How Long Does It Take to Become a Radiology Tech?
Becoming a radiologic technician, diagnostic medical sonographer, or other medical imaging professional can be achieved in a relatively short time period. There are training and certificate programs for radiology techs that take around a year, as well as associate’s and bachelor’s degrees that take anywhere from two to four years. The best credentials are a combination of formal training, a professional license, and work experience. The shortest training programs can take less than a year, but as with most jobs, workers with more training may have an easier time securing employment and earning their desired salaries. The following are a few educational paths students can take toward becoming skilled radiology technicians with a competitive edge and high employability.
- One-Year Certificate Program: These programs provide the basic training and tests required to achieve professional certification as a diagnostic medical sonographer. These programs do not include many opportunities for specialization, and will prepare students for entry-level work in the medical imaging field.
- Associate’s Degree: Associate’s degrees can take anywhere from 18 months to two years, and usually offer some additional opportunities, such as management classes or the option to choose a specialty within radiography or diagnostic medical sonography. This degree is a solid foundation for a career in radiography, and some licensed radiology techs who were first educated in certificate programs may return to school to earn an associate’s degree after a year or two of working.
- Bachelor’s Degree: The bachelor’s degree is a four-year program that will include advanced medical imaging materials and is optimal for people who want managerial or administrative careers related to radiology or sonography. Students who want to move into a different medical profession after working for a few years should also choose a bachelor’s degree.
Radiology techs work with imaging equipment and machines to produce x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), computed tomography (CT) scans, and other images of internal organs, bones, and tissue, so that doctors can examine and diagnose potential injury or illness without invasive procedures. Sometimes called radiographers, radiology technicians and technologists can work in general medicine or specialize in one area of the body or one type of medical imaging. Regardless of your specialization choices, the best way to advance in your career as a radiology tech is to complete the proper training and get work experience.
Officially, there’s no nation-wide educational requirement to work in this position, but the more education you have, the more likely you will be to get hired. Most states require radiology technicians to be licensed. And the vast majority of employers want to see all of their radiology techs certified. Having at least some kind of credential to prove that you have been trained and exhibited potential in the field is crucial for getting employment.
Becoming a Licensed Radiology Technician
Many states use the certification test from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists as their licensing test, and to successfully complete this test, you should first complete at least a two-year associate’s degree program. Many radiology techs actually get their bachelor’s degree before taking the test, so if you want to work in this career field, the length of time it takes can vary wildly depending on the level of education you want to achieve. Training programs can take less than a year, but probably around 18 months, and if you’re looking for a bachelor’s degree in addition to your training, four to five years isn’t an unrealistic projection.
Your education doesn’t end there. Once you have your license, you must complete at least 24 hours of continuing-education classes every two years to renew your license. These regular infusions of knowledge keep you current with new technologies and research in your field. You can also pursue an advanced degree in radiological technology, diagnostic medical sonography, or another related field.
Radiology Technician Salaries
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual income for radiologic technologists as of May 2013 is $56,760, which is above the median income for all industries.
Your exact salary will depend not just on education, but also on your recommendations, the facility and geographic location where you work, and your previous work experience.
Specialties in Medical Imaging and Radiography
Medical imaging professionals can specialize in using different types of equipment, such as x-ray machines, functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners, electrocardiography machines, and computed tomography scanners, or they can specialize in making images of certain parts of the body, such as the heart, bones, internal organs, or even veins and arteries. Being highly skilled in a niche of medical imaging is one way to increase employability. A few possible specialties include:
- Cardiac Imaging: Images of the heart can be used to predict the likelihood of a heart attack and to diagnose the severity of plaque buildup and other risk factors for heart disease. Images of the heart are taken with an electro-cardiogram machine (EKG).
- Mammography: Radiology technologists may use MRI and “low-dose x-ray” techniques to take internal images of breasts to screen for cancer.
- Bone Imaging: The most widely known standard use of x-ray is to take images of potentially injured bones. This uses relatively high doses of x-ray, and requires the use of protective measures like lead aprons and other barriers that prevent the x-rays from damaging sensitive tissue.
- Brain Imaging: Brain imaging is usually done by a nuclear medicine technologist or MRI specialist, but skull x-rays can be used to diagnose injuries or deformities in the head as well.
Career Growth for Radiologic Technologists
Even though finishing a training program to become a radiologic technologist can take as little as six months, moving up into a position with a higher salary or more responsibilities will be difficult without spending more time, which probably means more money as well, on education and training. Though there is rapid employment growth for radiology technologists, the opportunities for career advancement are limited for those with only the minimum required training. Techs with more advanced degrees or diversified training in other medical fields will find it easier to make both vertical and horizontal career moves.
One piece of great news for radiology techs is that employment is growing rapidly in the field and in many similar occupations. The chart below shows estimates of job growth in several related fields during the decade preceding 2022, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another way to score some experience in the medical imaging field, and possibly increase your employability, is to do an internship after getting trained. This might add six months or a year to your education timeframe, but the payoff will be a new line on your resume and an increased level of experience, not to mention the opportunity to network with other medical professionals in the facility where you do your internship.
How Long Does it Take To Get Licensed as a Radiology Tech?
The licensure process is integrated into many training programs, and so getting a license after finishing training should only be a matter of taking a state-approved test. Depending on the scheduling of the tests, you may have to wait a few weeks or months, or you may be able to take it right away. Some programs may even be able to award a license upon graduation. Becoming licensed doesn’t guarantee employment, but very few employers will consider hiring an unlicensed radiology tech when there are many licensed ones available. Some employers may accept applicants who have not yet taken the licensure test, but who can demonstrate that they are prepared for it, and will take it soon.
How to Choose a Radiology Tech Program
Your choice of training or degree program should depend on your long-term career goals. If you are interested in working as a radiology tech for the foreseeable future, then consider investing in a more in-depth degree program, which may cost more or take longer than those that provide the minimum requirements. If you want to use a radiology tech job as a bridge to a more treatment-oriented position in the medical field, consider pairing your radiology studies with nursing courses or other more advanced schooling. If you are just looking for a good job and salary to tide you over while you figure out what your long-term career will be, a six-month or yearlong training program should suffice. Going back to school is all about meeting your own needs, so self-knowledge is a key component of the process of choosing the college or university for you. Contact a few schools that offer accredited online degree programs related to medical imaging using the links below if you just want to find out more about the programs that are out there and explore which one might be the right fit for you.