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.
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.
|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|
|Median Salary (May 2018)*||$72,510 annually||$59,520 annually|
|Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)*||19%||9%|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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.
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 19% over the 2018-2028 decade. This is much faster growth than average. Individuals in this field earned a median salary of $72,510 per year in May 2018, according to the BLS.
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 $59,520 in May of 2018. The BLS also predicts a 9% rise in job availability within this profession between 2018 and 2028.
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.