aptitude, while at the same time extending compassion to anxious patients that will undergo procedures.
Radiographers and imaging technologists should be able to offer high-quality service to patients by continually learning in the practice. In the field of healthcare diagnostic imaging, technology is constantly changing. With the latest advances, the radiologic technologist should be able to adapt by being flexible. In the healthcare industry, the medical imaging field is one of the most IT-knowledgeable disciplines, and with proper training, radiologic technologists can become experts in managing cross-disciplinary workflows.
Tajmir and Alkasab (2018) studied the impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence on radiology education in their work published in Academic Radiology. Entitled “Toward Augmented Radiologists: Changes in Radiology Education in the Era of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence,” the authors recommended that in relation to artificial intelligence, “radiology training programs will need to develop curricula to help trainees acquire the knowledge to carry out the new supervisory duty of radiologists. In the longer term, artificially intelligent software assistants could have a transformative effect on the training of residents and fellows, and offer new opportunities to bring learning into the ongoing practice of attending radiologists.”
Technical Skills – The role of a radiologic technologist involves the use of radiation safety measures and protection devices to ensure the safety of patients and staff. According to the specifications of particular examinations, the radiologic technologist positions the imaging equipment and adjusts controls to set exposure time. The level of precision required in every procedure requires superior technical skills.
Medical, Science, and Mathematical Skills – Graduates of radiologic technology have knowledge in anatomy, biology, and pathophysiology that enable them to effectively perform their jobs while at the same time practicing patient care and management.
Compassion and Empathy – Most of the time, radiologic technologists interact with patients that are anxious about the result of the diagnostic procedure that they are about to undergo. Patient care entails showing compassion. The radiologic technician should not just focus on the technical side of the job, but also prioritize the human side of every procedure. There should always be a conscious effort to calm and assure the patient of outcomes.
Attention to Detail – The radiologic technologist should possess a keen attention to detail in taking thorough and accurate patient medical histories, as well as in recording and processing patient data in preparing reports. This skill is particularly important in determining if images and other computer-generated information taken are able to meet the requirements for proper diagnosis.
Interpersonal Skills – Interpersonal skills include active listening, communication skills, dependability, flexibility, and patience. These traits should be present for a radiologic technologist to effectively explain procedures and adjust based on patient behavior. Patients that are often anxious and fearful rely on the radiologic technologist for support. Radiologic technologists work in a delicate and sensitive environment with patients that are often experiencing pain and discomfort, thus effective interpersonal skills are important through professional, ethical, and tactful communication.
Critical Thinking Skills – Every patient presents a new situation and challenge, which requires the radiologic technologist to constantly practice reflective decision-making. Analytical and critical thinking are two important skills that every radiologic technologist should have as they independently perform their jobs inside the examination rooms.
Completing a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s can take you to an entry-level job in the field of radiology. Compared to other professions that require higher levels of education to reach a higher pay grade, earning an associate degree in radiology qualifies the graduate towards certification for various specializations after two to fiv e years of technical experience.
There are a variety of career options for radiology degree holders. Holders of associate’s and bachelor’s degree are typically employed in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and urgent care facilities. They may also find employment in imaging product management and sales, and imaging equipment repair. For those who have earned master’s and doctoral degrees, careers in academia and research, specialists in medicine, and administrative roles are also possible career paths.
Radiographers or radiologic technologists create images of specific body parts to assist doctors in proper diagnosis. They perform X-rays and other diagnostic imaging examinations on patients. Radiologic technologists also provide patients with mixtures that can be taken orally so as to allow the soft tissues to be viewed clearly.
Median salary: $61,900
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists are skilled in using magnetic resonance imaging scanners to collect images for analysis. MRI Technologists also assist physicians in diagnosing results and also in preparing patients for the procedure.
Median salary: $73,410
Computed Tomography Technologists produce cross-section images of patients’ internal organs and tissues using computerized tomography (CT) scanners. This imaging role also involves administering contrast materials and positioning patients to capture specific images required by the physician for accurate diagnosis. Similar to MRI Technologists, the majority of CT Technologists start their careers as Radiologic Technologists and advance as CT Technologists after undergoing advanced training and certification. Most CT Technologists work in hospitals and diagnostic imaging centers.
Median salary: $63,710
Working closely with the marketing team, the Medical Imaging Product or Sales Specialist demonstrates extensive knowledge in the applications of various diagnostic imaging devices. The Medical Imaging Product or Sales Specialist also assists in organizing product training, roadshows, and other marketing activities to generate sales leads.
Median salary: $63,069 plus commissions
The Radiologic Technology Instructor is part of the academe, teaching students about radiologic technology. Educational institutions recruit practitioners with current ARRT license and at least one modality certification. Radiologic technology instructors may teach full-time or part-time.
Median salary: $60,795
The Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (DMS), also known as an ultrasound technologist, operates special imaging equipment that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. Most DMS work full-time in hospitals, physicians’ offices, or medical and diagnostic laboratories.
Types of diagnostic medical sonographers:
Median salary: $75,920
Nuclear Medicine Technologist (NMT) involves administering radioactive drugs or radiation intravenously to patients for imaging and treatment. The NMT is a highly specialized health care professional that helps in the diagnosis and treatment of different conditions and diseases. The NMT role is a combination of skills in imaging, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer technology, patient care, and medicine.
Types of nuclear medicine technologists:
Median salary: $79,590
The radiologic technology clinical instructor is responsible for the planning, coordination, and implementation of radiologic technology clinical affiliation programs. The development of standard educational policies, formulating of curriculum and creating course materials are among the responsibilities of the radiologic technology clinical instructor.
