Diagnostic imaging is a broad term that applies to the use of imaging equipment to view organs or tissues inside the human body. Examples of such processes include ultrasound, x-rays, nuclear medicine, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Many programs combine classroom instruction with lab exercises and clinical experiences. Students pursuing an associate's degree are not required to meet any educational prerequisites. However, they can prepare by taking courses in physics and math during high school.
Some bachelor's degree programs in radiologic technology are set up as degree-completion programs and may require prior certification as a radiologic technologist for entry. Other programs allow credits earned in an earlier radiology program to count towards completion of the degree. At a minimum, a health sciences background is usually required.
A post-baccalaureate certificate could be pursued for career advancement or to satisfy continuing education requirements to maintain licensure or certification.
Associate of Science in Radiologic Technology
Programs in radiologic technology are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. A two-year associate's degree program incorporates didactic coursework and substantial clinical training, generally completed through rotations at hospitals and clinics. Students learn to appropriately use equipment and prepare and position patients for imaging procedures such as X-Rays, CTs and MRIs. Schools may require students to provide proof of CPR certification and records of up-to-date immunizations prior to enrollment or during the program. Graduates are prepared to sit for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certifying examination. Specific course topics include the following:
- Human anatomy
- Radiographic positioning
- Radiological instruments
- Sectional anatomy
- Radiographic physics
Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Sonography technicians use sound waves to create an image of a specific area of the body. The image is captured through video or photography and subsequently reviewed by a doctor. Baccalaureate degree programs provide students with patient care skills and training in health care management and health care policy. Students with no previous education in the field usually take prerequisite coursework, such as anatomy and physiology, physics, psychology and medical terminology. Programs typically offer specializations in abdominal, obstetric, vascular or cardiac sonography. Students spend significant time receiving practical, hands-on training in their area of specialization. In the classroom, students study topics such as:
- Physics of sonography
- Medical ethics
- Sectional anatomy
- Research methodology
- Imaging pathophysiology
Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Nuclear Medicine Technology
Students of nuclear medicine use radiopharmaceuticals to image organs or body tissue and monitor metabolic changes to identify areas of disease. Nuclear medicine technology programs, which are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology, generally take 12-20 months to complete. Most programs prepare students to sit for the Nuclear Medicine Technologist Certification Board exam. Students complete core education courses as well as significant clinical training to fulfill degree requirements set by the educational institution. Didactic training is provided in the following topics:
- Nuclear medicine instrumentation
- Nuclear medicine procedures
- Non-imaging procedures
- Cross-sectional anatomy
- Radiation safety
- Patient care procedures
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of employment for diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to grow 9% from 2014-2024. During that time, radiologic technologist and nuclear medicine technologist jobs are projected to increase by 9% and 2%, respectively. Diagnostic imaging is expected to become utilized at an increased rate in order to avoid the side effects presented by procedures that use radiation. For radiologic technologists, more job opportunities are expected in smaller physician offices since imaging techniques have become less expensive.
Although jobs are projected to increase for nuclear medicine technologists, competition for positions will be fierce due to large numbers of qualified candidates. The BLS reported that median annual salaries for these professionals were $68,970 for diagnostic medical sonographers, $56,670 for radiologic technologists and $73,360 for nuclear medicine technologists, as of May 2015.
Continuing Education Information
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs is the body that accredits diagnostic sonography programs. Certification is not required to practice; however, some employers may require certification. To maintain certification, a varying number of continuing education hours are generally required each year. Sonographers can advance in their positions or find new job opportunities through experience or by taking additional training in other sonography specializations.
Certified radiologic technologists must complete at least 24 continuing education hours over a 2-year period in order to maintain their credentials. Certification is voluntary, but it is looked upon favorably by employers and often required in states that license those practicing in the field. Those looking for additional education can move on to bachelor's degree programs in radiologic technology or a related field, such as sonography.
Certification is commonly expected of nuclear medicine technologists from both employers and insurance companies. Many states also have mandatory licensure processes that require certification to practice. Due to continued technological developments, continuing education is necessary and available through webinars, regional meetings, and large conferences sponsored by professional organizations.
Depending on previous experience and educational goals, students can choose either an associate's degree, bachelor's degree or post-baccalaureate certificate in diagnostic imaging. These programs provide specific clinical training alongside lecture-based coursework to prepare students for work in the field.