Alright, you have set the goals. You want to become a radiology professional, and you’re interested in knowing more about all the different career options available within the industry. I have got you covered, and here is the too-long; didn’t read version for you:
There are five streams in the field of radiology. Within those five streams, there’re eleven career choices available in the current market.
In this article, I will cover all the different career options available in radiology, clear some misconceptions around the field, and answer some frequently asked questions across the internet.
Familiarize Yourself With the Term Radiology
Before discussing the main topic at hand, let’s clear some misconceptions about the term “radiology.” Trust me; it’s worth it to learn these definitions. Otherwise, there is a good chance you will be confused before we even get to this subject.
Radiology deals with medical imaging. That’s it. Remember this. Because there is so much information around the internet that glazes over this subject without explicitly stating this.
They touch upon patient care, diagnosis, and treatment, which mostly don’t even come under radiology but are rather related to other disciplines of medical sciences. And the professionals who are skilled in these aspects of healthcare are who we refer to as physicians.
Though, radiologists are medical experts themselves! More on this when we jump into the education section.
There Are Many Branches and Career Options Within Radiology
Hey! But it’s not a perfect world. Frequently you will come across job listings that list many other responsibilities from other streams. Yet, the overarching theme with listings will be about working with big radiological machines, their image output, and making sure it meets the quality standards.
So, what you should know is this: there are no fixed duties and responsibilities as a radiology professional except the one I outlined above. It all depends on the institutions and their needs at the time they hire you and different disciplines in the field.
If you’re interested in learning more, here is an in-depth article on the subject that I invite you to go through.
What Are Your Career Options in the Field of Radiology?
Okay, since now we’re clear on the definition, let’s jump into the topic at hand. The different streams in radiology are just fancy names that change based on the radiology machine that you will be working with.
And based on the equipment, the qualifications and educational requirements tend to change, as well the salary. These are the main career paths in the field of radiology:
It’s one of the earliest and most well-known fields in Radiology and the jobs and responsibilities revolve around working with x-ray-producing machines that most of us are familiar with. That’s the main keyword.
There are many job listings within this stream— just like all others listed below. For the sake of simplicity, I will categorize them into two subfields: radiologists and aiding technologists.
- As I mentioned, Radiologists are medical experts that usually have 10-plus years of medical education (M.D and discipline-related) and training with imagery output. Technologists, on the other hand, are professionals that help them achieve the ideal results.
- Within the current market, almost all your career options fall within these categories.
- The pathway to becoming a Technologist isn’t as rigorous as a Radiologist. You finish a degree program that has two to four years of education and training. And go for your certifications, and you’re set!
I will give you a quick rundown of things you will be doing if you choose the x-ray stream:
- To start— an x-ray machine produces radiation to capture stuff inside your body, and a film is developed using this vital information.
- Your responsibility, based on the subfield you choose to invest in, will either be to operate the x-ray machine, so it only generates the required radiation, and then make sure the produced image meets the technical standards for Radiologists.
- The radiologists with their expertise come up with diagnoses and treatment plans for patients.
It’s a clear separation of responsibilities based on your qualifications. Also, the stream I mention here “x-ray” is an umbrella term for the equipment that depends on x-rays to generate static x-ray images.
Other disciplines, such as fluoroscopy and angiography, use x-rays and come up with real-time moving imagery. But their career options are similar and work around the same three bullet points above with a clear division of duties.
Computed Tomography (CT)
X-ray’s static output is great! Hence, despite being age-old technology, it’s still in use due to its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. But when it comes to imaging internal organs, it starts to lose points to modern CT equipment.
Here are some quick facts you should know about this field:
- CT still uses x-rays. But has the ability to produce real-time images of internal organs of the body. And it does this with the help of its large arms, which can change their directions over the patient’s body based on the need. I list this as a major stream because of this reason:
- The thing that separates CT from plain radiography is the use of computer-assisted programs to generate live imagery using the different slices of output from multiple cross-sections of the body. The result: better image definition of internal structures of the body.
- The career options in this stream are similar to the ones in the previous section. There’re Technologists that operate the CT machines; radiologists come up with diagnoses and treatment plans for patients.
Although it should be mentioned, it’s a bit more sophisticated stream requiring more time to get into compared to plain radiography (x-ray).
Again, radiologists in this stream spend over a decade on education and training, while technologists usually undergo three-year programs before obtaining their certifications and joining the CT radiography team.
It’s the first technology in our list that doesn’t rely on radiation to visualize various body parts. Instead, the machinery uses soundwaves to generate image output which is later sent for analysis.
Here are some interesting facts about the stream:
- X-rays are excellent tools for imaging hard bone structures, and when examining soft tissues, ultrasound devices are preferred.
