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Medical Imaging Education Requirements and Career Information

Medical imaging is generally offered as a certificate or associate's degree program with specialized training in imaging techniques used in medical facilities. Continue reading for an overview of the training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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Creating images of the inside of bodies to help diagnose and improve patient health -- it might look like magic, but there's a lot of specialized technology involved. You can train to become a medical imaging professional at community colleges and vocational schools and earn an associate's degree or certificate. There are two main fields of medical imaging that you can choose to work in: sonography and radiology.

Essential Information

Medical imaging professionals use technologies such as sonography and radiography to create images of patients' internal organs and tissues. Education for medical imaging professionals typically comes in the form of a certificate or associate's degree program from a vocational school or community college. Within these programs, students often have the option to specialize in a particular area of imaging.

Career Sonographer Radiologic Technologist
Education Requirements Certificate or associate's degree Certificate or associate's degree
Certification Certification is preferred; American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) certification Required in some states, preferred in others; American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 26% 9%
Median Salary (2015)* $68,970 annually $56,670 annually

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Medical imaging is a branch of the allied health industry that focuses on creating and interpreting images of patients' bodies, usually using non-invasive procedures. The two main branches of this career field are sonography and radiology. Sonography uses sound waves at higher frequency than the human ear can detect to create echoes that map the interior of a patient's body.

Radiology is a somewhat more broad profession that normally focuses on the use of X-rays to create an image of the interior of the human body, though it may include computer tomography scans, medical radio imaging and positron emission tomography scans. More detailed information about two career fields in medical imaging can be found below.

Sonographer

Sonographers are also sometimes known as ultrasound technicians. Prospective sonographers usually complete certificate or associate's degree programs to learn to use ultrasound equipment to create images of tissue and organs. Courses include sonographic sectional anatomy, Doppler physics, ultrasound physics and pathophysiology. Many diagnostic medical sonography programs allow students to specialize in cardiac, abdominal or obstetric sonography.

Upon completion of their medical imaging education, students can take the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) certification examination. Graduates might find careers as in hospitals, imaging centers or physician offices. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates employment opportunities for sonographers will increase by 26% over the 2014-2024 decade. This is much faster growth than average. Individuals in this field earned a median salary of $68,970 per year in May 2015, according to the BLS.

Radiologic Technologist

Radiologic technologists, or radiographers, are also normally graduates of associate's degree or certificate programs where they take courses in radiographic anatomy, radiographic procedures, radiographic imaging, radiographic equipment and radiation protection. Because of the greater scope of radiological imaging technology, some students specialize in a specific area such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT).

After completing their education, radiographers are eligible to take the certification examination offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Employment opportunities include working as imaging techs or x-ray or MRI technicians at imaging centers, hospitals, clinics or physician offices. BLS figures show radiologic technologists averaged a median salary of $56,670 in May of 2015. The BLS also predicts a 9% rise in job availability within this profession between 2014 and 2024.

Before you start your medical imaging education, you'll need to decide whether your end goal is to work as a sonographer or a radiologist. The former requires education but not necessarily certification; if you prefer the latter, some states do require that you pass a certification exam. You can work in a doctor's office, an imaging clinic, or a hospital; right now the field of sonography is growing more quickly than radiography.

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