Radiology Studies: Types of Study Programs for a Career in Radiology

Students interested in radiology can pursue degrees at the associate's, bachelor's and doctoral levels. These programs typically prepare students for professional certification, which is required in some states.

Essential Information

Prospective radiologic technologists usually complete associate's programs, which take roughly two years to complete and consist of both classroom and clinical courses focused on medical imaging equipment.

Similar to associate's programs, four-year bachelor's programs in radiation therapy include both lecture-based courses and clinical experiences. However, these programs focus on the treatment of diseases through medical radiation. Graduates of bachelor's programs are prepared for professional licensure as radiation therapists.

Aspiring radiologists must complete a four-year Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program, followed by a radiology residency. Admission to M.D. programs is very competitive, and applicants must have completed specific undergraduate prerequisites in math and the sciences. Qualifying scores on the MCAT are also necessary.

  • Program Levels for Radiology Studies: Associate's degree; Bachelor's degree; Doctoral degree
  • Prerequisites: GED or high school diploma is needed for both associate's and bachelor's degrees; doctoral programs require a bachelor's degree and MCAT results
  • Program Length: Associate's degree lasts two years; bachelor's degrees take four years to complete; doctoral programs last four years followed by a four year residency
  • Other Requirements: Bachelor's degrees include clinical experience; doctoral Programs require a residency

Associate's Degree Programs in Radiologic Technology

Associate's degree programs in radiologic technology prepare students to become radiologic technicians or radiographers. Students learn to use medical imaging equipment to produces images used by physicians for diagnostic purposes. Programs typically last two years.

Students learn to operate radiology equipment and basic patient care skills, including positioning the patient for treatment. Course topics include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Radiologic science and theory
  • Radiologic safety
  • Medical terminology
  • Radiologic procedures

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Radiation Therapy

Programs in radiation therapy are commonly offered at the bachelor's degree level. These programs train students to use radiation beams, also known as x-rays, as a means to treat disease in patients. Radiation therapy is often used in the treatment of cancer. Programs last four years and combine classroom instruction with clinical experience.

Students typically complete coursework in chemistry, biology, physics and math in addition to topics in radiation therapy. Courses might include:

  • Radiation safety
  • Radiation physics
  • Principles of radiation therapy
  • Treatment plans
  • Medical imaging techniques

Doctoral Degree Programs in Radiology

To become radiologists, students need to complete a general medical program. A school offering coursework or residency opportunities in radiology would be a good choice for those interested in that field. Medical school requires four years of study combining intense classroom instruction and hands-on clinical rotations. The medical program is followed by a residency program which can last four or more years. Radiology residency programs are offered at many medical schools.

Medical school curriculum is intense. Students explore topics during classroom sessions and then see how the principles apply during clinical rotations. Although students may be interested in a specific area, such as radiology, they explore all specialties, including gynecology, neurology, pediatrics, neurology and urology. During their residency programs, students have the opportunity to explore their area of interested in greater depth. Medical courses might include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Medical ethics and law
  • Patient care

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

During the decade from 2012-2022, job growth for radiologic technologists is expected to increase at a faster than average rate of 21%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov). The increase is due in part to an increased demand in diagnostic imaging services by the growing elderly population. As of May 2014, radiologic technologists earned median annual salaries of $55,870.

According to the BLS, employment for all physicians and surgeons is expected to grow at a rate of 18% during the period from 2012-2022. With a rapidly growing elderly population providing an increased demand for radiology treatments, radiologists may find especially good job prospects. The BLS stated that Physicians, Surgeon, all other (which includes radiologists) earned an average annual wage of $189,760 in 2014.

The BLS predicts job growth of 24% for radiation therapists during the period from 2012-2022. Much of this job growth is due to the increase in use of radiation therapy for cancer and other medical treatment. Median salaries were $80,090 annually, as of May 2014.

Licensing, Board Certification and Continuing Education

Some states require radiologic technologists to become certified. Technologists should contact their state's health board for requirements. Radiologic technologists who successfully complete an accredited program can become certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Continuing education is required to maintain certification and is important for keeping up with changes and advancements in radiologic technology.

Similar to radiologic technicians, licensing requirements vary by state. Most states do require some form of licensing, and many use the ARRT certification examination for licensing purposes. ARRT certification is the industry standard and many employers prefer to hire only certified radiology therapists. The ARRT requires certified workers to complete 24 hours of continuing education every two years.

Graduate of medical programs who have completed their residency may sit for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Board certification in radiology is offered by the American Board of Radiology. Radiologists may become certified in subspecialties, such as neuroradiology or pediatric radiology. Radiologists must earn continuing education credits in order to maintain certification.

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