- In the past, it was mainly used in prenatal scanning. But over several decades, the stream has developed into various other applications involving other organs such as blood vessels, the heart, intestines, and other body regions with soft tissue.
- Based on several published studies, it’s considered a safer option for medical imaging compared to radiation-dependent methods.
One of the most well-known career options in this stream is that of the sonographer. If you’ve ever been under an ultrasound machine, you know what this designation is about.
These are the professionals that strap some gel over a handheld device and run it through a region in your body they wish to examine. If this is the stream you’re interested in, do check this dedicated article on the subject.
They are also called Ultrasound technicians. To become one, you should complete the ultrasound discipline-related education which takes around two years, and can earn your certification after passing the SPI exam.
To learn more about the exam and requirements, here is an article on the SPI exam that you might find interesting.
Just in case you’re preparing for the SPI exam, here is our free practice test that you can use for your preparations. I’m also inviting you to try our comprehensive study guide for this exam if you want to pass it on the first attempt.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
To properly understand the working principles behind an MRI machine requires a great deal of math and physics knowledge. But I will do my best to explain.
Let’s jump into some facts, and I will cover important careers options below the bullet list because it’s all related:
- Put simply as the name would imply, the technology uses magnetic fields to play around with subatomic particles within the body and uses radio signals to capture and visualize tissues.
- It’s considered by far the best medical imaging device for examining the human body at any vertical or horizontal subdivisions possible. Think of it from different angles in how you view the body. In medical terms, these positions are referred to as planes. Eg., axial and coronal.
- Based on the above information, you should know by now the field requires extensive education before you start applying for even entry-level positions.
There is good scope in the stream if you wish to invest. And the easiest choice would be to focus on becoming an MRI technologist. The accredited programs usually take around three to four years to complete.
Once you finish your education, you should focus on earning certifications by ARRT or ARMRIT. This will improve your chances of securing job offers.
I have included this stream in the last of the list because it’s very unique in how it reproduces medical imagery. And hence your jobs and duties, if you choose this field, might be different compared to other streams I mentioned above.
Here is a quick rundown of things to consider in nuclear medicine:
- Despite being different technologies, X-ray, CT, Ultrasound, and MRI share a commonality in that they use radiation or another medium, such as sound waves from the outside, and get glimpses of stuff happening inside the body.
- But nuclear medicine completely does the opposite: radiation is generated from inside the body using radioactive materials carefully placed at the location of interest.
- Technologists and nuclear medicine physicians are the two major career options in this discipline. Radiation therapists administer radioactive agents to the patient’s body, and technologists operate the diagnostic devices.
- Nuclear medicine physicians are just radiologists with a new name, and their roles are similar.
So, you have two career options that are relatively straightforward requirements: technologists and radiation therapists. You complete a bachelor’s or an associate degree with two to three years duration and pass certification exams, and you’re ready to dive into nuclear medicine.
As usual, to become a nuclear medicine physician, the bar is set high! You need to complete medical school, join residency programs as a fresh graduate in this discipline and gain the clinical experience required before becoming a radiologist.
It can take over 11 plus years of education and training before you become a full-fledged working professional.
Alright, now you probably have a good idea about the different career options available in radiology.
Let’s make an admission: it’s a complicated industry with many postings that all sound more or less the same, but they totally are not in practice. Before committing to a plan and succeeding, here is a quick summary of all your options just in case:
- Radiography Technologist
- X-Ray Radiologist
- CT Technologist
- CT Radiologist
- Ultrasound Radiologist
- MRI Technologist
- MRI Radiologist
- Radiation therapist
- Nuclear Medicine technologist
- Nuclear Medicine Radiologist
And for the final take of this article
Hence you have eleven career options to choose from in radiology. Keep in mind this is the current market, which is expanding fast. I remember three or four newly patented technologies back of my head just launched by several med tech companies.
And I strongly believe just by looking at their sophistication and the type of technology they use, the job market is going to grow big in the coming years.
Here is an example: there’s a new type of radiation-tracking handheld wand that can easily track radioactive substances within your body without using big diagnostic machines.
The catch: professionals need the training to use the device, and this is how new designations and responsibilities are created in this industry, which you can capitalize on.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions online and my responses to each.
Is Radiology a Promising Field To Invest Your Time In?
Yes, absolutely. But it’s a competitive field. With just two to four years of education after high school, you are looking at a salary upwards of $70,000 per year if you chose to invest in a highly specialized field like nuclear medicine or MRI.
Here are some bullet points that might answer some of your questions:
- Yes, it’s not as easy as I make it out here. You still need to do some heavy lifting in your college years in terms of education and scores. Do some apprenticeship and acquire certifications greatly valued in the job market.
