If you’re detail-oriented, tech savvy, and genuinely enjoy helping others, a career as a radiology technician may be perfect for you.
Radiology technicians, also known as radiologic technologists or radiographers, make up the third-largest group of healthcare professionals, behind only doctors and nurses.
If radiologic technology sounds interesting to you, this guide includes everything you need to know to get started in the field. We’ll share information about the job, the steps necessary to launch your career, pros and cons, the overall job outlook, and more.
What Do Radiology Technicians Do?
Radiology technicians operate medical imaging equipment like X-Rays, MRIs, CTs, and sonography machines. This equipment creates images of patients’ bodies that help doctors diagnose and treat diseases and injuries. In some cases, radiology technicians also help doctors perform some non-surgical procedures.
With an advanced education, you can also become a radiologist assistant, performing many procedures that a radiologist otherwise might do.
On an average day, radiology technicians split their work between patient interactions and technological tasks. Their responsibilities include:
- Maintain equipment and check to make sure it’s fully operational before taking images.
- Communicate with patients to explain procedures and help them feel safe, calm, and comfortable.
- Properly position patients and/or equipment for the area(s) that need to be photographed.
- Follow proper safety procedures to ensure patients are not exposed to any unnecessary radiation.
- Operate equipment to take images, then review the images to ensure they are accurate and will allow the physician to make a diagnosis. Redo the images if necessary.
- Use an advanced computer printing process to print and/or develop images.
- Label the images and cross reference them with patients’ medical records.
- Clean all equipment.
- May help physicians perform procedures like a stent insertion or angioplasty.
- May prepare and inject radiopharmaceutical agents for some patients prior to taking images.
Radiology technicians work in hospitals, urgent care centers, or specialized imaging clinics and radiology practices. They play an essential role on any medical team, uncovering health problems that can ultimately save lives.
Hours for radiology technicians vary depending on where they work. Some work standard full-time shifts from nine to five on weekdays. Others work 8, 10, or 12 hour shifts, either with a set shift or on a rotating basis that may include nights and weekends. And some radiology technicians work on-call shifts.
This gives you the opportunity to explore different settings and specialties to find an environment that fits your preferences. If you work in general imaging (X-ray) or CT, for example, you’re likely to work rotating 8-hour shifts. You may be able to find a 9-5 job in mammography or ultrasonography, or in a dedicated clinic like an orthopedics clinic.
Education and Training: How to Become a Radiology Technician
There are a few different paths to launching a career as a radiology tech. Whether you earn a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to achieve certification and–in most states–licensure, both of which require passing an exam.
Here’s how to become a radiology technician:
- Graduate from high school.
- Complete a radiography program that leads to a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. (Associate degree programs are the most common path for radiology techs.)
- Earn certification (required by most employers) and state licensure (if required in your state) by passing the necessary exams.
- Consider getting a specialty certification (e.g., sonography, mammography, MRI).
If you hope to become a radiologist assistant eventually, you’ll need to go the bachelor’s degree route. Earning a bachelor’s degree also opens the door to becoming a radiology administrator or a radiation therapist.
Now, let’s take a closer look at programs, internships, and how long it takes to become a radiology technician.
Radiology Technician Programs
Radiography programs combine classroom and clinical training. They teach you about medical terminology, patient care, radiation protection, radiographic procedures, equipment operations, and image production and evaluation. You’ll likely gain hands-on experience in radiologic equipment rooms and real clinical laboratories.
You’ll also take courses in:
- Human biology
- Medical ethics
- Radiation physics and protection
The most common path to a job in radiology tech is earning an associate degree in radiography or radiologic technology. These programs typically take two years to complete. If you opt to pursue a bachelor’s degree program, it will take four years to complete.
Some examples of accredited programs for aspiring radiology technicians, in no particular order, include:
- El Centro College
Located in El Centro, Texas, El Centro College is a public college that offers an associate degree in radiologic sciences. The seven-semester program includes courses in radiographic procedures, radiographic imaging, anatomy, radiation protection, and radiographic imaging equipment, along with four practicum or field experiences. Students complete one practicum in each of the final four semesters.
- Keiser University
Keiser University is a private university in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with a large student population. Its radiologic technology program consists of two general education followed by four core curriculum semesters and takes 24 months to complete. Students complete a clinical education component that consists of forty-hour, supervised weeks in an assigned facility.
