Students who are interested in learning the medical applications of radiation have a number of options for training. Associate's degree programs in radiography train students to capture images of the body's internal structures using methods including x-rays and magnetic resonance.
In a bachelor's degree program in nuclear medicine, students learn to use radioactive drugs and special imaging machinery to help doctors diagnose and treat various conditions. Much of the program involves hands-on practice in healthcare settings.
Students with at least an associate's degree in the radiological sciences can complete a certificate in radiation therapy, which is used to treat cancer. These programs usually include courses in sectional anatomy, legal issues and physics. Clinical experience is a major component.
For admissions, associate's programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, standardized test scores and prerequisite coursework in biology and chemistry; bachelor's programs require a high school diploma or equivalent, satisfactory standardized test scores and prerequisite coursework in anatomy, physiology and medical terminology; and certificate programs require an associate's degree in the radiological sciences.
Associate of Applied Science in Radiography
Radiography programs prepare students to perform imaging procedures - including x-rays, CAT scans and magnetic resonance - in order to facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Upon graduation from accredited programs, students are eligible to take the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certifying exam.
The radiography curriculum is made up of classroom and clinical training components. Didactic topics include the following:
- Radiographic procedures
- Radiographic imaging
- Anatomy and physiology
- Equipment operation
- Treatment modalities
Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Medicine
Students of nuclear medicine programs are prepared to use radiopharmaceuticals and cameras in order to obtain images in order to help physicians diagnose or treat a disease. Students may specialize in either cardiology or positron emission tomography. Graduates are prepared to take the board examinations for certification administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technology or the Nuclear Technology Certification Board.
Much of a nuclear medicine student's time is spent in clinical practicum. The didactic coursework includes the following topics:
- Nuclear medicine procedures
- Chemistry and physics
- Clinical pathology
Certificate in Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapists administer radiation treatments, under the direction of a physician, to treat cancer. Graduates must use highly technical equipment and various treatment techniques, document technical details and provide patient care. Such programs generally require approximately two years for completion.
Certificate programs are available through community colleges or technical schools affiliated with a health care organization.
Students take a variety of didactic courses in conjunction with clinical experiences. Specific topics may include:
- Radiographic physics and radiographic techniques
- Patient care and legal issues
- Sectional anatomy
- Quality management
Career Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of radiologic technologists was expected to grow at a rate of 9% during the 2014-2024 time period, which is faster than average (www.bls.gov). Radiologic technologists with experience in multiple procedures will be best prepared for the job market. As of May 2015, a median salary for these professionals was $56,670.
Employment for nuclear medicine technologists was expected to grow at 2% between 2014 and 2024, per the BLS. However, there was expected to be significant competition for jobs. According to May 2015 BLS data, the median salary for nuclear medicine technologists was $73,360.
According to BLS data, the job outlook for radiation therapists is very strong, with an expected growth rate of 14% from 2014 to 2024. A bachelor's degree and certification were expected to provide candidates with the best employment opportunities. As of May 2015, the median salary for a radiation therapist was $80,220.
Radiographers, nuclear medicine technologists, and radiation therapists may all achieve certification from the ARRT through completion of an accredited degree program and examination. However, annual registration is required in order to maintain credentials. Such requirements include adhering to a code of ethics and completing 12 continuing education hours per year. States may or may not require current registration in order to practice.
Those interested in a career using technical machinery to identify and treat issues in patients can enter a radiation degree program at the associate's, bachelor's and certificate levels.