How Long Does it Take to Become a Radiologist Technician?

For those interested in the medical field, diagnostic imaging, or x-rays, a career as a radiologic technologist is a great option to consider. It does beg the question, “How long does it take to become a radiologist technician?”

People may assume it tasks many years to work as a radiologic technologist. The truth is that while there are advancement opportunities available, everything that radiologic technologists must do can take just two years to complete.

The first step in learning about radiology technology and how x-ray techs work is to figure out exactly what the career involves. Thoroughly understanding the field of radiologic technology will allow potential rad techs to become a radiology technician with a full understanding of their responsibilities, what the job entails, and an appreciation for the work.

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Below, we’ll take a look at exactly what it means to be a radiology technician, what a radiology tech is responsible for on a daily basis, and what it takes to become a radiology technician.

What Exactly is a Radiologic Tech?

First, let’s take a look at what it means to become a radiologic technologist.

If you’ve ever needed to get an x-ray of a broken bone, have an ultrasound, or have taken part in radiation therapy, then you’ve probably encountered a radiology technician. They can also be referred to as a rad tech or an x-ray tech.

These X-ray techs use x-rays, sound waves, and other diagnostic or medical imaging equipment to create images. These images aren’t just of bones like we’re used to, but can be taken of tissues and internal organs as well.

As far as potential job growth and opportunity, the future of radiology looks bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, radiology technologist positions are projected to increase by 9% from 2020 to 2030, making this a great time to consider a career in radiology.

What Do Radiologic Technologists Do?

Now, let’s take a closer look at what it looks like day to day to work in the field of radiologic technology.

Radiologic technologists are responsible for much more than just taking x-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans. They play a vital role in the medical community by expertly operating imaging equipment to get high-quality x-rays, all with patient care and safety in mind. Radiation safety is very important; not being properly educated in radiation safety or radiation therapy could be hazardous.

As mentioned above, the job of x-ray technologists isn’t over after the x-ray, CT scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is. A radiology tech also needs to use their expertise to put together these images, allowing primary care physicians to use these to both determine a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

When an individual becomes a radiology tech, they can expect the following as their daily duties on the job:

  • Working with primary care physicians to examine and evaluate images to determine if more needs to be taken.
  • Operating diagnostic imaging equipment to capture images that are clear and easy to read.
  • Following very specific instructions about the particular areas that need imaging in order to obtain an accurate, high-quality image.
  • Focusing on patient care by preparing the patient for different procedures.
  • Maintaining medical imaging equipment so that it is always working properly.

Not only do X-ray techs work with patients on diagnostic imaging, but they can also help treat patients who may be suffering from diseases such as cancer by performing radiation therapy. From detecting a broken bone to helping treat cancer, X-Ray technologists play a vital role in the healthcare community.

Equipment in Radiologic Technology

When it comes to accomplishing this work, there are several different types of equipment besides an x-ray machine that radiologic technologists utilize. Most x-ray techs are experts in computed tomography (CT) or x-ray imaging. Some x-ray technologists also specialize in additional medical imaging techniques like positron emission tomography (PET) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

No matter the area of expertise, it is the job of each radiology tech to gather these images to help physicians both diagnose and treat patients.

Getting an Education in Radiologic Technology

Once you’ve learned everything you need to know about radiologic technology and decided to become a radiology technician, you need to decide what educational programs are best suited to your situation.

Basic Requirements

There are several paths you can take on your way to becoming a radiology technician. However, when it comes to required education requirements, you’ll first need to graduate from high school and earn your high school diploma.

While you don’t need to do anything specific other than get your high school education, there are a few things you can focus on before thinking about your continuing education.

First, if you’ve already decided you want to become an x-ray technician, you can choose to focus on mathematics or science courses. Studying these will prepare you for both an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, so you’ll end up being prepared no matter what your continuing education looks like.

You can also take advantage of local volunteer programs in the medical field. While they don’t need to focus specifically on radiology, it will be helpful to become familiar with a medical environment and medical terminology.

How Long It Takes

When considering the question “How long does it take to become a radiology tech?” the answer depends mostly on two factors. First, what kind of degree programs are you interested in? Each degree program has its own time frame, with a bachelor’s degree typically taking four years and an associate’s degree taking two years. There are also continuing education programs you could consider after getting at least an associate degree.

Before choosing, you need to verify the program you decide on is an accredited program. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) will have a list of these programs from you to choose from.

The second thing to consider is what your schedule will look like while going to school. Will you be able to attend full-time or part-time? Depending on your answer, this will extend the time needed for you to get your degree.

You can certainly take classes at whatever pace works for you; this won’t affect your ability to become a radiology tech. However, it is important to consider that certain programs may take longer for you to complete when planning your career path.

 

Degree Options in Radiologic Technology

Fortunately, there are several degree options available for those interested in radiologic technology. Here’s a breakdown of all your options below. 

Associate’s Degree Programs in Radiologic Technology

To become an x-ray tech, you will need to earn an associate’s degree in radiologic technology at the minimum. This two-year degree is considered entry-level and is necessary for becoming an expert in radiologic technology.

Associate degree programs in radiologic technology typically last two years. They can also be referred to as programs in radiology. With an associate degree, students can choose a concentration or an emphasis the same way that students earning a bachelor’s degree do, which may take longer to complete in some programs, but this is usually part of the initial two-year period.

If you want to choose an emphasis, a few options are available. These can include radiography, sonography (ultrasound), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine technology, radiation physics, or radiation therapy.

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Radiologic Technology

While it’s possible to begin your career as an x-ray tech with an associate degree, many students choose to extend their education with a bachelor’s degree. While an associate degree teaches foundational skills in radiology, a bachelor’s degree allows students to practice a wider range of imaging techniques and modalities. These are four-year programs may also give you the advantage over other applicants for radiologic technology positions since you’ll have more experience with specific medical programs.

While it takes four years of full-time study to complete this degree, some x-ray techs choose to go back to school to get their bachelor’s degree after completing their associate degree. This can reduce the four-year time requirement, depending on how much time you can dedicate to your studies. If you are already working in the radiology field, you may decide to attend these programs part-time.

The advantage of obtaining a bachelor rather than an associate degree in radiologic technology is that a wider range of specialties is available. More time can be dedicated to learning about patient care, radiology terms, and medical imaging. It also allows students to focus on areas such as nuclear medicine technology (NMT), sonography (ultrasound), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or radiation therapy.

Certificate Programs to Become an X-Ray Technician

Certificate programs are also available if you find that the four years needed to complete your bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology aren’t practical for your schedule.

While an associate’s degree is the most common level of education for x-ray techs, certain areas of practice may only require a certification program instead of a full degree. This will depend on the state you are working in since these aren’t the same throughout the country.

For example, you’re able to become a limited scope x-ray technician in certain states with just a one-year certification program.

These are split into two certificate programs: primary pathway certificate programs and postprimary certificate programs.

  • Primary pathway programs are more limited in both availability and scope. They are designed for potential x-ray techs who don’t have an associate’s degree and need these one-year programs as their “primary” source of education.
  • A postprimary certification is only available to x-ray techs who already have a degree and are licensed in radiology. These are usually sought after by current professionals who want to increase their knowledge or need additional certification to qualify for a specialized position.

What Types of Classes Should You Expect?

While the specifics of each class may vary depending on your concentration and which degree program you choose, there will always be common topics when it comes to radiologic technology. For example, both x-ray techs you want to focus on nuclear medicine technology and those just looking to earn their certificate need the same basic educational foundation.

Standard Curriculum

These education requirements are what The Joint Review Committee examines when considering of a program will be accredited or not. These core subjects include:

  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • Radiology theory
  • Biology
  • Anatomy

Beyond these basic subjects, students will learn more specific subjects in radiologic technology programs. There is also a large focus on medical imaging and medical terminology.

In addition to regular coursework, potential x-ray techs will also need to gain clinical experience. This allows students more hands-on experience where they can practice what they’ve learned under the guidance of experienced x-ray technicians.

Patient care is another very important part of this education. While potential x-ray techs learn best practices for this in class, nothing can replace working directly with patients when it comes to experience.

Medical ethics are also a vital part of this education. Patients who find themselves in need of an x-ray need to be sure that they can count on not just a high level of patient care but for medical assistance that is also high-quality.

Additional Courses

As mentioned above, additional classes are needed depending on which special area of practice you choose. While you don’t necessarily need to select one of these options to become an x-ray tech, you do always have the potential of getting your certificate or continuing education after you’ve begun your career. Primary areas of study include:

  • Radiation physics
  • Radiology therapy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Nuclear medicine technology programs
  • Sonography (ultrasound)

Not only will having a special focus increase your knowledge, but it will also make you stand out amongst other applicants when you enter the job market.

When taking your classes, there are options for both in-person and online learning. This can be a great opportunity if you have a busy schedule and can’t find time to commute to campus. With that being said, clinical experience often requires you to attend in person.

