Become a Radiologist Assistant: Education and Career Roadmap

Apr 28, 2020

Learn how to become a radiologist assistant. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career as a radiologist assistant.

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Become a Radiologist Assistant

Radiologist assistants (RAs) are advanced-level radiographers who perform a variety of diagnostic imaging examinations, including CAT scans and x-rays. These professional assess and manage patient care, as well as assist radiologists with invasive and noninvasive procedures. In addition, they might evaluate the quality of radiologic images and report observations to a supervising radiologist. Radiologist assistants often spend many hours standing and those working with radiation must follow safety precautions to protect themselves and patients.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard
Degree Field Radiologist assistant
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required in many states; RAs are certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
Training Must first go through training to become a radiologic technologist (also known as a radiographer)
Key Skills Knowledge of various medical software, such as diagnostic imaging, electronic medical records, film processing, information management, data entry and information retrieval software; expertise in using x-ray film processors, units, screens, archiving systems, and converters; often required to have advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) certification
Salary (2019)* $60,510 per year (median salary for all radiologic technologists and technicians)

Sources: American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, American Society of Radiologic Technologists, *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American College of Radiology.

Let's explore the steps to become a radiologist assistant.

Step 1: Complete a Radiologic Technologist Program

To become a radiologist assistant, one must first train to be a radiologic technologist. While associate's degree programs in radiography are common, many RA programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. Radiologic technologist programs include a mix of didactic classes and clinical experiences. Graduates should be prepared to take the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) exam to become a Registered Technologist.

Step 2: Get Certified and Licensed

Students can apply to take the ARRT exam up to three months prior to graduation from a radiologic technologist program. Once the application is approved, they'll be contacted with information on scheduling an exam. They have 90 days to take the computer-based exam. Certification candidates will receive their official scores within three weeks of taking the exam. If they pass, they can begin working as Registered Technologists. If they don't pass, they're allowed two more attempts to pass the exam. Graduates also must be licensed by the state in which they work. Licensing applications usually include evidence of completing an appropriate education program and passing the ARRT exam.

Success Tip:

Gain work experience as a radiologic technologist. Once certified, radiographers should plan to gain at least two years of full-time work experience before applying to RA programs. Radiologic technologists typically maintain imaging equipment, carry out imaging of patients under orders from the supervising physician, prepare patients for procedures, and keep patient records.

Step 3: Earn a Radiologist Assistant Degree

Radiologist assistant programs may award either a bachelor's degree or master's degree. Programs that award master's degrees require applicants with a bachelor's degree. Programs usually consist of advanced courses in anatomy and physiology, healthcare leadership, patient care, radiographic positioning, image evaluation, and imaging procedures. Students also complete supervised clinical internships.

Step 4: Complete a Preceptorship

A clinical preceptorship is a full-time commitment during which a certification candidate is supervised by a radiologist. According to AART, students must complete at least 500 total cases, divided among certain categories, and 36 clinical procedures. The requirements for the preceptorship are set out by ARRT and outline exactly what procedures a student must be competent in. This work experience sometimes is completed alongside a radiologist assistant program.

Step 5: Obtain Radiologist Assistant Certification

After completing the preceptorship, candidates must pass a second ARRT examination to become a practicing radiologist assistant. The Registered Radiologist Assistant (RRA) certification exam is longer than the radiographer exam and consists of both multiple choice questions and case study questions. It's also computer-based and administered at testing centers across the country.

Step 6: Secure State Licensure

Although the ARRT sets out model guidelines for RA licensure, specific licensing regulations vary by state. Common requirements are completing a radiologist assistant program, being registered with ARRT and being certified in ACLS.

Success Tip:

Complete continuing education requirements to maintain certification and licensure. RAs must complete 50 continuing education credits every two years to maintain certification with ARRT. States also require licensure renewal on a periodic basis.

Step 7: Consider Career Advancement

There is a range of growth opportunities for an RA. There are dozens of clinical areas to specialize in, as well as a variety of work settings, from a small doctor's office to an entire department at a hospital. A radiologist assistant could advance to manage an entire department, teach at a college or university, or perform research. Career advancement in this field is largely dependent on the individual's abilities and interests.

To recap, to become a radiologist assistant, you must first become certified and licensed as a radiologic technologist and gain experience in this position. You must then complete a radiologist assistant program and a preceptorship before gaining certification and state licensure as an RA.

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