Become a Radiologist Assistant: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a radiologist assistant. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career as a radiologist assistant.

Should I Become a Radiologist Assistant?

Radiologist assistants (RAs) are advanced-level radiographers who perform a variety of diagnostic imaging examinations, including CAT scans and x-rays. This professional extends the services of radiologists by assessing and managing patient care, as well as assisting radiologists with invasive and noninvasive procedures. In addition, they may evaluate the quality of radiologic images and report observations to a supervising radiologist. Many work hours may be spent standing, and those working with radiation must follow safety precautions to protect themselves and patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard
Degree Field Radiologist assistant
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required in many states; RAs are certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
Training Must first go through training to become a radiologic technologist (also known as a radiographer)
Key Skills Knowledge of various medical software, such as diagnostic imaging, electronic medical records, film processing and information management, data entry and information retrieval software; Expertise in radiological positioning equipment: x-ray film processors, units, screens, archiving systems and converters, hypodermic needles; Often required to have advanced cardiac life support certification
Salary (2014) $55,870 per year (Median salary for all radiologic technologists)

Sources: American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, American Society of Radiologic Technologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American College of Radiology.

Step 1: Complete a Radiologic Technologist Program

In order to become a radiologist assistant, one must first train to be a radiologic technologist. While associate's degree programs in radiography are common, many RA programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, so earning only an associate's degree could limit individuals' choices for higher education. Radiologic technologist programs include a mix of didactic classes and clinical experiences. Graduates should be prepared to take the ARRT exam to become a Registered Technologist.

Step 2: Get Certified and Licensed

Students may submit an application to take the ARRT exam up to three months prior to radiologic technologist graduation. Once the application is approved, they'll be contacted with information on scheduling an exam. They have 90 days to take the computer-based exam. Certification candidates will receive their official scores within three weeks of taking the exam. If they pass, they can begin working as Registered Technologists. If they don't pass, they're allowed two more attempts to pass the exam. Graduates must also be licensed by the state in which they work. Licensing applications usually include evidence of completing an appropriate education program and passing the ARRT exam.

Success Tip:

  • Gain work experience as a radiologic technologist. Once certified, radiographers should plan to gain at least two years of full-time work experience before applying to RA programs. Radiologic technologists can expect to maintain imaging equipment, carry out imaging of patients under orders from the supervising physician, prepare patients for procedures and keep patient records.

Step 3: Earn a Radiologist Assistant Degree

Radiologist assistant programs may award either a bachelor's degree or master's degree. Programs that award master's degrees require applicants with a bachelor's degree. Programs consist of advanced courses in anatomy and physiology, healthcare leadership, patient care, radiographic positioning, image evaluation and imaging procedures. Students also complete supervised clinical internships.

Step 4: Complete a Preceptorship

A clinical preceptorship is a full-time commitment during which a certification candidate is supervised by a radiologist. According to the AART, students must complete at least 500 total cases, divided among certain categories, and 36 clinical procedures. The requirements for the preceptorship are set out by the ARRT and outline exactly what procedures a student must be competent in. This work experience could be completed alongside the radiologist assistant program, but it may not be part of the educational requirements for the program.

Step 5: Obtain Radiologist Assistant Certification

After completing the preceptorship, candidates must pass a second ARRT examination to become a practicing radiologist assistant. The Registered Radiologist Assistant (RRA) certification exam is longer than the radiographer exam and consists of both multiple choice questions and case study questions. It's also computer-based and administered at testing centers across the country.

Step 6: Secure State Licensure

Though the ARRT sets out model guidelines for RA licensure, specific licensing regulations vary by state. Common requirements are completing a radiologist assistant program, being registered with the ARRT and being certified in advanced cardiac life support.

Success Tip:

  • Complete continuing education requirements to maintain certification and licensure. RAs must complete 50 credits of continuing education credits every two years in order to maintain certification with the ARRT. States also require licensure renewal on a periodic basis.

Step 7: Opportunity for Career Advancement

There is a range of growth opportunities for an RA. There are dozens of clinical areas to specialize in, and in a variety of settings - from a small doctor's office to an entire department at a hospital. A radiologist assistant could advance to manage an entire department, teach at colleges, or perform research. Career advancement in this field is largely dependent on the individual's abilities and interests.

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