The field of medical radiology covers many levels and areas of study. With an associate's degree from an accredited program, a student can train to become a radiologic technologist or technician. These 2-year programs allow them to develop general proficiency in medical radiology through courses and clinical experiences that cover topics such as equipment operation, safety and patient positioning. Students may be able to specialize in one area of radiology, such as mammography. Many technologists and technicians go on to pursue bachelor's degrees in radiologic sciences, which offer advanced training and prepare graduates for certification as professional radiographers. Many of these programs offer some online courses, but all have clinical components as well.
Radiologists are medical doctors who have completed a residency in radiology, which is four years of intensive clinical experience, classes and seminars that follows medical school and an internship. Residents in radiology gain experience in a variety of areas, including emergency, nuclear medicine and obstetric ultrasounds.
Prerequisites for an associate's degree program in radiology include a high school diploma or GED and up-to-date immunization records. Students are also expected to be physically fit enough to lift heavy equipment or assist patients. Bachelor's programs are for professionals who are employed as radiologic technologists or have already completed an associate's degree in the field. Residency programs are for people who have completed a bachelor's degree program and medical school. Additionally, after completing a one-year internship, a resident is formally enrolled in a radiology residency program.
Associate's Degree in Radiologic Technology
Most radiologic technologists or technicians gain the education and skills they need for the job through an associate's degree program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology or JRCERT. Students should expect to take several science and math classes, but they will also be encouraged to develop excellent patient service and communication skills.
Many programs provide an overview of subspecialties within the field of medical radiology; students may wish to become competent in more than one subspecialty in order to improve their employability.
Students learn how to properly position a patient for an accurate image, and will study the ethics of health care and effective customer service skills. Courses could include:
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Radiographic imaging
- Pathology and diagnostic imaging
- Radiation safety and protection
- Speech and communication
Bachelor's Degree in Radiologic or Health Sciences
Some schools accredited through JRCERT offer a bachelor's degree in radiologic sciences. In addition to a spectrum of humanities classes, students learn the technical and practical skills necessary to be a radiological technologist, or radiographer. Many programs offer courses online or allow for part-time enrollment or advanced academic standing with previous experience.
Along with science, math and literature classes, students learn how to operate medical radiology equipment safely, monitor the health and safety of patients under their supervision and communicate effectively. Some of their classes could include:
- English literature and composition
- Basic Spanish for health workers
- Radiation and biology
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Medical Residency Programs in Radiology
A doctor who specializes in analyzing the images generated with the help of radiologic technicians for signs of disease is known as a radiologist. A radiologist works alongside the referral physician to identify pathology and recommends further imaging or treatments. Some radiologists also perform minor surgery and minimally invasive procedures using radiology equipment; others sub-specialize within radiology in areas such as gastrointestinal, pediatric or neuroradiology.
Doctors in a radiology residency program learn skills through practice and observation, lectures, conferences and classroom education. Residents rotate through a variety of sub-specialties within the radiology department, and topics can include:
- Emergency radiology
- Obstetric/Gynecological ultrasounds
- Chest and pulmonary radiology
- Nuclear medicine
- Radiation physics
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Those interested in becoming a radiologic technologist can expect a good number of opportunities upon graduation, and those with multiple certifications may have even better chances. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of job openings for radiologic technologists is expected to increase 9%, a rate faster than the national average, between the years 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, the BLS reported that radiologic technologists earned a median salary of $56,670.
Though competition remains strong, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of physicians and surgeons in general is expected to increase at 14%, a rate faster than the national average, between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). As the population and number of elderly citizens increases, radiologists will most likely be in even higher demand.
Like other specialty physicians, radiologists often enjoy a fairly high salary. The BLS doesn't report earnings specifically for radiologists, but the median annual salary for physicians and surgeons whose wages aren't reported separately is greater than $187,200, as of May 2015.
Continuing Education and Certificate Programs Information
Though not always necessary, many employers prefer to hire candidates who have been certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technicians or ARRT. Students who graduate with an associate's degree in radiologic technology are eligible to take the certification exam for radiography or one of 12 other subspecialties within the discipline. In order to maintain certification, a radiology technologist must enroll in a certain number of continuing education classes every two years. In addition, several states require licensing of radiologic technicians in order to practice; students should check with their local state board of health to ascertain whether or not they require licensing.
Several schools offer professional certificate programs or post-baccalaureate programs for the radiologic technology professional who wants to expand his or her area of knowledge. Some certificates offered include classes related to medical dosimetry, radiation therapy and radiography.
After graduating with a bachelor's in radiologic sciences, a radiologic technologist can begin as an entry-level radiographer or continue to study for a post-primary certification in other medical imaging technology. Some institutions structure the course load so that students are able to take the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam in their third year. This allows the student to further specialize within the profession during the fourth year of study and add Computed Tomography (CT scans) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging to their body of knowledge. Other schools offer professional certificate programs to teach professional radiographers these sub-specializations.
Further areas of study for those interested in medical radiology could include nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, sonography, mammography and bone density scanning.
After the initial residency program is over, a radiologist can pursue a fellowship and further specialize within the discipline. Fellowships usually last an additional one or two years and require a separate exam for board certification upon completion. Throughout their tenure as physicians, radiologists must participate in continuing education and occasionally retake licensing exams in order to stay current with advances in the profession.
Popular Career Options
The majority of those who complete a bachelor's in radiologic science go on to become professional radiographers following certification and, if necessary, state licensing. Radiological technologists spend most of their day on foot, assisting patients to equipment, positioning devices or the patient for proper imaging and acting as a resource for patient questions or concerns regarding radiography.
With further study and experience, a radiographer can learn to properly use a variety of medical imaging machines and increase their appeal to employers. Some popular career options for a radiographer could include:
- CT technologist
- Radiologic assistant or RA
Studies in medical radiology are available to students in the form of an associate's degree, bachelor's degree or medical residency program. Graduates often begin careers as CT technologists or radiologic assistants, among others.