A radiologic technologist career is expected to be one of the high growth areas in the U.S. economy over the next several years. Health care careers in general are expected to grow much faster than the rest of the economy, and the use of MRI machines and other imaging technology is expected to become even more commonplace in the years ahead, increasing demand for people seeking a radiologic technologist career. Because the number of colleges and universities offering radiologic technologist training is limited, it’s expected that there will be more job openings than qualified people to fill them.
A radiologic technician (RT), also known as a radiographer, is a person who works with radiologists (physicians who specialize in radiology) in order to diagnose and treat various kinds of illnesses and injuries. They do this by applying low doses of radioactive materials or ionizing radiation to patients. Sometimes this is done to destroy cancer cells or tumors. Another common use is in imaging technology, where the machine scans the human body or parts of it in order for the treating physician to make a diagnosis or rule one out. Performing diagnostic imaging examinations makes up a large part of what RTs do, and includes mammography, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. This highly sophisticated technology has revolutionized medical care in a myriad of ways over the last few decades, and as technology gets increasingly sophisticated, and prices for the machines keep dropping, they are being found in more and more hospitals and clinics, and even some doctor’s offices.
Many radiologic technologists are generalists who regularly perform all of the above procedures and more. Others choose to specialize in one particular kind of test, and become known as computed tomography technologists, magnetic resonance technologists, or mammography technologists. In all of these fields, RTs will be working with dangerous radiation, and following all the required safety protocols is essential for keeping themselves from the harm that comes with repeated exposure. These protocols involve wearing gloves and lead aprons, and using various kinds of shielding devices. In addition, RTs wear special badges at all times; these badges measure the radiation to which they are exposed to, and the amounts are recorded in order to make sure that exposure over the life of their careers remains at safe levels.
A college degree is usually necessary for a radiologic technician career, but some hospitals offer their own training programs, and many people learn the necessary skills from a stint in the military. The latter two options are becoming increasingly obsolete as more and more states are requiring RTs to have at least an associate’s degree in radiography. Most RTs these days have an associate’s degree, while others have a bachelor’s degree. In order to earn an associate’s degree, two years of study is normally required; a bachelor’s degree in radiography usually takes four years to earn. Any program of study must be approved by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). There is also a certification test for RTs, offered by the American Association of Radiologic Technologists (AART). Passing this test, while theoretically voluntary, is essentially a necessity, as most employers now hire only certified RTsS, and many states use the AART certification test as part of their licensing procedures.
A radiologic technician career usually leads to a salary that is much higher than average for people with associate’s degrees. As of this writing, the median wage for RTs is around $55,000 a year, with most of them earning between $45,000 and $65,000 annually. Higher pay usually follows experience; new hires should expect beginning salaries on the lower end of this scale. Based on official government projections, demand for qualified RTs is expected to be higher than the supply of qualified candidates to fill them for quite some time, which means that salaries should continue to increase for the foreseeable future.