- Northern Virginia Community College
A fairly large public college in the suburb of Annandale, Virginia, Northern Virginia Community College offers one of the nation’s top associate degree programs in radiography. The two-year program features courses in patient care, principles of radiographic quality, clinical procedures, radiographic equipment, radiographic pathology, and a required on-site training.
- Orange Coast College
Orange Coast College, a large public college located just minutes away from the beach in Costa Mesa, California, is another school with an excellent associate degree program in radiologic technology. The program offers online and evening classes for students in need of a flexible schedule. In addition to the standard radiology courses, students complete seven clinical labs and a certification prep course.
- Foothill College
Foothill College is another large, California-based public college with an associate degree program in radiologic technology. Students complete 23 months of instruction with lectures, experiments in an on-campus lab, and supervised hands-on experience in a clinical facility. Through an articulation agreement with California State University, program graduates can transfer to CSU and pursue a bachelor’s degree in radiologic sciences.
- Houston Community College
The two-year associate degree program in radiography at Houston Community College requires four practicum or field experiences. Students also attend lectures and practice hands-on skills in on-campus lab settings. The program focuses on developing outstanding clinical performance, effective communication skills, and problem solving capabilities.
- Gwinnett Technical College
With clinical rotations, laboratory experiences, and training on state-of-the-art X-Ray equipment, Gwinnett Technical College’s radiologic technology associate degree program provides abundant opportunities for hands-on practice. Students work closely with radiologists and are prepared for successful employment in a variety of clinical settings. The public college is located in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a moderately sized suburb of Atlanta.
- San Jacinto Community College
Based in Pasadena, Texas, San Jacinto Community College is a large public college that’s home to an affordable associate degree program in medical radiography. Students complete five semesters of classes, labs, and clinical experiences. For the clinical experience component of the program, students are assigned to different facilities each semester, but one semester at the VA Medical Center or Houston Methodist Hospital is required.
- Ivy Tech Community College
Ivy Tech Community College’s medical imaging program culminates in an associate degree in radiologic technology. The program includes courses in technique, exposure, positioning, protection, physics, patient care, and ethics. Supplemental instruction and clinical practice are also provided in accredited hospitals and clinics.
- Weber State University
Ogden, Utah, is a small city, but Weber State University has a fairly large student population. The public university offers an associate degree in radiography and a bachelor’s degree in a specialization such as MRI, nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, and more. In the five-semester associate degree program, students receive classroom instruction and clinical practice as they develop skills in terminology, pathology, diagnostic imaging, anatomy, instrumentation, radiation physics, psychosocial aspects of patient care, and much more.
Radiology Technician Internships
Radiology technicians with clinical experience are more prepared for the job, and they’re more competitive applicants for positions in radiography. In most cases, you’ll gain the necessary experience through your radiography program.
Most radiology tech programs require clinical experiences, practicums, or internships. You’ll work in a real clinical setting alongside an experienced supervisor, gaining skills and knowledge that will propel you to career success.
Otherwise, you can seek clinical experience on your own. While it’s not required, it will certainly give you an edge in launching your career and succeeding in the workplace.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Radiology Technician?
Depending on the path you choose to get into radiography, it takes about two years to get certified and land a job as a radiology technician.
Earning an associate degree in radiography or radiologic technology is a path that’s relatively fast and prepares you for a successful career. Most associate degree programs require 21-24 months to complete, and then you’ll need to take certification and/or licensing exams before applying for jobs.
If you don’t have the time or money to pursue a degree, another option is to graduate from high school (or earn a GED), then complete a certificate or diploma program in the field. These programs generally take 14 months to complete, but some offer an accelerated pathway. However, some employers strongly prefer an associate degree.
Becoming a radiology tech does require a time commitment, but it’s only half the time (or even less) than you need to earn a bachelor’s degree. And as you’ll see in the section below, radiology technicians earn more money than many of their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees. If radiology tech sounds like a fit for you, investing two years in preparing for a high-earning, stable career you’ll love is certainly worthwhile.
Get personalized advice!
If you’re thinking about pursuing a future in radiography, you probably want to know about the career outlook for radiology technicians.
How much money will you earn? Is it a stable, in-demand job? In this section, we’ll answer these questions–and more–to help you decide whether becoming a radiology technician is the path for you.
Demand for Radiology Technicians
People will always need healthcare, so it’s one of the most stable (and growing) industries to work in. Due to the growing size of the older population and the importance of technology in diagnosing injuries and disease, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment in healthcare occupations will grow 13% over the next 10 years.
For radiology technicians specifically, BLS estimates that employment will grow about 6% from 2021 to 2031, with 16,000 job openings in the field annually. And because it’s a specialized career, you won’t have to compete for jobs with everyone who’s interested in applying–only people with the necessary certification and qualifications.
So, if you’re looking for an in-demand job with continued stability and growth, becoming a radiology technician is a promising career.
How Much Do Radiology Technicians Make?
According to BLS, radiology technicians earn a median annual wage of $61,370. But your earnings will vary widely based on where you work, how much experience you have, and other factors. The lowest 10% of radiology techs earned about $46,850 in 2021, while the top 10% earned over $94,880.
Radiology techs working in outpatient care centers were the highest earners, making a median annual wage of $101,020. Radiology techs in medical and diagnostic laboratories, physician’s offices, and hospitals all earned a median annual wage around $77,000.
States with the highest employment level of radiology techs are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Here’s a quick breakdown of average earnings in each of these states:
|State||Hourly Mean Wage||Annual Mean Wage|
Regardless of the variation in pay for radiology technicians, it’s clear that it’s a career that allows you to earn a stable living. From lowest to highest reported salaries, you’ll earn $46,850-$101,020 annually. And your salary will continue to increase as you gain experience, all while working in a stable and rewarding field.
On top of base pay, radiology technicians typically enjoy additional employment benefits like:
- Health, dental, and vision insurance
- Life insurance
- Paid time off and personal leave
- Paid family leave
- Retirement savings plans
- Academic assistance and reimbursements for tuition and student loans
- Home, auto, and pet insurance
- Adoption assistance
- Short-term and long-term disability coverage
- Scholarships for dependent children
- Moving assistance
Of course, not all these benefits are guaranteed at every radiology technician job. But these are some of the benefits you might receive, and you can look for positions that offer most of the benefits on this list (or at least the ones that matter the most to you).
Pros and Cons
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons for any career path you’re considering. Here are some pros and cons aspiring radiology technicians need to know:
- Shorter career path than earning a four-year degree
- Rewarding and fulfilling career
- Job stability
- Competitive pay that continuously increases with experience
- Good benefits
- More work-life balance than most healthcare jobs
- Interesting field where each day is different
- Potentially high stress, fast-paced environment
- Changing technology that requires ongoing learning
- Physically demanding
- Responsible for patient safety
- Working in healthcare can be emotionally challenging
Overall Job Satisfaction
Job satisfaction ultimately depends on your personal qualities and preferences. If you enjoy interacting with and helping others, doing hands-on work, and working with technology, you’re more likely to find working as a radiology technician highly satisfying. It’s also a good career for people who are responsible, compassionate, adaptable and have excellent attention to detail.
And for many people, working in a field that improves and even saves lives is highly rewarding. As a radiology tech, you can help patients feel comfortable and safe while experiencing better work-life balance than many other healthcare professionals. Many radiology technicians say the job is fascinating and fulfilling, and that they’re satisfied with their compensation and benefits.
However, some radiology technicians report feeling underappreciated by other members of their healthcare team. Stress, difficult patients, and witnessing traumatic injuries sometimes lead to burnout.
According to OwlGuru, 73% of radiology technicians say they are satisfied with their work. It’s not the ideal job for everyone, but if it aligns with your strengths and interests, you can find radiology tech extremely satisfying overall. With the wide range of work settings and specializations available, you also have the opportunity to find a niche that meets your needs.
Final Thoughts: How to Become a Radiology Technician
Working as a radiology technician provides you with job stability, a competitive salary, good benefits, and a rewarding and interesting career. You’ll work in a healthcare setting, but with better work-life benefits and fewer hours than many other jobs in the industry. It’s a great career for people with strong skills in technology, communication,
If that sounds like the right career for you, here’s how to become a radiology technician:
- Graduate from high school.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, or certificate in radiography or radiologic technology.
- Pass a certification exam.
- If required by your state, pass a licensing exam.
Typically, it takes about two years to complete the education and training necessary to become a radiology technician.
If you’re still in high school, take advanced classes and participate in activities related to science and technology to begin preparing for this career. Join a medical program if your school has one, or seek opportunities to volunteer or job shadow at local clinics and hospitals. You’ll build your skills and experience, plus gaining insight into whether radiology tech is truly a career you’ll love.