Radiologist and technician with a patient

From EMT to Radiologic Technologist: An EMT Career Guide

How to Become a Radiologic Technologist: An In-Depth Look at the Responsibilities, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Radiologist and technician with a patient

One of the most important diagnostic tools in a hospital is the radiologic scanner—a machine that uses radiology (X-rays) and magnets (MRIs) to get a vital look inside patients. A radiologist makes an official diagnosis from the images, which triggers a treatment plan. Still, before any of that happens, a Radiologic Technologist is needed to do the actual scan.

The role of a radiologic technologist is an essential part of the patient care system. Without accurate scans, doctors can’t prescribe appropriate care plans, so the need for competent, dedicated, organized, and capable Radiologic (or MRI Technologists) is crucial.

For EMTs interested in furthering their careers within the medical field, becoming an X-ray or MRI technician could be a natural and great next step. As an EMT, you were responsible for treating patients in the field and getting them to the hospital. And on the other side of those hospital doors, more often than not, a radiologic technologist is standing by to take over. So becoming a radiologic technician can also be an incredible opportunity for EMTs to grow their careers and assume greater responsibilities in patient care.

(See our list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics)                

Radiologic Technologist Duties & Responsibilities

What Does a Radiologic Technologist Do?

The primary job of a radiologic technologist is to perform diagnostic imaging examinations on patients using several imaging machines—most often an x-ray or MRI. These images go to the attending radiologist for examination and diagnosis.

Typical responsibilities for radiologic techs include:

  • Adjusting and maintaining imaging equipment
  • Precisely following physicians’ orders on specific areas of the body for scanning
  • Preparing patients for scans and collecting patient history
  • Protecting the patient by applying covering to shield areas not being scanned
  • Positioning the patient to obtain the optimal image
  • Operating the scanning equipment
  • Evaluating images with physicians to determine if additional scans are required
  • Keeping detailed patient records

Radiologic Technologist Job Description

What is a Typical Day for a Radiologic Tech?

Like many medical jobs, radiologic technologists spend much of their day on their feet—moving from room to room, setting up imaging equipment, helping patients get into position, delivering results, and moving scanners.

Radiologic techs work directly with doctors, and the needs of those physicians determine many of their responsibilities. As a radiologic technologist, you’ll receive specific orders for who to scan, what parts of their body to scan, and what type of imaging the doctor requires.

Your certification and training will determine which types of scans you can conduct—an MRI, an X-ray, a mammogram, a sonogram, or even a combination of one or more.

Because you also work directly with patients, you’ll spend most of your day preparing them for their scans. You’ll discuss the procedure, let them know what to expect, and try to fill in any gaps in their patient histories. This can require a steady, gentle demeanor and a calm approach to help put patients at ease. Some patients feel anxious about MRIs, so an understanding attitude can go a long way.

A radiologic technologist also plays a part when interpreting the resulting images. While a radiologist or MD will make the final diagnosis, you’ll assist in analyzing the data and determining whether a second scan is needed. These could be valuable skills someday if you choose to further your medical career.

Radiologist monitoring an exam

Radiologic Technologist Hours

Radiology is a big part of a hospital’s emergency care system, meaning that radiologic techs are always needed. Exact shifts will vary from hospital to hospital, but typically, a radiologic technologist’s schedule is similar to that of an EMT or emergency room technician—8 to 12-hour shifts with the possibility of overnight and weekend assignments.

Radiologic Tech Uniform

Because RTs work directly with patients, most hospitals require them to wear scrubs.

Radiologic Technologist Requirements

Certification or licensing is required for anyone who wants to become a radiologic technologist. This includes graduating from an accredited program and successfully passing a certification exam—through the American Association of Radiologic Technologists (AART) for radiologic scans or the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT) for MRI techs.

While not every state requires licensing to become an MRI technologist, most employers require, or at least prefer, certification. Check with your state’s health board for exact requirements.

How to Become a Radiologic Technologist

The work of a radiologic technologist or MRI technologist is detailed, complex, and vital, so naturally, additional training is required, even if you’ve already earned your EMT certification.

You can get an associate degree from an accredited program at many vocational schools and community colleges. Some students, usually those looking to go even further with their medical careers, choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree, but it is not required.

Your associate degree program will include a combination of both classroom and clinical training and will cover such essential topics as patient care, safety around radiation, and deciphering medical imaging.

Most students hoping to become MRI technologists eventually begin their careers as radiologic technologists and then move on to specialize in MRI after acquiring some on-the-job experience.

Radiologic Tech Might Be a Good Fit if:

  • You are organized and detail-oriented
  • You have good eyesight
  • You are good with taking orders
  • You enjoy working directly with patients
  • You are tech-savvy
  • You enjoy the diagnostic side of medicine

Close up of stethoscope and textbooks

Radiologic Technologist Education

What Training is Required to Become a Radiologic Technologist?

The two primary requirements for becoming a radiologic or MRI technician are the associate degree and certification exam. During the radiologic technologist courses, you’ll learn about the imaging equipment, proper safety protocols (for both you and your patient), the science behind radiologic and magnetic scans, and how to decipher scan results.

Some techniques learned in the associate degree program may be familiar to those with EMT and paramedic certification, such as patient care and stabilization.

