Considering a career in healthcare? Radiology, also referred to as medical imaging, offers the opportunity to choose from a wide range of modalities, all of which are integral to the diagnosis of illness and injury.
Each area of specialization produces high-quality images that reveal what is happening inside the patient’s body.
In this career guide we will discuss:
- The careers in this field
- Medical imaging technology
- Salary ranges
- Education and training
- Who is best suited for this work
Part One What is Radiology
Radiology is a science encompassing both the technologies that create high-quality images of structures within the body and the techniques applied by healthcare professionals in using that technology. The images are used for medical diagnoses, assessments, and interventions.
The field dates back to 1895, when the x-ray was first invented by Wilhelm Rontgen. Since that time, numerous modifications and improvements have been made, and other modalities have been introduced. These include nuclear medicine, sonography, radiation therapy, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging.
Each new technology has expanded the ability to diagnose medical problems and offer better treatment options.
Part Two What Can You Do in Radiology?
There is a wide range of options for allied health professionals in medical imaging. Allied health professionals are non-doctor and non-nursing professionals that use science and technology to contribute to the field of healthcare.
No matter which technology they specialize in, medical imaging allied health care professionals create high-quality images to be interpreted by radiologists.
The importance of each service within medical imaging cannot be overstated, as the images produced are the foundation on which diagnoses are made and treatments are ordered.
Each career within the field of medical imaging is defined by the technology that it uses to capture images. All require a knowledge of physics, human anatomy, and physiology, as well as the ability to work with patients.
Medical imaging professionals work in a wide range of job settings including:
- Imaging centers
- Physicians’ offices
- Mobile imaging companies
- Research and academic centers
- Government agencies
- Industrial plants
Part Three Radiology Careers
Some radiology technologists move beyond healthcare and carry their knowledge into careers in sales and marketing. There is no limit to how many modalities an individual can be licensed in, though most individuals focus on a single specialty area.
Each career within radiology has its own certification, training, and education requirements. Here are some of the most common positions in the medical imaging field, as well as their median annual salaries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com:
Radiology Technician - $63,710 per year
Also referred to as a radiographer, radiology technicians work with radiographic equipment to take X-rays that reveal organs and bones.
Computed Tomography (CT) Technologist - $79,590
Also known as CAT Scan technologists, these specialists use computerized x-ray equipment that captures detailed cross-sectional images of the internal structures of the human body.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer - $70,380
Also known as ultrasonographers, these professionals work with equipment that utilizes high-frequency sound waves to show the internal structures and organs of the body.
Mammographer - $73,610
Also known as mammography technologists, the equipment these professionals employ use ionizing radiation to capture images of the breast.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist - $79,590
These professionals administer a radioactive drug and then capture its distribution and concentration in the body via cameras that utilize gamma rays. They also are responsible for administering radioactive drugs to treat some cancers.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist - $75,960
Also known as MRI technologists, these professionals work with equipment that employs radio waves, magnets and computer technology to create images of the body.
Special Procedures Technologist - $57,720
Also known as vascular technologists, these professionals work with a variety of specialized equipment to study the body’s blood vessels and to perform procedures that widen them.
Part Four Radiology Education and Training
No matter which modality you choose, medical imaging professionals need to complete rigorous educational requirements, pass the national certification exam associated with their specialty area, and meet state licensing requirements.
Some modalities, including radiographer and diagnostic medical sonographer, are considered entry-level.
Others are advanced-level positions that require certification and specialized training. These include Computed Tomography Technologist, Mammographer, Nuclear Medicine Technologist, Mammographer, and Special Procedures Technologist.
No matter which modality you choose, there are three different educational paths available. They are:
- A four-year bachelor’s degree
- A two-year associate's degree
- A certificate program (usually intended for those with healthcare experience)
To ensure that you receive an education that will fully prepare you for the career you choose, make sure that the programs you apply to have been accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology.
In each program, you can expect to take the following classes.
- Radiology theory
- Radiation physics
- Image evaluation
- Patient positioning
- Patient safety
Online Radiology Programs
Though many programs offer the opportunity to complete some coursework online, you will be required to have practical experience in positioning and the use of imaging equipment.
There is also the option for those who have already earned a medical imaging certification to pursue a Bachelor of Science or another advanced degree online. This is an excellent choice for technologists who are interested in moving into management.
Whether you choose to pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, once you’ve completed your medical imaging program you will need to be certified in your specialty area and become licensed in your state.
Part Five Who Should Consider a Career in Radiology?
Medical imaging or radiology professionals have a demonstrated interest in science, technology, and in providing high-quality care. To enter the field and attain the education and training, you must be dedicated to studying and learning math, anatomy, physics, and the technical knowledge needed to operate the equipment and position patients correctly.
In addition, you need the ability to work collaboratively with other members of the health care team and to exhibit a calm, competent, confident demeanor to patients of all ages, some of whom may be frightened, in pain, anxious, angry, or confused.
Good candidates for a career in medical imaging are intelligent, personable, and detail-oriented people who possess an interest in science and a dedication to quality care. In return, they get the benefit of being able to work as part of a team committed to patient wellbeing, days filled with interesting cases and the ability to meet interesting people, a predictable and flexible schedule, and a solid income that offers career advancement and job security.
Part Six How to Get Started in a Radiology Career
Once you’ve decided that medical imaging is the right career for you, your next step is to select the accredited program that best meets your needs. Selecting the right program will be based on numerous factors, including location, cost, and the program’s reputation.
Medical imaging programs are competitive, and each school has its own admissions requirements for acceptance into the program. Most require:
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Prerequisite courses in science and math
- Completed application
- Personal interview with faculty
- Letters of recommendation
- Completion of Psychological Services Bureau Health Occupations Aptitude Examination
- Criminal background check
- Part Seven Radiology Resources
For more information on a career in medical imaging, visit the following websites:
- American College of Radiology
- American Healthcare Radiology Administrators (AHRA)
- American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM)
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT)