Guide To Radiology Technician Schools
Radiology technicians or technologists (RTs), also called radiographers, play an important role as part of the radiology extender community. RTs are professionals that undergo extensive training at accredited schools in order to master advanced technologies and learn to safely and accurately create medical images on behalf of radiologists. Skilled judgment and ethical competence are crucial in this field whether the licensure candidate is a fully registered radiologic technologist or a relatively limited x-ray machine operator.
Radiology technicians have many choices when it comes to career specialization. Becoming a multi-modal radiology technologist with several secondary certifications or licenses is increasingly common in this competitive, and in some areas, saturated job market. Employing hospitals and other institutions conduct thorough reviews of applicants’ education and credentials, in addition to their clinical protocols and supervising radiologist’s recommendation.
Choosing a Radiology Technician ProgramAccreditationThe vast majority of U.S. employers will require an accredited education from any RT applicant. JRCERT, or the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, is the principal accrediting institution for radiologist technicians. It is not possible to apply for the national ARRT license without this specific accrediting organization. A radiology technician school must renew its accreditation every three to five years, so be sure accreditation information is up to date.
Though not an accrediting institution, students’ continued good standing within the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists is also usually expected of serious job applicants. The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, or JCAHO, may also be consulted for hiring purposes.
SpecializationSpecialty training programs are typically open to Certified Radiologic Technologists or those with equivalent medical experience. Popular specialties include, but are not limited to:
- Bone densitometry
- Cardiac and Vascular
- Computed Tomography (CT)
- Interventional radiology
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear medicine
- Radiation therapy
- Ultrasound technology
National CertificationGraduates of accredited radiology technician schools are responsible for passing the national certification examination administered by either the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), written for R.R.A.s, or Registered Radiologist Assistants; or the Certification Board for Radiology Practitioner Assistants (CBRPA), written for R.P.A.s, or Radiology Practitioner Assistants. These credentials are formally recognized by the American Medical Association. National certification can make it easier to practice across some but not all states without having to retake exams.
A score of at least 75 on the ARRT exam enables graduates to use the either the “Radiologic Technologist” (R.T.) or the Registered Radiologist Assistant (R.R.A.) title. Students certified with CBRPA may use the RPA designation. RPAs are Radiologic technologists with additional training and clinical privileges. Like other professions, radiology technicians must maintain good standing with their respective registries and earn continuing education credits every few years to keep these credentials.
State LicensingLicensing and continuing education are subject to additional regulation in many states. A slim majority—29 of 50—have developed their own rules for radiologic assistants. Licensing at the state level, if required, usually demands a degree from an accredited training program and passing scores on the state’s certification examination. Some states regulate secondary certifications, such as fluoroscopy or mammography. The most commonly state-monitored areas include radiography, radiation therapy, x-ray licenses and nuclear medicine technology. Be sure to check with the appropriate state regulatory agency to learn about current state-specific benchmarks.
DegreesAssociate of (Applied) Science (A.S., A.A.S.)Most radiology technologists pursue training up to the Associate level. The associate degree in radiography typically takes two years of full-time attendance, although some colleges offer a three-year course to accommodate working students who can attend evening classes. Quality associate programs include time spent training in an actual clinical practice. This experience is key to building a comprehensive skill set as a technologist and obtaining ARRT credentials. Many programs require students to independently set up a volunteer internship, preferably in a real-world radiology department.
Bachelor of Science (B.S.)A Bachelor of Science in imaging technology normally takes four years. B.S. curricula consist of classroom lectures and labs, as well as a clinical practicum. The practicum, also known as a preceptorship, is like a doctoral residency but shorter and less intensive. Candidates for ARRT licensure will need to document this practical exposure in the form of a portfolio, as well as secure an endorsement from their supervising radiologist.
CertificatesAlthough mastery of the profession requires years of experience, basic competence can be achieved after a relatively short training program. Students can pursue a vocational certificate from a hospital, college or military program. As standalone credentials, “primary pathway” certificates may afford entry-level access to certain positions, such as a limited x-ray machine operator. In combination with a college degree, these certificates can greatly increase the employability of technicians.
However, the value of standalone certifications will soon be dealt a major blow: starting in 2015, students with a primary pathway certification will need to have earned either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for ARRT certification. For current students, certificate programs must be explicitly accredited by JRCERT and offer a curriculum that prepares students for the national ARRT licensure exam.
Secondary Certificates or Specialty Licenses
Increasing numbers of radiography students are seeking additional training in targeted specialties, many of them focusing on particular imaging modalities like ultrasound or MRI. These modalities may have their own certification requirements in addition to the basic R.T. credential. Others focus on specific skill sets like Basic Life Support (BLS), taught by the American Heart Association.
Moreover, some modalities have their own sets of subspecialties. For example, ultrasound technicians may seek training as a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS), Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), Registered Physician in Vascular Interpretation (RPVI) or Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT).