GUIDE
June 7, 2021
How to become a Radiology Technician
Kathleen Gaines
By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, CBC

Radiologic technology is a growing field with tremendous growth opportunities. U.S. News and World Report ranks radiology techs #13 in best health care support jobs and #71 in 100 best overall jobs. 

As a radiology technician, you’ll manage the equipment that captures diagnostic imaging so that a radiologist can interpret the results and come up with a specialized treatment plan. 

In this guide, we’ll explain what a radiology technician does, how you can become one, what the education requirements include, your salary potential, and everything else you need to know to decide if this career is right for you!

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Part One What is a Radiology Technician?

Let's start at the beginning: radiology is a field of medicine that uses medical imaging to diagnose diseases and create patient treatment plans. A radiology technician is the healthcare professional that is performing those diagnostic imaging procedures on patients. 

Radiology techs, commonly referred to as radiologic technicians, or radiographers, position patients for imaging, collaborate with interdisciplinary clinicians, and educate patients on the process. 

Some of the imaging equipment they use includes:

  1. Ultrasound
  2.  X-ray radiography
  3. Computed tomography (CT scans) 
  4. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  5. Fluoroscopy
  6. PET emission tomography (PET)

Some radiology techs have specialized training in cardiovascular-interventional radiography, mammography, or sonography.

To be a radiology tech, you need a deep understanding of human anatomy to ensure precise imaging. That way, radiologists can accurately diagnose various pathologies. 

Part Two What Does a Radiology Technician Do?

A radiology technician’s job is to capture radiology imaging on patients using an imaging device. But they also have several other responsibilities to perform each day, which include:

  • Preparing and positioning patients for imaging exams
  • Adjusting equipment to achieve the highest quality image
  • Administering radiation to some patients (under guidance from the medical team)
  • Ensuring patient safety and comfort during imaging
  • Educating and explaining the imaging exam procedure to patients 
  • Following orders from physicians on what areas of the body to image
  • Documenting medical data in the patient’s EMR (electronic medical records)
  • Collaborating with the medical team and other healthcare professionals

Part Three Radiology Tech Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median pay for radiology techs in 2020 was $64,840 or $31.17 per hour. However, salaries vary widely depending on your city and state. The bottom 10% of radiology techs earned $42,180, and the top 10% earned $92,660.

Highest Paying States for Radiology Technicians

The BLS reports that in May 2020, the highest paying states for radiology techs were:

  • California: $95,010
  • Hawaii: $82,990
  • District of Columbia: $82,270
  • Alaska: $79,330
  • Massachusetts: $78,830

Highest Paying Cities for Radiology Technicians 

The BLS also reported that the top five metropolitan areas for radiology tech pay in 2020 were:

  • Vallejo - Fairfield, CA: $120,270
  • San Francisco - Oakland - Hayward, CA: $116,250
  • San Jose- Sunnyvale - Santa Clara, CA: $114,850
  • Stockton-Lodi, CA: $113,130
  • Santa Rosa, Ca: $111,940

Radiology Technician Salary by Years of Experience

According to payscale.com, the average salary for a radiology tech as of April 2021 is $21.24 per hour or $48,306 per year.

However, the amount of experience you have will also determine your pay. Radiology techs can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience:

  • Less than one year of experience earn an average hourly wage of $19.31
  • 1-4 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $20.52
  • 5-9 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $22.61
  • 10-19 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $24.34
  • 20+ years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $24.72

Part Four How Do You Become a Radiology Technician?

To become a radiology tech, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

Step 1: Attend an accredited radiologic technology program

There are three main ways to obtain a radiology education: a certificate program, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor's degree. Each program requires that you already have a high-school diploma or GED. 

Certificate program

Certificate programs generally take one year to complete. However, there are several drawbacks to these programs. The first is that graduates are often less desirable by employers due to having less education and training. In addition, many certificate programs do not meet accreditation standards, and some states require a minimum of an associate's degree to apply for licensure.

Associate degree program

The most commonly used route to becoming a radiology tech is through a two-year associate degree in radiography. These programs include prerequisite health science coursework such as anatomy and physiology, health science terminology, and courses specific to radiology students.

Bachelor’s degree program

Attending a four-year bachelor's degree program in radiology is also another great way to become a radiology tech. In addition to the required radiography and health science courses, a bachelor's degree will also provide general education courses.