Licensing and Certification for Radiologic Technologists

Once you’ve completed your selected degree program, you can choose to obtain your ARRT certification. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers a variety of certifications for potential x-ray techs who have completed either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

While there aren’t currently any national certification or licensing requirements for x-ray techs, many states require their own certifications. In these cases, obtaining ARRT certification is a great way to find more job opportunities and expand your knowledge.

As of 2021, anyone taking the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam will need to have graduated from a program that the ARRT has accredited.

When it comes to the certification process, several things need to be completed. Before you take the certification exam itself, you will need to supply proof that you’ve attended an accredited institution and gotten your degree, and have an acceptable academic record. There is also an ethics pre-application. When all is said and done, you are officially certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists if you pass the exam,

Getting this certification isn’t just a one-time occurrence, however. Certain states require each certification to be renewed every two years. X-ray techs need to prove that they’ve adhered to the ARRT standards of ethics, are in compliance with ARRT regulations, and have completed a certain number of continuing education hours.

Keeping up with all of these requirements means that you can keep your certification current as well as have the opportunity to pursue another specialty certification from the ARRT. Not only is this a great opportunity to further your career, but it keeps you up to date on new information in the field. This is always a bonus for treating patients and advancing technologies.

Radiologic Technology Advancement Opportunities

Of course, there is a lot that you can do once you’ve completed your education requirements, even if you’ve decided to also pursue an additional certification. The medical field, and especially the radiologic technology field, has a lot of potential for career growth and opportunities. Some individuals may decide to use their radiology expertise in other fields, like research or higher education. If they want to continue working in a medical environment, there are always many specializations to focus on.

Radiologists and Radiation Therapists

If you’re still passionate about the field of radiology, you can use your professional experience as a radiology technician to move up the ladder. Becoming a radiation therapist or a radiologist are both common career moves for individuals who start out as radiology techs.

Here’s the difference:

  • Radiologists are considered to be the primary practitioners of the radiology field. Instead of only taking x-ray images, radiologists use these images to create one diagnostic image to discover what, if anything, is occurring with the patient.
  • Radiation therapists focus on destroying cancer cells by expertly focusing radiation on small, specific areas of the body.
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Radiology Assistant

Becoming a radiology assistant is another great option that’s becoming more and more popular. Think of this as the step above a rad tech. Considered a more advanced role, a radiology assistant shares many similar responsibilities with x-ray technicians. However, working as a radiology assistant does require more critical thinking and judgment when it comes to diagnostic images.

Other Options

Some other options include:

  • Sonographer
  • Nuclear Medicine Technologist
  • Vascular Interventional Technologist
  • Bone Density Technologist

No matter what path you ultimately choose, your work as a radiologic technician is an excellent foundation for your future career.

Salary Expectations for Radiologist Technicians

As with any job in the medical field, the salary expectations vary depending on the level of education you’ve received, your location, how long you’ve worked in the industry, and if you have any special training.

In general, those with a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology make more than those with an associate’s degree. As of 2020, the average national salary for x-ray technicians was $64,840. Keep in mind that this statistic is an average, so there are states where this amount will be lower or higher. For example, the average salary in California for the same year was $95,010.

Those with bachelor’s degrees in the field of radiology also tend to make more than techs who have an associate’s degree in addition to specialty training. Let’s take a look at individuals who specialize in bone densitometry. Techs who earned a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology made an average of $63,805, while those with an associate’s degree made just $54,508.

As you can see, while continuing education beyond an associate degree may not be required, it seems to be worth it when it comes to salary.

The Job Outlook for Radiologist Technicians

The job outlook for radiologist technicians is relatively strong, with those that have a bachelor’s degree faring the best. In fact, as of 2019, 29% of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists have earned a bachelor’s degree. This suggests that while not required, it’s becoming more and more common to expand education beyond an associate degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in this field are expected to increase 9% from 2020 to 2030. This is higher than other occupations, including ones in the medical field. All other occupations are expected to average about 4% during this same period, 5% less than the projected growth for rad techs. As you can see, the future looks bright when it comes to becoming a rad tech.

Final Thoughts

Well, there you have it! Everything you need to know about becoming a radiologic tech, including how long the entire process takes. It may have seemed daunting at first, but now you know everything you need to begin your journey to becoming a radiologic tech.

Overall, it’s less difficult to become a radiologist technician than you think. All you need to do is choose an accredited program, focus on your education, and get certified! With the entire journey mapped out for you, you’ll be sure to find yourself working as a successful radiologic tech in no time.