"The medical community uses the term radiologic technologists when referring to medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals," explained Annemarie Henton, media specialist for the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT). "Radiologic technologists are educated in anatomy, patient positioning, examination techniques, equipment protocols, radiation safety, radiation protection and basic patient care." Radiation therapists work within an oncology department, administering radiation treatment to cancer patients according to the recommended treatment plan. They also explain the process to the patient, answer any questions the patient may have, and keep treatment records up to date. Radiation therapists work under the careful instruction of the radiation oncologist and radiation physicist, but because of the specialized nature of the field, they are required to be licensed in most states and by most employers.
Continuing education gives radiologic technologists a way to maintain competency and prevent professional obsolescence. It benefits technologists, the patients they serve, and the profession as a whole.
Annemarie HentonMedia Specialist for the American Society of Radiologic Technologists
Medical imaging professionals, on the other hand, are in charge of preparing patients for radiologic exams, explaining the procedure, and operating the appropriate equipment to produce x-rays. Some radiologic technologists also specialize in computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or mammography. Again, most states and employers require their medical imaging professionals to be licensed to work in the field.
Both of these professions require a good deal of direct interaction with patients. Because of this, it is also important to be personable and supportive in addition to having a thorough knowledge of the medical and technological aspects of the procedure. Due to radiation exposure risk, radiologic technologists must thoroughly understand and follow all safety regulations. Continuing education courses can be important in helping radiation therapists and medical imaging professionals develop their patient care skills and stay on top of all scientific advancements and safety procedures in the field.
Getting Licensed as a Radiologic Technologist
Certificate, associate, and bachelor's degree programs are available for prospective radiation therapists. Because of the specialized nature of the profession, employers are often looking for candidates who have successfully completed either an accredited associate or bachelor's degree in radiation therapy. Alternatively, prospective radiation therapists may complete a degree in radiography supplemented by a one-year certificate program in radiation therapy. Courses in this area of study will cover topics such as radiation therapy procedures, patient care, scientific theory, anatomy, physiology, physics, mathematics, research, medical terminology, and healthcare ethics.
Due to their direct involvement in a patient's medical care, radiation therapists are required to obtain a license in 33 states. In addition, most employers will only consider applicants who are licensed professionals. Generally, they might stipulate that candidates become certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To do so, you must complete an accredited program in radiation therapy, comply with the association's ethics standards, and pass a written exam. This exam covers everything from patient care and treatment delivery to radiation protection and quality assurance. ARRT is the largest certification agency, representing more than 300,000 registered technologists. "However, there are other agencies that provide certification including, but not limited to, the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board, and Medical Dosimetrist Certification," explained Henton. "These certification agencies represent different specialty areas."
For medical imaging professionals, the requirements for licensure are similar. The most common educational program is an associate degree in radiography, but certificates and bachelor's degrees are also available. Programs accredited by the Joint Review Committee of Education in Radiologic Technology will provide both classroom instruction and hands-on learning in a clinical setting. These programs will cover a variety of topics including physiology, anatomy, medical terminology, mathematics, patient care, radiation physics, and radiation protection. After completing an educational program, technologists should contact their state health board for specifics on their state licensure requirements. Some states use ARRT certification for licensing purposes. To achieve ARRT certification as a medical imaging professional, you must graduate from an accredited program approved by the association, meet all ethics standards, and pass a written exam.
"Licensing and regulation requirements for medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals are set at the state level," noted Henton. "Some states have comprehensive licensure standards and some states don’t have licensure standards at all." A map that shows the breakdown of licensure and regulation requirements by each state can be found on the ASRT website.
Maintaining a License
After receiving their initial certification radiologic technologists must renew their certification with ARRT every year. In addition to meeting the association's ethical standards and paying annual dues, radiologic technologists must complete 24 credit hours in continuing education courses every two years. Radiation therapists can also meet this continuing education requirement through ARRT certification in a discipline other than radiation therapy. "Continuing education gives radiologic technologists a way to maintain competency and prevent professional obsolescence," said Henton. "It benefits technologists, the patients they serve, and the profession as a whole."
Not all states or employers require renewal for radiologic technologists after initial certification, but it is still beneficial to develop your professional skills and stay up to date with technological advances in the field. ARRT offers a search tool to help professionals in the field find appropriate continuing education activities and courses. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists offers online courses in topics ranging from patient assessment to the arts in radiation therapy. "In 2011, the ASRT created the Clinical Instructor Academy, a six-module series that helps radiologic technologists learn the core strategies and tactics they need to be successful educators in the workplace," noted Henton.
You can also find a number of private colleges that offer online courses in radiation therapy and radiography. These online classes are flexible enough to fit into even the busiest of schedules. "The ASRT supports online education to enhance professional skills," Henton said. "Online education increases opportunities for career development and removes the barriers that traditional educational programs can sometimes pose, such as geographic location, cost and inflexible class times." As always, you should check with ARRT and your employer about specific continuing education requirements before enrolling in any courses.