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Become an Imaging Technician: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an imaging technician. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in imaging technology.

Should I Become an Imaging Technician?

Diagnostic imaging utilizes various imaging technologies, such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), x-ray, nuclear medicine scanning and sonography. Imaging technicians and technologists maintain equipment, prepare patients for imaging, produce the images, keep patient records and may provide preliminary analysis of the images. The supervising physician uses the images to provide diagnoses. Many hours might be spent standing, and these techs may need to lift or move patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree is the most common
Degree Field Radiologic technology, nuclear medicine technology, sonography
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required in some states; certification is optional, but preferred by some employers
Experience Clinical training is required
Key Skills Attention to detail, team work, problem solving, interpersonal skills, ability to perform precise procedures and follow protocols
Salary $55,870 (2014 BLS median for radiologic technologists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; CareerOneStop, U.S. Department of Labor.

Step One: Complete an Associate's Degree Program

Imaging technicians are required to complete a formal training program in an area of imaging technology. A program may last between one and four years and result in a certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree; however, beginning in 2015, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) will require certification candidates to hold at least an associate's degree, and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, associate's degree programs are the most common type of training program completed by imaging technicians.

Associate's degree programs in imaging have titles that indicate which type of imaging equipment the program prepares graduates to use. A prospective technician will want to select a program according to the primary specialty he or she wants to learn, such medical sonography, radiologic technology or nuclear medicine technology. Chosen programs should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology.

A typical degree program combines professional education courses in topics such as medical ethics, medical terminology, patient care and anatomy with general education courses. All students are required to complete a clinical education component to learn how to use imaging equipment in a clinical setting. Some areas provide the option of developing a more specific specialty. For example, in the case of sonography, students may have the option to specialize in imaging a specific part of the body. Examples of specialties include cardiac sonography, vascular sonography and obstetrics and gynecology sonography.

Step Two: Become Certified

Certification with the ARRT requires completion of an appropriate accredited program and passing a national examination. Exams are discipline-specific and usually consist entirely of multiple-choice format questions. The exams are offered at computer-based testing centers across the U.S. A candidate only needs to take the exam that relates to the specific technology in which he or she wants to be certified. Exam scores are available within 2-3 weeks. Once a candidate has passed the exam, he or she is added to the registry of certified technologists and can use the title Registered Technologist (R.T.).

Nuclear medicine technologists may also choose to be certified by the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, and sonographers may choose to be certified in a particular specialty by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Step 3: Obtain State Licensure

Licensure is a common requirement for imaging technicians, especially for those working in radiologic technology. States that require licensure often accept ARRT certification as proof of professional competency; however, some states have their own exams that candidates are required to pass. Technicians should check with their states to find out about specific licensing requirements.

Step 4: Meet Continuing Education Requirements

To maintain certification with the ARRT, imaging technicians must renew their registration and pay a renewal fee annually. Additionally, every two years, technicians need to provide documentation of meeting ongoing continuing education requirements. These requirements include completion of 24 units of approved continuing education units or passing an additional examination in another specialty, which has the added benefit of allowing a technician to add the new specialty to his or her credentials.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Organizations such as the American Society of Radiologic Technologists and the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography give members access to continuing education opportunities. Members may also receive other benefits, such as networking opportunities, industry publications and updates, job search tools and discounts on products and conference fees.

Step 5: Take Advantage of Career Advancement Opportunities

Imaging technicians can broaden their scope of practice by becoming certified in additional technologies. Radiologic technologists have the option of becoming radiologist assistants. This requires completing additional coursework, either at the bachelor's or master's degree level. Radiologist assistants work directly under the supervision of a radiologist and are given more responsibility than technologists.

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