A career in radiology has a foundation in medicine and technology, using internal imaging devices to diagnose disease and injury. Beyond this definition, the radiologist can branch out or specialize in various careers such as diagnostic radiology, radiation therapy, interventional radiology and professions in nuclear medicine, including veterinary technology. This guide to careers in radiology can help you decide your future as a radiologist, including required training, work environments and job futures.
Training and Education
Training in radiography can lead to a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accredits formal training programs in radiography and promotes excellence in education and elevates quality and safety of patient care through the accreditation of educational programs in radiography, radiation therapy, magnetic resonance, and medical dosimetry.
If you plan to work in radiation therapy, employers usually require applicants to complete an associate or a bachelor’s degree program in radiation therapy. Federal legislation protects the public from the hazards of unnecessary exposure to medical and dental radiation by ensuring that operators of radiologic equipment are properly trained. However, it is up to each state to require licensure of radiologic technologists. Licensing requirements vary by state, so you’ll need to contact your state’s health board for specific requirements.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers voluntary certification for radiologic technologists. ARRT is the world’s largest credentialing organization that seeks to ensure high quality patient care in medical imaging, interventional procedures, and radiation therapy. They test and certify technologists and administer continuing education and ethics requirements for their annual registration.
A number of states also use ARRT-administered exams for state licensing purposes. In order to maintain an ARRT certification, 24 hours of continuing education must be completed every two years. ARRT certification is valid for one year, after which therapists must renew their certification. Requirements for renewal include abiding by the ARRT ethical standards, paying annual dues, and satisfying continuing education requirements. Certification renewal, however, may not be required by all states or employers that require initial certification.
No matter which career you choose in radiology, physical stamina is important. You may often need to handle patients during internal imaging diagnostics or treatment, and radiologists often are on their feet for long periods of time. All radiation technologists and therapists need good communication skills because their work involves a great deal of interaction with patients.
Additionally, individuals interested in becoming radiologists might think about the psychological toll of working with cancer patients. Care and empathy with patients and with family members is important, because radiologists work with patients who are ill and under stress. The ability to keep accurate, detailed records also is important for each case.
Employment and Job Futures
The following career pages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offer overviews of the some diagnostic careers. In most cases, salaries begin around $50,000 per year and climb with experience, further education and training.
- Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians: Technologists and technicians with multiple professional credentials, trained to perform a wide range of procedures, will have the best prospects.
- Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians: Most jobs will continue to be in hospitals, but employment also will grow rapidly in other settings.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: Employment will grow as sonography becomes an increasingly attractive alternative to radiological procedures.
- Nuclear Medicine Technologists: Technologists with training in multiple diagnostic methods, or in nuclear cardiology, should have the best prospects.
- Radiation Therapists: Employment is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations.
- Radiologic Technologists and Technicians: Employment is projected to grow faster than average; those with knowledge of more than one diagnostic imaging procedure will have the best employment opportunities.
- Veterinary Technologists and Technicians: There are primarily two levels of education and training for entry to this occupation: a 2-year program for veterinary technicians and a 4-year program for veterinary technologists. Overall job opportunities should be excellent; however, keen competition is expected for jobs in zoos and aquariums.
Beyond the careers listed above, specializations include becoming a dosimetrist, or a person who calculates the dose of radiation to make sure the tumor gets enough radiation; a radiation oncology nurse, or nurses who work with radiation teams to care for patients during the course of treatment; and, medical radiation physicists, who work directly with the doctor in the treatment planning and delivery.
If you want to take your career even further, you can go through four years of undergraduate school to obtain your bachelor’s degree, then obtain four years of medical school training. Upon graduation, you can serve four years of residency training and then one year of an options fellowship training for a specialization. At this point, you would be a physician who reads and interprets digital images, or x-rays, of patients obtained through a variety of cameras, machines, and imaging equipment.
Although you may see additional schooling as unnecessary, your years in higher education could escalate your salary. According to the Medical Group Management Association, general diagnostic radiologists earn over $400,000 on average. Interventional radiologists who have completed additional fellowship training in interventional radiology can earn over $500,000 on average.
Although work environments today may seem onerous, the field of radiology is expanding to include the ability to take diagnostic equipment to homes for testing or treatment. Additionally, a variety of newly developed imaging machines and radiologic equipment utilizes a wide range of technologies beyond nuclear and radioactive materials. Magnetic imaging (MRI), computers, cameras and digital imagery and sound waves (ultrasound) all work to make a safer environment for both patient and radiologist.
If your only goal is to get educated in a short period of time so that you can be certified and begin working as quickly as possible, one-year diploma and certificate programs will suffice in most cases. This choice may be good for those who want to advance their career someday to become a nurse, nurse practitioner, physician or radiologist, as many of the credits will transfer towards that goal. You can prepare for this job in as little as one year or as many as four years if you want to enter into management positions or plan to further your education someday.