Career Opportunities for Radiology Technicians
Employment is projected to grow faster than average through 2022 for radiology technologists and technicians. If you graduate with a degree in this field and have knowledge of more than one diagnostic imaging procedure, you will have the best employment opportunities. Even without that knowledge, a radiology tech can learn more procedures on the job with formal training programs offered by hospitals, colleges, and universities. This career can be exciting, as radiology techs can expand their knowledge to become leaders in this field.
Why Diversification is Good
Specialization was the norm for most radiology technicians until recently. Radiologic technologists and technicians, referred to as radiographers, produce x-ray films (radiographs) of parts of the human body for use in diagnosing medical problems. These specialists must follow physicians’ orders precisely and conform to regulations concerning the use of radiation to protect themselves, their patients, and their coworkers from unnecessary exposure.
Today, however, new procedures are taking the place of the x-ray, such as computed tomography (CT), fluoroscopies, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). CT continues to become a frontline diagnosis tool. Instead of taking x-rays to decide whether a CT is needed, as was the practice before, it is often the first choice for imaging because of its accuracy. MRI also is increasingly the imaging technique of choice, especially for soft tissue or head injuries. Technologists with training in either of these specialties, or in sonography, could be very marketable to employers.
Radiology Tech Career Paths
The following careers are closely related, as they all require a basic knowledge of radiology. Many positions in different medical facilities only require an associate’s degree in radiology, but pursuing a bachelor’s degree means that graduates can qualify for higher-paying jobs at a wider range of facilities. And even further education is available both online and off for students who want to specialize or qualify for management positions in their departments.
- Radiology Technician or Technologist: The radiology technician works with traditional x-ray machines to produce internal images. They work with many different types of machines, and can progress in this field by specializing in the occupation to become instructors or directors in radiologic technology educational programs. Other technologists may take jobs as sales representatives or instructors with equipment manufacturers.
- CT Technologist: People who obtain this skill use computed tomography to provide cross-sectional x-rays of a patient’s body. Qualification for this position requires a degree in a related radiology field as well as registration with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Many medical facilities provide training for radiology techs who want to learn CT scan technology.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: Diagnostic medical sonographers use special equipment to direct high frequency sound waves into areas of the patient’s body. Sonographers operate the equipment, which collects reflected echoes and forms an image that may be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician.
- MRI Technician: MRI techs use magnetic resonance imaging to create internal images with magnets. A person in this position requires a radiology degree, along with ARRT registration, as well as advanced training in the MRI field.
- Nuclear Medicine Technologist: Individuals who work in this field use Gamma Cameras to capture images. A nuclear medicine tech needs a radiology degree, with additional training for certification by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board.
- Radiation Therapist: In addition to diagnosis, diagnostic imaging is used to monitor the progress of disease treatment. With the increasing success of medical technologies in treating disease, diagnostic imaging will increasingly be needed. Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer in the human body; specialists in this field usually must complete an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy. Another option is to complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in radiography along with a 12-month certificate program in radiation therapy.
Work Environment and Employment Trends
Radiology techs can work in a variety of medical settings. For example, an emergency room requires fast-paced work while an OB/GYN office provides an environment that is slower paced. Each environment is different, but most tech jobs require physical stamina; you can often be on your feet for long periods and may have to lift or turn disabled patients. Some work is done at diagnostic machines, but some procedures are performed at patients’ bedsides. So you can see how this type of job can require you to move around a lot.
Demand for radiologic technologists and technicians tends to be regional with some areas having large demand, while other areas are saturated. Those willing to relocate may have better job prospects. Hospitals will remain the principal employer of radiologic technologists, but a number of new jobs will be found in physicians’ offices and diagnostic imaging centers. As technology advances many imaging modalities are becoming less expensive and more feasible to have in a physician’s office, so this will also help create more jobs.
Each place of employment offers different salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics supplies information on the rates of employment in each medical facility and how much a technologist or technician might earn in these industries:
Although general medical and surgical hospitals currently are the largest employers of radiologic technologists and technicians, salaries are higher at colleges and universities. As the population grows and ages, there will be an increasing demand for diagnostic imaging. The need for technicians in this field remains strong because of these demands, but also because there is a growing need to replace technologists who leave the occupation.
Room for Advancement
With experience and additional training, staff technologists may become specialists. Technologists also may advance, with additional education and certification, to become a radiologist assistant. ARRT offers specialty certification in many radiologic specialties as well as a credentialing for radiologist assistants.
Experienced technologists also may be promoted to:.
- Chief radiologic technologist
- Department administrator or director*
*Depending on the institution, courses or a master’s degree in business or health administration may be necessary for the director’s position.
The ability to learn new procedures and equipment is necessary to advance in this career. Those who have more than one skill, such as CT or MRI, have better chances at employment and job stability. Continued education, advanced degrees, and certifications can open doors for further advancement in this field.
Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes fairly detailed data about job opportunities for radiology techs, diagnostic medical sonographers, and other professional medical imagers. These careers are experiencing rapid growth in conjunction with exploding need for medical treatment due to the aging of the baby boomer generation.
Diagnostic medical sonographers, also sometimes called ultrasound technicians, are seeing by far the most rapid employment growth, at a projected 46 percent increase in jobs between 2012 and 2022, but radiologic technicians/technologists are also seeing a healthy 21 percent increase, which is above average projected growth across all occupations.
A salary anywhere between $40,000 and $60,000 is not unrealistic for a skilled radiology tech, but rising into the upper pay-grades of the profession will require years of work, and possibly extra education. Getting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is one way to make yourself more promotable. Even if the subject of your degree isn’t exactly in the field you’re applying to work in, having it will look good on your resume.
Outside of being promoted into a supervisory or management position, the best option for a radiology tech looking for a career boost is going back to school, possibly in a totally different, but relevant field. Nursing and medical assisting are likely the easiest fields to move into from a career as a radiologic technician.
Going Back to School As a Radiology Technician
Whether you’re going to college for the first time, or heading back to school for a second or third time, picking a program that fits with your learning style and scheduling needs is crucial. The schools listed below are accredited and offer online courses in a variety of diagnostic imaging and other medical fields. Getting in touch with the schools directly by clicking a link below can help you learn more about available programs and make an informed choice about which schools to apply at.