The field of medical radiography offers several career options with educational requirements no higher than a bachelor's degree. All of the following careers require an understanding of complex imaging machinery and a background in human anatomy.
Job options for those pursuing a career in medical radiography include radiologic technician, radiological technologist and cardiovascular technician. Educational requirements vary by employer, but most prefer an undergraduate degree. Most medical radiographers have professional certification, and some states require that they be licensed.
|Career Titles||Radiologic Technologist||Cardiovascular Technologist||Sonographer||Nuclear Medicine Technologist|
|Education Requirements||Associate's degree||Associate's or Bachelor's degree||Associate's or Bachelor's degree||Associate's or Bachelor's degree|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||9%*||22%*||26%*||2%*|
|Median Salary (2015)||$56,670*||$54,880*||$68,970*||$73,360*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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There are numerous career options for graduates of certification, vocational, or undergraduate programs in medical radiography and its related fields. Some of these job titles and descriptions do overlap. However, the following titles do cover distinct employment areas in most cases. Read on for an overview of the Radiologic Technician and Technologist, Cardiovascular Technician and Technologist, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, and Nuclear Medicine Technologist careers.
Radiologic technicians, also called radiographers, perform diagnostic medical imaging using X-rays. Physicians who are radiologists read the films and diagnose patients from them. Radiologic technicians are responsible for protecting the patient, themselves and their co-workers from excessive radiation. They use radiation shields and other specialized equipment to limit the amount of radiation people are exposed to. Other duties may include keeping records, maintaining equipment and preparing work schedules.
Radiologic technologists perform diagnostic medical imaging using various procedures, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), fluoroscopy, mammography and computed tomography (CT). Those who conduct MRI work are called MR technologists.
CT technologists perform scans using a form of ionizing radiation similar to X-rays. Mammography tests are done this way, and technologists may specialize in this procedure.
Vascular or Cardiovascular Technicians
Cardiovascular technicians specialize in the heart and the blood vessels that surround it. Vascular technicians specialize in the peripheral blood vessels or those which don't surround the heart. These technicians conduct treadmill stress tests, Holter monitoring and echocardiograms, along with other tests.
Vascular or Cardiovascular Technologists
Cardiology technologists may perform invasive and non-invasive procedures. Invasive procedures include inserting thin probes called catheters into a patient's body to check for blockages of the blood vessels, assisting a physician in removing a blockage or in performing scans to detect for abnormal electrical activity. Non-invasive procedures include the use of ultrasound to produce photo and video images of the heart and blood vessels.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasound technology to create and transmit medical images of patients. They may specialize in vascular or cardiovascular sonography or in other areas:
- Obstetric and gynecologic sonography (female reproductive system)
- Abdominal sonography (male reproductive system, the gallbladder, kidneys, liver and other organs)
- Neurosonography (brain and nervous system)
- Breast sonography (breast tissue)
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Nuclear medicine uses unstable, radioactive molecules that have been purified to detect diseases in patients. Patients ingest the nuclear material, and then technologists use special cameras to take images of how the material reacts inside the body.
There are two types of nuclear scans used for medical imaging: nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography (PET). Nuclear cardiology technicians take images of the heart and blood vessels while the patient is exercising to gain information about blood flow. PET scan technologists produce three-dimensional images of parts of the body.
Certificate and Degree Programs
Some employers will accept a one-year certificate program or even a high school diploma with a strong math or science background but an undergraduate degree is preferred. Formal training program are offered at universities, community colleges, vocational institutes and hospitals. These programs lead to a certificate, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in medical radiography. Many medical radiography programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
Licensing and Certification
Medical radiographers may be certified by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Nuclear medicine technologists may be certified by the ARRT or by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. Licensing requirements vary by state.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
From 2014-2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted the highest growth rate for diagnostic medical sonographers, of 26%, followed by projections of 22% growth for vascular and cardiovascular techs, 9% for radiologic techs and 2% expansion for nuclear medicine techs. In 2015, the BLS reported the highest annual median salary for nuclear medicine techs ($73,360), followed by diagnostic medical sonographers ($68,970), radiologic techs ($56,670) and vascular or cardiovascular techs ($54,880).
Careers in medical radiography involve the use of radiographic equipment to take images of internal human anatomy. These careers usually require an associate's or bachelor's degree, as well as hands-on training and certification. Educational requirements may not vary much in length, but there is variation in the pay and job outlooks for these healthcare careers.