If you're considering a career in radiology, it's important to decide whether or not you will want to specialize in the future. Radiology technicians are professionals who are licensed and certified to operate x-ray imaging equipment and work within a radiology department. Radiologic technologists, by contrast, are licensed and certified as specialists in one or more imaging techniques, some of which utilize radiation.
A radiology technician is called upon to produce clear, concise x-ray images for physicians. The technician prepares the patient for the procedure, and maintains the x-ray equipment. While producing the best possible image is a fundamental part of the technician's job, minimizing radiation exposure to the patient, their coworkers, and themselves is also critical. The technician must ensure that the imaging equipment is performing well, that all precautions against exposure have been taken, and that the patient is receiving the best possible exposure prevention during the procedure. While taking an image, the technician must address any difficulties in order to produce the clearest image for the physician's diagnostic requirements.
In addition to being responsible for all of the above, a radiologic technologist is also tasked with being an expert for their particular field of specialty. Technologists specialize in computed tomography (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans), mammography, bone densitometry, and fluoroscopes (imaging of various soft tissues within the body). Both technicians and technologists may also manage patient records, evaluate equipment purchases, manage department work schedules, or even manage an entire radiology department.
Choosing which discipline within the radiology field to pursue can be a tough decision. For one thing, education requirements differ for each discipline. An associate's degree is the most widely pursued degree, but students can also earn a certificate or a master's degree. As of 2009, the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology has accredited 213 certificate programs, 397 associate's degree programs, and 35 bachelor's degree programs. Those who want to specialize in a particular field as radiologic technologists will most likely require more education.
A typical certificate-level program can take anywhere from 21 to 24 months to complete. Additional licensing requirements are determined by state governments. Most employers prefer that their technicians and technologists be certified, and many states include certification exams as part of their licensing requirements. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offers certification through the completion of approved accredited programs and through the passage of the ARRT exam. Once that is completed, the technician is then required to maintain certification by pursuing at least 24 hours of continuing education every two years thereafter.
Employment opportunities for both technicians and technologists are different from state to state. By earning certification or specializing in a certain field, technicians and technologists will be more marketable to a wider number of employers. The majority of radiographic positions are offered within hospitals, and all aspects of the field are projected to grow 14 percent to 19 percent over the next eight years, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “faster than average” growth potential.
Once established as a technician, it's possible that through further certification in various specialties, such as CT scanning, to advance to a technologist and eventually to a radiologist assistant. As a technologist, with experience and advanced or additional certifications, it is possible to move into the positions of administrator, chief technologist, or even director.
Salary ranges for technicians and technologists can vary considerably based on experience, breadth of education, job opportunities, and type of employer (e.g. private health clinic or large regional hospital). As of 2008, national estimates for the hourly wage within the radiologic field fluctuated between $16.87 and $36.04 per hour, which translates to between $35,100 and $74,970 per year.
Armed with all of this information, which career path should you choose? Ultimately, you must decide whether or not you wish to specialize, and how much education you want to pursue.