Radiologic or MRI Technologist Programs

During your courses, you’ll study:

  • Patient care procedures
  • Radiation physics and protection
  • Clinical imaging
  • Radiobiology
  • Pathology
  • Medical ethics
  • Patient positioning
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Diagnostics

How Long Does it Take to Be a Radiologic Technologist?

The average accredited program for radiologic technologists takes about two years to complete. Additional study or on-the-job training is typically required for those planning to advance to MRI or CT technologist. For those opting to complete a bachelor’s degree, the program length expands to average between three and four years of study.

Radiologic Technologist Certification

Certification as a radiologic technologist is an excellent way of demonstrating to future potential employers that you are trained and capable of completing your assigned medical tasks.

American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) manages certification exams, and many specialized certifications are available. You can certify in anything from mammography to bone densitometry to radiation therapy through the ARRT program, and each accreditation opens additional employment possibilities within the medical field. Choose the area that interests you most.

Most applicants begin with the Radiography certification and then pursue additional specializations later in their career.

In addition to the certification exam, you’ll be tested on ethical standards during the application process, something the ARRT takes very seriously.

Those seeking additional certification as an MRI technologist can pursue the optional certification exam offered by the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT).

Radiologic Technologist Required Skills

Besides the educational and certification requirements, successful radiologic technologists typically exhibit the following skills:

  • Attention to Detail– Doctors will give exact instructions for requested scans, and the imagery machines are incredibly precise, so strong attention to detail is highly important.
  • Interpersonal Skills – Radiologic Technologists work with doctors and patients and must be able to communicate with and manage both effectively. Patients may be stressed or anxious about scans, and a good RT understands how to handle these potentially tricky situations gently.
  • Math Skills – Radiologic scans combine computer science, biology, and chemistry. So yes, strong math skills are needed for calculating the correct dosage of chemicals for procedures.
  • Physical Stamina – RTs move equipment and patients and are on their feet nearly the entire day.
  • Technical Skills –X-ray machines, CTs, and MRIs are highly complex equipment, and a radiological tech needs to be able to both operate and troubleshoot them.

Paramedics in an ambulance

From EMT to Radiologic Technologist

How Will My EMT Experience Help Me Become a Radiologic Tech?

Becoming an EMT or paramedic is an excellent first step toward preparing for a future as a radiologic or MRI technologist. Many of the skills and techniques learned in the field as an EMT or paramedic will directly apply to your work as a radiologic technologist.

  • Stamina – Like RTs, EMTs are on their feet most of the day, and their job requires a high degree of physical stamina and fitness.
  • Proof of Performance – EMTs have a proven track record of successfully working directly with patients, addressing patient safety, and assisting in patient care.
  • Communication – EMT field experience teaches effective communication with doctors, patients, and dispatchers.
  • Organizational Skills – While an RTs equipment is much more complicated, EMTs and paramedics still have experience maintaining, storing, fixing, and using medical equipment.
  • Field Experience – EMTs and paramedics see various injuries in the field. That experience can help a radiologic technologist properly stabilize injured patients, understand their pain levels, and help diagnose the extent of their injuries.

Radiologic Technologist Salary

How Much Does a Radiologic Technologist Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, a radiologic technologist made an average of $66,500 per year ($32 per hour). Additional specialization within the field can impact (and significantly raise) that average.

The setting in which you work also impacts your average salary. Most RTs work within a hospital setting, but other opportunities are available and come with their average wages.

Highest Paid Industries for Radiologic Technologists

Here is a list of occupational settings where radiologic techs can work, ranked in order of average salary:

Industry Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Scientific research & development services $37.98 $78,990
Management, scientific & technical consulting services $37.62 $78,250
Outpatient care centers $37.30 $77,580
Office administrative services $36.36 $75,630
Federal executive branch $35.57 $73,990

Highest Paying States for Radiologic Technologists

Where you live may also impact your financial compensation as a radiologic tech. Here are the highest-paying states for radiologic technologists:

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
California $45.75 $95,170
Hawaii $40.43 $84,100
Massachusetts $38.16 $79,360
District of Columbia $38.14 $79,320
Oregon $37.89 $78,800

Highest Paying Cities for Radiologic Technologists

Here are the highest-paying cities for radiologic technologists:

City Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Vallejo, CA $61.48 $127,890
San Jose, CA $56.96 $118,480
San Francisco, CA $56.78 $118,100
Santa Rosa, CA $53.98 $112,270
Sacramento, CA $51.66 $107,450
Stockton, CA $48.72 $101,350
Modesto, CA $48.24 $100,340
Salinas, CA $46.60 $96,930
Santa Cruz, CA $45.51 $94,660
Redding, CA $44.90 $93,400

X-ray image of a lung

Beginning Your Career as a Radiologic or MRI Technologist

Becoming a radiologic technologist is an intelligent and logical step for many EMTs and paramedics and can lead to significant increases in pay, responsibility, and job options. And with 9% job growth anticipated in the field of radiologic or MRI technologists through the end of the decade, many opportunities are available.

If you’re not already an EMT and want to gain real-world experience, you can start by training for EMT certification.

Emergency medical services are an excellent start to a career in healthcare. Jobs for radiologic techs and EMTs are in high demand, and employers are looking for hard-working, dedicated employees for their teams. All you have to do is take the first step forward.