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If the challenge of maintaining a cheerful patient bedside manner while creating precise medical images is appealing, a career as a radiologic or MRI technologist requires these skills and more.
When a patient comes into a clinical setting with an injury or is in pain, a radiologic technologist (RT) is responsible for taking x-rays or using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to create images that give physicians accurate information so a patient can be treated appropriately. Why is accurate medical imaging important? X-rays and MRI scans can tell a physician whether a patient’s injury is a sprain or a break and whether or not the injury needs a compression bandage for a few days or a plaster cast for multiple weeks to heal properly.
Since patients undergoing x-rays or MRI scans are typically in physical and emotional discomfort, a radiologic or MRI technologist needs to be patient and communicative as well as technically skilled and safety-oriented so as to get the most accurate imaging results quickly without causing harm.
Those who enjoy studying science and seeing patients will be glad to know that careers in radiologic MRI technology are growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that radiologic and MRI technologist jobs are expected to swell 9 percent nationally between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than the 5 percent national average for all occupations (BLS 2019). The BLS also estimates that 23,300 new positions will be available nationwide in that same timeframe.
To become a radiologic or MRI technologist requires a minimum of an associate’s degree, completion of a one-year radiologic or MRI program, and a certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)—the leading credentialing organization for medical imaging careers. Bachelor’s degrees in radiology and MRI technology are also available and additional requirements may be needed for state licensure.
To learn more about radiologic and MRI technologist careers, read on for detailed information about ARRT certification, educational programs, state licensure requirements, and salary data for this profession.
Radiologic & MRI Technologists – Specializations & Degree Types
At a minimum, radiologic and MRI technologists must complete an associate’s degree plus an additional one-year educational program in radiology to be eligible for ARRT certification exams. The ARRT provides 15 specialization credentials for certified radiologic MRI technologists. There are two eligibility pathways for ARRT certification: primary and post-primary pathways.
Primary pathway eligibility requirements include an associate’s degree and completion of an ARRT-accredited educational program. The following specialization credentials can be earned through the primary pathway:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear medicine technology
- Radiation therapy
- Vascular sonography
Post-primary pathway eligibility requirements include a current ARRT certification or a credential from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB). The following specialization credentials can be earned through the post-primary pathway:
- Bone densitometry
- Breast sonography
- Cardiac interventional radiography
- Computed tomography
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Vascular interventional radiography
- Vascular sonography
Admissions Requirements for Radiologic & MRI Technology Programs
What’s unique about the ARRT is that it allows certification applicants to complete educational programs in any order, meaning an associate’s degree can be completed after a one-year educational program. Even though the ARRT does not require an associate’s degree to be completed prior to a radiology program, keep in mind that some one-year radiology educational programs may require an associate’s degree as an admissions requirement.
Typical admissions requirements for radiology and MRI technology programs include:
- Application to an educational institution
- Application to a specific educational program within the institution
- Official transcripts
- Proof of immunizations
- Criminal background check
- CPR certification
- Personal statement
Radiologic & MRI Technology Program Accreditation
The importance of attending an accredited education program cannot be over-emphasized. First and foremost, accredited programs and institutions have met peer-reviewed standards of academic rigor and professionalism. Second, to become an ARRT certified radiologic MRI technologist requires completing an educational program accredited by regional and programmatic institutions.
- ARRT-recognized accreditation agencies is a comprehensive list of organizations that accredit institutions that confer associate’s degrees, which are required to apply for the primary pathway for ARRT certification.
- The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) accredits radiologic technology programs and graduating from one of these one-year accredited programs is required to apply for ARRT certification.
- The American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (AMRIT) accredits 18- and 24-month MRI degree and certificate programs.
On-Campus Radiologic & MRI Technology Degree Programs
Owens Community College offers three on-campus radiology programs, including two associate degrees of applied science in radiologic technology and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a pre-radiologic technology concentration.
Students who enroll in the four-semester concentration option can choose to apply to the RT two-year program or transfer their studies to a different institution to earn a bachelor’s degree. The associate’s degree programs require six semesters to complete and include didactic classes in radiology, magnetic resonance imaging, and in-person clinical experience. Graduates from the associate’s degree programs are prepared to take the ARRT certification exam.
- Location: Toledo, OH
- Duration: Four to six semesters
- Accreditation: JRCERT
- Tuition: $158 per credit (in-state); $315 per credit (out-of-state)
Southern Illinois University’s School of Health Sciences (SIU) offers a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography specialization as part of the fourth year of the radiologic sciences bachelor’s degree program.
In the first year of the program, students can expect to take basic science and general core courses as well as health-related electives. The second and third years of the program cover the coursework in the two-year radiography program which is accredited by JRCERT. This fourth-year program allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree and an MRI specialization.
Additionally, for working professionals, SIU offers a fully online bachelor’s degree in radiological sciences management education. This degree is designed for working imaging professionals who have MRI, radiation therapy, and diagnostic medical sonography careers who want to pivot into management roles.
- Location: Carbondale, IN
- Duration: One year
- Accreditation: JRCERT
- Tuition: $9,638 per year
Online or Hybrid Radiologic & MRI Technology Degree Programs
The Michigan Radiologic and Imaging Sciences Consortium based in Lansing, MI offers a fully online associate degree in applied science (AAS) and a certificate of completion for those who already have an associate’s degree.