- The metric of how successful you’re in this career is going to depend on the choices you make at different junctures I outline above. And, of course, your drive and passion for the industry.
- Tick all these boxes, and it’s 100% possible to get your financial investments into the programs and exams within a few years of active employment.
If money is an important factor, it makes more sense to invest in programs for technologists over radiologists. Although the pay is so much better for radiologists, the tuition fees you need to pay over 10 years can be a pain for some.
Who Gets To Earn the Top Bucks?
It shouldn’t be a surprise: radiologists make the most money out of all radiology professionals. Around $200,000 per year. The only exceptions with more pay I can think of would be a chief or a president-level executive of the radiological department inside the institutions.
Here is the annual pay for all eleven career options:
- Radiography Technologist: the average annual pay is anywhere between $40,000 to $60,000
- X-Ray Radiologist: over $200,000
- CT Technologist: $60,000 to 75,000
- CT Radiologist: over $205,000
- Sonographer: $70,000 to $80,000
- Ultrasound Radiologist: over $200,000
- Radiation therapist: $80,000 to $90,000
- MRI Technologist: $77,000 to $85,000
- Nuclear Medicine technologist:$80,000 to $90,000
- Nuclear Medicine Radiologist:$200,000 to $500,000
Please note these salary figures are rough estimates based on my research from listings available on the job boards. If you’re interested in learning more, here is a link from a government page you might find useful.
And remember, how much pay you can get will depend on many factors, such as location, organization, and demand for the profession in a given area. So at the end of the day, your final salary per year can only be known after you get your job offer.
How’s Life as a Radiography Professional?
Helping people and being nicely compensated for it. That’s what life’s like for radiography professionals, at least on the positive side of things. And people love it! But a coin has two sides; here is a sneak peek of how technologists and radiologists spend their time:
- As a technologist, you will be responsible for transporting big machinery and have to endure long standing hours, which can strain and tire out your muscles if you don’t take precautions.
- They have to perform at their best at all times. It’s the medical industry, and there can be no room for errors. Unfortunately, humans are prone to making mistakes.
- So, excellence is a base standard, and failing to meet it will result in less-than-ideal patient outcomes. In the worst case, you might get into legal trouble if you mess up.
- But I did say people love the profession right? It has to do with the healthcare industry. Despite being overworked at times, it’s common for many people to say, “yep, I love it!” because of the satisfaction it brings them after helping patients.
Yes, it can be stressful at times. But I’m sure if you can get through the college, the exams, and the additional certifications exams, this shouldn’t affect you as much.
What Are the Basic Educational Requirements for Radiology-Related Careers?
Well, I did go through the education requirements in each of their respective fields. But I will provide some additional information in this section that you might find interesting:
- The first step starts by completing your high school or diploma.
- To make things easier, you have to decide on the stream (out of five) and the designation (11 career options) that you want to invest your time and money into.
- Next, before you look for programs to enroll in, go to the webpage of official certification boards for that discipline.
- For example, if it’s sonography, it’s the SPI Exam and the ARDMS board, and for radiography, it’s the ARRT board.
- Check out the recognized institutions’ page, find accredited colleges in your state, and enroll in those programs. Here is the link for the ARRT board.
Now, there are different pathways these boards allow you to take if you don’t enroll in accredited programs. But some of it has clinical experience as a base requirement, and those bullet points are the fastest way to become a radiology professional.
What Are the Tuition Fees and the Radiology Course Duration Like?
Based on several programs I checked, the tuition fees and other expenses for the programs can range from anywhere between $20,000 to $60,000 per year. This figure changes depending on the college, the place of study, the course structure, and the discipline of your choice.
Now coming to the duration of the course, again, it depends on many factors. Check with your local universities and see how the programs and semesters are structured.
Some states offer programs that you can finish within a year and become an x-ray technician.
But many job listings outline that you at least need an associate degree in the related discipline before you can apply for entry-level positions. An associate degree usually takes around two years to complete.
To improve your chances, a bachelor’s degree is recommended! Most bachelor’s degrees are advanced programs that require at least three years to complete.
With it, you can climb the corporate ladder much faster. And maybe if you do some master’s programs in management in your spare time later, you’re setting yourself up for some serious gains.
You have five major streams, and there are eleven prominent career options within those streams of radiology. They fall under either that of a helping technologist or an expert radiologist.
After completing your discipline educational programs, you need certifications from authorizing boards to improve your chances of success.
The type, duration of the education, and training you receive will dictate your final pay when you land job offers.
In case you’re preparing for the ARRT radiography exam, use our free practice test to put your skills to the test. And if you need help in preparations, check out our comprehensive study guide that guarantees over 99% pass rate. Best!