Median salary: $67,226
From validating the potential customer’s need to determining a business model, the imaging product manager is responsible for the full lifecycle of an offering that culminates in defining solutions for the client. Product managers in the imaging industry draw insights from data to identify what customers require and work across disciplines to build the best solutions.
Median salary: $80,000
A Certificate in Radiology can land you an entry-level job. These training programs last for 20-24 months, and upon completion, you can take the national certification exam administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). While there are no licensing requirements for radiologic technologists, most states do have their own licensing process. Most radiologic technologists choose to pursue certification with the ARRT to maximize potential employability and establish expertise.
To be eligible for certification by the ARRT, radiologic technologists should have a certificate, associate’s or bachelor’s degree at the minimum. A recent policy of the ARRT released in June 2021 requires all applicants for ARRT certification in radiography, nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy, magnetic resonance imaging, or sonography to have graduated from a school that is accredited by an agency recognized by the ARRT.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
To qualify for admission to graduate programs in radiology, an applicant must have a foundational understanding of radiologic technology. Generally, a bachelor’s in radiologic technology is required, plus a state-issued license and ARRT certification in at least one modality. In addition, relevant work experience is also required. Most institutions also ask applicants to submit letters of recommendation and a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher. Management experience is essential for individuals pursuing educational or administrative leadership positions.
At the postgraduate level, the master’s degree programs include Master of Science in Radiologic Science (MSRS), Master of Science (MS) in Radiation Sciences, Master of Science (MS) in Biomedical Imaging, and Master of Science in Radiologic Science (MSRS)-Radiologist Assistant (RA). And should you be interested, you can even pursue a Master of Science in Public Health degree.
Radiology practitioner assistant (RPA) essentially practices radiology medicine. RPAs perform invasive imaging procedures, as well as the procedures that are usually done by radiologic technologists. Aside from assisting in managerial duties, RPAs also evaluate images and prepare reports for the radiologist.
Median salary: $115,390
Radiologic technologists that pursue this career path apply their experience in imaging in promoting particular brands, and because they have the technical know-how, they can be more effective in marketing to hospitals and to other prospective clients. Product managers apply their imaging experience in sales, marketing, or consulting with a medically oriented business.
Median salary: $126,460
Coordinating clinical research studies is the primary function of the clinical research coordinator, which includes assisting ongoing investigator-initiated and industry-sponsored trials and new studies in the field of radiology. The head of clinical research plays an integrative role in supporting attending physicians, fellows, and clinical scientists in data collection, participant recruitment, statistical analysis, research administrative support, manuscript development, and grant submissions.
Median salary: $127,881
Radiologists are licensed and board-certified doctors that specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging procedures such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI, nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound.
Median salary: $319,320
Radiology practitioners with a Ph.D. lead medical imaging research and are often board-certified as medical physicists. Radiology Ph.D. is behind the design of highly specialized imaging equipment. These doctorate degree holders provide technical expertise regarding the physics of radiation-producing equipment, performance-testing and commissioning, including radiation safety and protection.
Median salary: $152,413
The radiation oncologist is also a medical doctor similar to the radiologist, but has special training in the management of patients with cancer. The radiation oncologist is trained in the use of radiotherapy for cancer treatment. Radiation oncologists are knowledgeable in the treatment of noncancerous conditions using radiotherapy.
Median salary: $422,110
The director of radiology oversees and coordinates all areas of the diagnostic imaging department, which includes setting operational standards, maintaining a budget, and purchasing new equipment. The director of radiology is also in-charge of personnel management, and closely monitors and evaluates the accuracy, efficiency, and quality of all departmental staff members’ work.
Median salary: $168,564 (base pay excluding incentives)
In the field of medical imaging, certifications are the key to career advancement. Radiologic technologists and other imaging professionals are required to have a license or certification in most states. Upon completion of an accredited program in medical radiography, radiologic sciences, or any accredited program by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), the student may take the national certifying examination given by the ARRT.
Once you become a certified radiologic technologist, you may apply for additional certifications. The ARRT has levels of certification—the primary credentials and the post-primary options. You have to earn the primary credentials first before applying for specialty or post-primary acquisition.
Certifications by the ARRT are preferred by radiology professionals because these certifications are also endorsed by various states, and are recognized by employers in the healthcare industry.
For doctorate degree holders, the American Board of Radiology (ABR) and the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) administer certification exams. To become certified, candidates are required to hold medical degrees and have completed relevant postgraduate residency training programs. For all the certification-issuing bodies mentioned, re-certification is required after a specified number of years.
Radiology professionals have career options outside of healthcare. Since they have extensive knowledge in using imaging technology applications, radiology professionals may take on other roles outside of the healthcare industry that require similar skills.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Radiology professionals play a very important role in both the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Through the trained eye and precise computer skills of the radiology professional, specialists in the medical field are able to work together to formulate effective treatment plans for patients.
The field of radiology can be very lucrative, even for associate degree holders. Experience, clinical training, and certification largely determine advancement. Most radiologic technology professionals are multi-specialists because there is no limit to the number of certifications for the radiologic technologist that pursues lifelong learning. Others take on administrative roles in healthcare systems, while some prefer to be involved in clinical research.
As technological advances continue to reshape the medical imaging landscape, radiology careers will continue to play a crucial role in the healthcare industry. More radiology specialists, as well as generalists, will be needed to keep up with imaging innovations, and continually advance the practice.