This JRCERT-accredited MRI program prepares students for radiologic MRI technologist careers through courses in pathophysiology, physics, and other applied science courses. Ethics of the professional are also emphasized through professional attitudes, values, and behaviors that support professional growth on medical imaging teams. Students completing an associate’s degree or a certificate of completion are eligible to take the ARRT MRI certification exam.
- Location: Lansing, MI
- Duration: One or two years
- Accreditation: JRCERT
- Tuition: $4,100 per year (in-district); $6,635 (in-state)
The University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Allied Health Professions offers a fully online imaging degree advancement option. This program is designed for medical imaging professionals who have completed an accredited radiography, radiation therapy, sonography, or nuclear medicine program and want to further their educational and professional opportunities.
Because it is a degree advancement program and doesn’t include a clinical education component, it is not JRCERT-accredited, but the University of Nebraska is regionally accredited. This program is ideal for students who are willing to attend school for an additional year and earn a bachelor of science (BS) in medical imaging and therapeutic sciences and pursue radiography specializations in pediatrics, cardiovascular, and oncology.
- Location: Omaha, NE
- Duration: Three semesters
- Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Tuition: $351 per credit (in-state); $538 per credit (non-resident)
How Long Does it Take to Become a Radiologic or MRI Technologist?
In general, it takes approximately three to four years after high school to become a radiologic MRI technologist. Certification requires a two-year associate’s degree and a one- or two-year radiologist program that can be completed before or after earning an associate’s degree.
Graduates from these programs may choose to spend additional time studying for the exam after completing their educational requirements or take time to earn additional specialized certifications.
How To Become a Radiologic & MRI Technologist – Step-by-Step Guide
Step One: Graduate from High School (Four Years)
High school students interested in pursuing radiologic MRI technologist careers are advised to take as many courses as possible in science and mathematics to prepare for college-level coursework and gain admission into a reputable college or university.
Courses in the natural sciences such as biology and chemistry are recommended as well as anatomy and physiology. Part-time jobs, internships, or volunteer work opportunities can provide valuable early career insight and help applicants stand out in the eyes of admissions committees.
Step Two: Earn an Associate’s Degree (Two Years)
General education requirements are often earned in the first two years of college or university studies and an associate’s degree is required for ARRT certification. Courses covered in most associate’s degree programs include English writing and speaking, humanities, history, science, mathematics, social science, and elective courses. The ARRT requires that a candidate’s associate’s degree is earned at a school that’s recognized by their list of accreditation organizations.
Step Three: Complete an ARRT-Recognized Educational Program (One Year or More)
Phase two of the primary pathway to ARRT certification is completing an ARRT-recognized educational program. Radiology educational programs are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), an organization that verifies that the highest standards of educational rigor and program quality are met. Graduates from JRCERT-accredited programs earn a certificate of completion which is required for ARRT exam eligibility.
Step Four: Take the ARRT Certification Exam (Less Than One Year)
All candidates, regardless of the type of certification they are seeking, must be requirements in education, ethics, and examination. The ARRT doesn’t endorse any specific study materials, but students can refer to the ARRT content specifications, which are included in JRCERT-accredited programs, to prepare for the exam.
From the time an applicant receives their candidate status, the ARRT provides a 365-day window for a candidate to complete an ARRT exam.
Step Five: Maintain Certification Credentials (Every Two Years)
Every two years, RTs must renew their certification credentials by completing an annual renewal form and reporting 24 credits of approved continuing education activities. Examples of continuing education activities are online classes, self-study readings, seminar lectures, and classroom learning. Most activities count for more than one credit.
Furthermore, the ARRT provides a list of professional membership societies for radiologists MRI technologists to stay current on industry trends and advance the medical imaging profession.
What Do Radiologic & MRI Technologists Do?
Simply put, radiologic technologists take x-rays of areas of patients’ bodies as requested by a physician. MRI technologists use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to make diagnostic images of a patient’s entire body or specific areas as requested. Safety and accuracy are of primary importance in this profession, so RTs must possess a wide range of scientific and social responsibilities, including:
- Operating and maintaining imaging equipment
- Following specific orders from physicians about which areas of a patient’s body to image
- Preparing patients for imaging procedures
- Positioning the patient and the equipment for accurate image results
- Following safety procedures for themselves and patients
- Communicating with physicians to see if additional images are needed
- Keeping detailed patient records
MRI technologists have additional skills such as injecting patients with contrast dyes to make potential diagnoses show up clearly on images. MRI technologists are also tasked with impressing upon patients the importance of staying completely still while undergoing MRI scans so that the images can be captured clearly without movement blur.
Radiologic & MRI Technologists – Certifications & Licensure
As previously mentioned, the ARRT provides 15 RT certification types, but some states also require a license to legally practice as a radiologic technologist. More than 75 percent of states have laws requiring RTs to earn state licensure. Some states require ARRT certification prior to applying for state licensure.
The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ARST) has a list of individual state licensure requirements for radiologic technologists. Future RTs are strongly advised to research state licensure requirements for the states where they intend to work.
How Much Do Radiologic (MRI) Technologists Make?
While salary data depends on cost-of-living, years of experience, and specialty certifications, radiologic technologists earn salaries that are above the national average compared to all occupations.
The 207,360 currently employed RTs in the United States earn annual salaries of $63,120 (BLS May 2019) with the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile: $41,480
- 25th percentile: $49,580
- 50th percentile (median): $60,510
- 75th percentile: $74,660
- 90th percentile: $89,760
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).