It is not essential to have a bachelor’s degree to practice as an entry-level radiology tech; however, if you think you want to attend graduate school at some point, you will need a bachelor’s degree to do so. In addition, a bachelor’s degree will make it easier for you to move into management and administrative roles later in your career. 

Whatever route you choose, it is essential to ensure that you attend an accredited program. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) is the governing body that ensures the highest educational standards in radiology education in the US. Also, if your school is not accredited, you will not be eligible for licensure upon graduation. 

Step 2: Earn your certification

Radiologic technologists must earn either an associate or bachelor’s degree to be eligible for certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). There are no national licensing requirements for radiologic technologists, though many states have their own individual licensing processes. 

Eligibility Requirements 

  • Earn an associate degree or higher
  • Complete an American Registry of Radiologic Technician (ARRT) certification-approved educational program in the same discipline as the credential you are pursuing
  • Sign the ARRT Ethics Code of Conduct

Examination Information

  • Computerized examination
  • $200 fee

Certification Exam Content Outline (through December 2021)

  • Patient Care
    • Patient Interactions and Management
  • Safety
    • Radiation Physics and Radiobiology
    • Radiation Protection
  • Image Production
    • Image Acquisition and Technical Evaluation
    • Equipment Operation and Quality Assurance
  • Procedures
    • Head, Spine, and Pelvis Procedures
    • Thorax and Abdomen Procedures
    • Extremity Procedures

Part Five Where Do Radiology Techs Work?

You will most commonly see radiology techs working in a hospital on a specialized radiology unit. Patients are transferred to the radiology unit when they need imaging completed. 

However, some radiologists can travel throughout the hospital to perform imaging in the patient's room. Some emergency departments also have their own designated radiology rooms for emergency purposes.  

There are also career opportunities for radiology techs to work in various other locations, including:

  1. Outpatient imaging centers
  2. Academic institutions
  3. Physicians’ offices
  4. Medical and diagnostic laboratories
  5. Outpatient facilities
  6. Therapy Centers
  7. Trauma center
  8. Triage centers
  9. Urgent care centers

Radiology techs are also sometimes responsible for staffing and handling emergencies. For this reason, they may work odd hours, including weekends, evenings, and holidays. Radiology techs can work full-time, part-time, or per diem, depending on the job location.

Part Six What is the Career Outlook for a Radiology Tech?

Like most healthcare careers, radiology techs are in high demand. According to the BLS, in 2020, there were 212,000 radiology techs in the United States. By 2029, there will be a need for additional 14,100 techs, which is an expected growth of 7%.

As the baby boomer population continues to age, there will continue to be an increase in age-related diseases and injuries. For example, the elderly are prone to falls, leading to broken bones, and employers will need more radiologic technicians for noninvasive imaging.

Part Seven What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Radiology Technician?

To renew a radiology tech license, you will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. If you have earned your certification through ARRT, you’ll need to renew your certification and registration every year.

You will need to complete a minimum of 24 hours/credits of approved continuing education activities every two years. Also, they must be completed by a specific date referred to as your “biennium.” Your biennium will end on the last day of the month before your birth month every other year. Your annual renewal and your CE biennium deadlines will be on two different dates. While this can be confusing, ARRT will send out reminders via mail and email. 

A range of activities can count towards your CE requirements, including approved online classes, self-study readings and modules, lectures at professional society meetings, and classroom learning.

Part Eight Resources for Radiology Technicians

Check out these additional resources for more information on radiology techs:

  1. American Society of Radiologic Technologists
  2. American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
  3. Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists
  4. Radiological Society of North America
  5. Society for MR Radiographers & Technologists

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Part Nine Radiology Tech FAQs

  • How long does it take to become a radiology tech?

    • There are training and certificate programs for radiology techs that take around a year and associate's and bachelor's degrees that take anywhere from two to four years.
  • Can I become a radiology tech online?

    • Several accredited online radiology technology schools offer associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. However, you will have to report in person for supervised radiologic technologist training. 
  • Do radiology techs make more than nurses?

    • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for radiology techs in 2020 was $60,510. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that a registered nurse’s median salary in 2019 is $73,300 per year or $35.24 per hour.

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