What Does it Mean to Study Radiologic Science?
In the 1970s, this field was more commonly known as radiology, and it focused on creating images of the body's internal structure, organs and tissues. Innovations in imaging technology, especially during the 80s, allowed many areas of radiology to branch into specialties of their own. Because of this, the field formerly known as "radiology" became focused down to the more specific "radiologic science."
So what is radiologic science? It involves using high-tech machinery to take images of the inside of the body -- images that can then be used by other health care professionals to diagnose and/or treat a patient. This might involve using X-rays, ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI, to name just a few examples. If you've twisted an ankle, suffered a broken limb or had a mammogram, you were probably using the services of a radiologic science professional.
Earning a radiologic science degree can help you learn how to use these complex, important machines in order to save the lives of others. Read on to learn more about degree programs, potential careers and available resources in this field.
Types of Online Radiologic Science Degrees
Online degree programs in radiologic science are reaching a diverse group of students of all ages who are looking to better understand the subject. The convenience of an online degree program can be particularly useful for employed health care professionals seeking to change specialties or earn higher-level positions. Working adults can learn the fundamentals of the profession online while performing required fieldwork locally.
Typically, radiologic science degree programs require a high school diploma or GED for admittance. It can also be helpful to have work experience or good grades in mathematics, physics, chemistry or biology. This is more important the higher of a degree level you plan to aim for; a bachelor's degree program is likely to be more difficult to be accepted into than an associate degree program, for example. So what degree level is right for you?
Online Certificates in Radiologic Science
While most radiologic technologists start their education in the field with an associate degree program, certificate programs are another possible starting place. These programs are geared to individuals who already work in the health care field but want to add radiography to their resume.
In most cases, a certificate in radiologic science program requires students to learn about medical terminology, ethics and law, patient care and basic imaging procedures. The goal is to cover the basics of the field quickly, minimizing the time it might take for a working professional to change careers. Courses you might expect to take during this program include:
- Patient Care in Radiology
- Introduction to Imaging
- Radiation Protection
- Radiographic Pathology
- Image Analysis
Online Associate Degrees in Radiologic Science
According to the BLS, an associate degree is the degree most commonly earned by radiologic and MRI technologists as of 2018, and it's not hard to understand why. Associate degree programs cover the basic foundation of a subject, like a certificate program does, but also general education topics such as English, writing and college algebra. This broader education gives students more options for their future: after earning their degree, they could immediately begin building a career in the workforce, or they could go back to school to complete a bachelor's degree in another health care subject.
Associate degree programs in radiologic science usually take up to two years to complete and may be pursued in a partially online, or "hybrid," format. Common courses for these programs include:
- Human Anatomy & Physiology
- Medical Terminology
- Introduction to Radiologic Science
- Imaging Pathology
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Radiologic Science
A bachelor's degree program is the next step up from an associate degree program. Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years to complete, and the extra time is intended to give students a chance to delve deeper into their chosen subject. General education and the basics of radiologic science are still a focal point for a bachelor's degree program in radiologic science, but after learning the basics, students are encouraged to pursue upper-division courses.
Upper-division radiologic science courses are usually built around complex concepts such as radiography, sonography, anatomy and physics. Students may even spend part of their class time working in labs with radiologic equipment. Some examples of classes you may find in an online bachelor's degree program for radiologic science:
- Cardiovascular Interventional Technology
- Portable Radiography
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Quality Control
What Can You Do With a Radiologic Science Degree?
While majoring in radiologic science is usually part of the path to a position as a radiologist or MRI technologist, a radiologic science degree program can lead to several other careers as well. A career as a radiologist may not sound appealing to you, but earning a degree in the subject may still be able to help you achieve various goals. Consider these common career trajectories for radiologic science majors:
Also called radiographers, these professionals take X-rays and administer non-radioactive materials to patients in order to produce images for patient assessment and diagnosis. This is a very detail-oriented job; X-rays can be dangerous, so using them carefully and only with the proper safety measures is crucial. Some radiologic technologists specialize in a particular process, such as mammography (producing images of breast tissue to detect breast cancer) or CT scans (using X-rays to take cross-section images of a person's entire body).
By far the majority of radiologic technologists work in hospitals. However, with the growth of outpatient care in recent years, many more positions are appearing in the offices of physicians and in diagnostic imaging centers.
