Radiologic Technologist: A 2022 Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn about a career as a radiologic or MRI technologist, including where they work, what they earn, and how to become one.

[Featured Image] A woman wearing a protective vest works with radiologic equipment.

Radiologic technologists perform diagnostic imaging in health care settings like hospitals, medical laboratories, and physicians’ offices. A radiologic technologist position offers the opportunity to work in the medical field directly with patients of all ages, with the option to specialize in a specific area of diagnostic imaging. The job typically requires an associate degree, and many states require radiologic technologists to be licensed or hold a certification.

What does a radiologic technologist do?

A radiologic technologist works with patients under the supervision of a doctor to perform diagnostic imaging on specific parts of the body. The images are sent to the ordering physician for diagnosis or to monitor an existing disease. The radiologic technologist prepares patients for the procedure by correctly positioning them and minimizing their exposure to radiation.

Some radiologic technologists specialize in areas, such as mammography, sonography, nuclear medicine, cancer radiation treatments, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Where do radiologic technologists work? 

A radiologic technologist has many career options available when choosing a work setting. Those working in a hospital typically work in a specific area such as an emergency room or critical care unit. Medical laboratories serve outpatients who need diagnostic imaging. Private imaging centers and doctors’ offices also employ radiology technologists. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 57 percent of radiologic technologists work in public or private hospitals as of 2021 [1]. 

What are the main duties and responsibilities of a radiologic technologist?

Radiologic technologists operate and maintain imaging equipment and perform procedures such as mammograms, MRIs, and x-rays. Other duties include patient interaction, ensuring patient safety, and producing quality images. 

Prepare the patient for the procedure

When a doctor orders an imaging test for a patient, a radiologic technologist prepares the patient by explaining what will take place and answering any questions they may have. They also position the patient in order to scan the correct area. 

Communicate with the patient

A patient undergoing imaging might feel nervous and apprehensive. A radiologic technologist might encounter a patient in pain from a recent trauma, such as a broken bone. They need excellent communication skills to calm the patient before and during the procedure.  

Ensure patient safety

A radiological technologist operates radiographic equipment and takes the necessary steps to limit the patient’s radiation exposure by using vests and other barriers on parts of the body that aren’t being scanned.  

What qualifications and certifications are required to become a radiologic technologist?

Each state has its own educational requirements for licensing or certification. Most require a minimum of an associate degree from an accredited school. After completing the required degree program, radiological technologists must pass an examination administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). 

How long does it take to train as a radiologic technologist?

The educational path you choose will determine the time it takes to prepare for a job as a radiologic technician. Certificate programs typically take one year to complete. However, before considering a certification program, you’ll want to make sure it meets accreditation requirements from the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. 

The minimum requirement is typically a two-year associate degree that can qualify you for an entry-level position. A bachelor’s degree provides more opportunities for advancement. Be sure to check with your state licensing board to determine its education requirements. 

What skills do I need to become a radiologic technologist?

To be a successful radiologic technologist, you’ll need communication skills, mechanical aptitude, and analytical skills. As a radiologic technologist, you’ll work with all age groups and demographics, so you’ll need diverse, effective communication skills. 

The job requires physical interaction with patients, so you should be comfortable doing so. Radiologic technologists need to move a patient to get a clear image, even if the patient is in severe pain or experiencing high anxiety. 

Communication skills

Communication skills are essential when preparing a patient for an imaging procedure. The patients could be there for a variety of reasons, and some might experience fear or anxiety. Some patients might have a physical injury or suffer from trauma. 

As a radiologic technologist, you’ll want the following communication skills:

  • Compassion

  • A calm voice and demeanor

  • Ability to explain procedures and answer questions

  • Communication skills for all ages

  • Recognition of non-verbal cues 

Mechanical aptitude 

A career as a radiologist centers around the operation of imaging equipment. Not only will you want to be comfortable operating the equipment, but as new technology evolves, you’ll need to relearn how to use certain equipment. Other considerations include:

  • Equipment maintenance

  • Equipment repairs 

  • Keeping current with technological equipment changes 

Medical skills

As a radiologic technologist, you’ll need to know human anatomy so you can properly position patients to capture the images requested by the physician. Along with anatomy skills, you’ll need:

  • Knowledge of safety measures to prevent over-exposing radiation to the patient and yourself

  • The physical ability to position a patient so quality images can be captured while keeping the patient comfortable

  • Keeping careful patient medical records

What do radiologic technologists earn?

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for radiological technologists is $61,370 as of May 2021. The Bureau reports the lowest 10 percent of radiological workers earn less than $46,850, and the highest 10 percent earn over $94,880 annually [2]. 

Career progression

You can advance your radiologic technologist career to an MRI technologist through experience and MRI coursework. Unlike a radiologic technologist who operates several types of equipment, an MRI technologist works solely with magnetic resonance imaging.

Another career path is to become a mammography technologist. These professionals play a major role in early disease detection and prevention using low-dose x-ray imaging. Mammography is commonly used to detect breast cancer. Along with an associate degree, you’ll need to complete 40 hours of continuing education credit in mammography.

If your career goal is health care management, the position of chief radiologic technologist provides the opportunity to oversee a radiological team and manage a radiology lab.

Get started

When considering a career as a radiological technologist, you’ll want to select an educational program to help you achieve your goals. Many schools offer associate and bachelor’s degrees in radiology, so it’s important to research the available programs and find the one that best fits your needs.

Explore radiology courses, such as Visualizing the Living Body: Diagnostic Imaging or MRI Fundamentals to learn more about the opportunities that await you. Discover the benefits of radiation in the medical community through The University of Sydney's course in Life, Health, and Radiation

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Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Radiologic and MRI Technologists: Occupational Outlook Handbook, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-3." Accessed May 21, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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