How to Become a Radiologic Technologist: Examining Your Path
You’re drawn to the idea of using your career to help people, and you’ve narrowed your prospects down to a job in the medical field. But after determining that nursing just isn’t for you and that becoming a doctor would take too much time and money, it can feel like you’re out of choices.
Lucky for you, there are other options. The field of radiology provides healthcare career hopefuls with a path outside of becoming a nurse or a physician that still allows them to interact directly with patients, doing important work that can have a lasting impact. What’s more? Radiologic technologist employment is projected to grow 13 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1
If you’re interested in a career that combines the interpersonal aspect of patient care with some of the more high-tech elements of modern-day healthcare, you might consider a career as radiologic technologist. Read on to discover what you can expect from this career path and to learn how to become a radiologic technologist.
A day in the life of a radiologic technologist
While the core duties of a radiologic technologist center on performing diagnostic imaging examinations like X-rays and CT scans, one of the most important aspects of the job is communicating with patients. In many cases, patients visiting a radiologic technologist come to their appointments already feeling scared or in pain. The most effective healthcare professionals in this role utilize their interpersonal skills to ease patients’ fears and anxieties about their procedures.
Radiologic technologists must also communicate regularly with physicians. Unlike radiologic technicians, who focus mainly on setting up X-rays and maintaining the equipment, technologists help interpret the X-rays, often collaborating with the primary doctor to reach a diagnosis.
Along with being a communication-heavy profession, radiologic technology also requires some creativity and precision. Working in diagnostic imaging is not unlike being a photographer, as getting the right picture for a diagnosis requires you to use your expert eye to find the right angle. It’s not quite the same as framing vintage pics on social media, but you’ll have to use your attention to detail to get the right depth and contrast for an effective image.
5 steps to becoming a radiologic technologist
Now that you know a little more about what a radiologic technologist does, consider these five steps that could help you launch your own radiologic technology career.
1. Find a program
Most radiologic technologist programs are offered at an associate degree level, which typically takes about two years to complete if you enroll in a full course load each semester.2 Though there are some four-year programs, the field of radiology has so many post-certification options that an associate degree is often the perfect starting point to launch your radiologic technologist career.
If you are worried about managing a full load of courses, however, there are flexible options. For example, Rasmussen College offers a Radiologic Technology Associate's degree program with online coursework in addition to clinical experiences and on-campus labs—this allows students like you to keep working while you build your new career.
When choosing a program, one of the most important things to consider is how adequately it prepares you for certification. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is the primary certifying organization—in fact, many states require radiologic technologists to obtain AART credentials as part of their licensure process. If you’re not sure about a program, check the AART website.
2. Complete your coursework and get certified
If you’re curious about the kind of courses you’d have to take as a radiologic technology major, you can expect topics like anatomy, pathology and patient care. You can also expect a fair amount of hands-on training, working directly with various technology equipment and programs.
With good instructors and a bit of dedication, if all goes to plan you will be well prepared to get certified by the time you graduate. To acquire certification, the ARRT requires applicants to take a comprehensive exam, testing your vocabulary and relevant knowledge.
Before you take the ARRT exam, there a couple of things to know.
- It can be intimidating at first. Security at an ARRT testing center is pretty intense. On top of showing two forms of ID and being photographed, your palms will be scanned before and after the test for authentication. But don’t let this worry you—it’s just a reflection of the importance of the exam. As long as you study well in college, the hard work is already done. The exam is just an opportunity to demonstrate what you’ve already learned.
- You can request accommodations. Not only can you submit a formal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) request, but if you just test better without the sound of people coughing or typing loudly, you can request earplugs or noise-reduction headphones before the test begins.
- Your preliminary score is not your final score. When you finish the exam, your computer will display a score based on the multiple-choice questions you answered, but this does not reflect the entire exam. You will receive your final score via mail within three weeks of your exam date.
3. Seek out licensure in the state you’d wish to work
More than 75 percent of states require radiologic technologists to be licensed. Though some states have stricter policies than others, many accept certification from the ARRT or an equivalent organization as sufficient proof of qualification.
Before you venture on your path to becoming a radiologic technologist, you’ll want to check your state’s requirements to ensure you’re checking all the right boxes as you map your route.
4. Start your job search
While most radiologic technologists work in hospitals, positions can be found at imaging centers, therapy centers or obstetrician centers. Regardless of where you work, you should be able to expect a pretty consistent work schedule.
Compared to other healthcare professionals who often have to work long shifts and overnight hours, radiologic technology professionals tend to have steadier scheduled hours. For example, some positions allow you to choose between eight- and ten-hour shifts; four- or five-day weeks; first, second or third shifts; and weekend programs.
Keep this variety in mind as you launch your radiologic technologist job search—it’s a good idea to decide what you’re looking for and determine in which areas you’re willing to be flexible before you start sending out applications.
5. Consider pursuing a post-certification area of specialization
After completing your associate degree, earning your certification, becoming licensed and launching your career in radiologic technology, you may decide that you’d like to focus your attention on a specific specialty within the field.
There are a number of different areas you could focus your radiology career on if desired. Post-certification options for radiologic technologists include the following:
- Angiography technologist
- Bone densitometry technologist
- CT technologist
- Mammography technologists
- MRI technologist
- Nuclear medicine technologist
- Vascular sonography technologist
The post-certification process typically involves taking 16-20 classroom hours, completing a list of clinical procedures and taking an exam similar to your basic ARRT exam. Continuing education classes are offered from a variety of third-party organizations and universities, as well as the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT).
Ready for the first step?
If you’re hoping for a rewarding career in healthcare, you could help put patients on the path toward healing by becoming a radiologic technologist. Whether you become the one to ease patients’ minds when they’re scared or you’re simply a calming presence when there are no words to say, you could have the opportunity to make a real difference with a career in radiology.
To learn more about what could await, head over to Rasmussen College’s Radiologic Technology degree page.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed July, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Completion time is dependent on number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.