- Radiologic technologists usually need an associate degree to qualify for entry-level work.
- Radiologic technologists must be licensed or certified in certain states. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offers certification for these professionals.
Unlike most other types of radiologic imaging, MRI does not require X-rays to create images and as such is less likely to cause tissue damage in the process. Like CT scan images, MRI images are created by putting the patient in a machine that creates sliced cross-section images of the anatomy. Instead of X-rays, however, the images are created with a large, powerful magnet. This is where the name comes from: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
MRI technologists operate the machinery that takes MRI imaging. They also share their findings with other health care professionals with the goal of helping to achieve a correct diagnosis.
- MRI technologists usually need an associate degree.
- MRI technologists aren't usually licensed to work in their state. However, the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists does offer certification they can apply for.
Diagnostic medical sonographers use high-frequency sound waves, called ultrasound, to create images that assist doctors in diagnosing disease, injury or other physical ailments. Sonographers may specialize in the brain (neurosonography), the heart (echocardiography), abdominal sonography, blood vessels (vascular sonography) or the eyes (ophthalmologic sonography).
A particularly common sonographer you may not think of at first is the obstetric and gynecologic sonographer (OB/GYN sonographer for short). These professionals study the female reproductive system, and they are the technicians responsible for producing ultrasound images of a fetus in its mother's womb. Their ultrasound images allow both physician and mother to track the health and growth of a baby.
- Workers in this niche typically earn an associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography or sonography.
- Certification for these professionals is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International, and American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
Because arteries and veins do not show up on a radiograph, finding a problem in them can be difficult. To overcome this obstacle, cardiovascular technologists inject patients with special substances that can be detected by X-rays. The substances are circulated safely through the bloodstream, and their presence is essential. With the procedure completed, radiologists can now take their X-ray images of the body and see where the substance has gone, showing the shape and layout of the patient's cardiovascular system.
- Cardiovascular technologists usually need an associate degree to find entry-level work.
- Cardiovascular Credentialing International offers voluntary certification for these workers.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs used for certain imaging procedures. They administer the drugs to patients, check the patients for reactions and overall health, keep records of each procedure and must take special care to dispose of radioactive drugs and materials appropriately.
While nuclear medicine technologists aren't involved in the imaging process directly, their expertise and skill helps imaging professionals do their jobs.
- Nuclear medicine technologists need an associate degree to find entry-level work.
- Most nuclear medicine technologists need to be licensed to work in their state. Certification is also common, and is available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB)
Associations and Organizations
Most states require radiologic technologists to be licensed in order to work in their respective field. However, licensing requirements can vary by your degree program and by where you live.
Because so many factors can influence your licensing, it's smart to stay abreast of news and changes within the field of radiologic science, even before you graduate. The following organizations may be good sources of information for radiologic science and related disciplines, and some of them even offer the opportunity to earn certification or credentials in the field.
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography -- The ARDMS is the premier authority and agency governing diagnostic medical sonography as a profession. This organization hosts resources, educational opportunities and credentials such as Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS), Registered Vascular Technologist (RVS) and Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS).
- Cardiovascular Credentialing International -- CCI features links, resources and certifications for professionals who work in cardiovascular technology. Available credentials include: Advanced Cardiac Sonographer (ACS), Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT), Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician (CRAT), Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS), Registered Vascular Specialist (RVS) and more.
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists -- The ASRT offers continuing education opportunities, news and resources for radiologic technologists. Membership opportunities and job boards are also available.
- Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board -- The NMTCB sets standards for credentialing for Nuclear Medicine Technologists. Exams and credentials are offered in computed tomography, nuclear medicine, radiation safety and other related disciplines. You can access this certification board to apply for certification as a Nuclear Medicine Advanced Associate (NMAA).
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists -- This organization focuses on raising the bar in terms of ethical and professional standards for radiologic technologists. Through them, interested applicants can also earn the Registered Radiologist Assistant (RRA) credential.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
- Nuclear Medicine Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nuclear-medicine-technologists.htm
- Radiologic and MRI Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm#tab-1
- Radiologic Science, Morehead State University, https://www.moreheadstate.edu/study/radiologicalscience
- Radiologic Science, Oregon Tech, http://www.oit.edu/academics/degrees/radiologic-science
- Radiology Certificate, UNC School of Medicine, https://www.med.unc.edu/ahs/radisci/ed-programs/radiography