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Radiographics - Career Advancement Options

Completing a radiology technologist program and taking that first job is a big accomplishment. It can mean a long-term career and a steady paycheck. Some technologists, though, decide that it’s not enough. They want new challenges, greater levels of responsibility, and an income to match. Fortunately, there has been progress in recent years toward development of a radiology career ladder. How far you can progress and what duties you can take on depends on the state or jurisdiction where you practice.

Lateral Moves: Specialized Branches of Radiography

Radiology technologists may pursue specialized training in one of several areas like MRI, mammography, or computerized tomography. This is considered a lateral move, not a vertical one, but it can increase salary and employment options. Sometimes the transition comes about naturally. A competent technologist is given new duties by ones employer. Eventually, one meets the prerequisites to take the exam in a specialized branch of radiography. As a certified worker, one continues to pursue CE opportunities. Increasingly, they will be viewed as a desirable employee by others. Options such as jobs in a specialized branch of radiography at a higher pay may arise. Radiology technologists with specialized training in multiple areas are at a significant career advantage. In addition, ambitious radiographers may enroll in degree completion programs. Some programs combine radiography with radiation therapy.

Vertical Moves: Radiology Assistant

For some, the more attractive option is to become a radiology assistant. This is an advanced practice role that has come into existence in just the past decade. Radiology assistants have duties that require more critical thinking and judgment – and more education than those of traditional radiographers. Sometimes termed “extenders”, radiology assistants take on some duties that once were reserved for radiologists. They perform various invasive procedures. These procedures may be significantly more complex than those performed by traditional radiographers; guidelines, for example, allow the placement of oro-enteric feeding tubes in situations where there are not prohibitive complications. Radiology assistants may assess patient condition and act an advocate for the patient, but they will not interpret radiologic images or make diagnoses. In order to be reimbursed by Medicare, radiologist assistants who work at physician’s offices or freestanding clinics must meet supervision guidelines.

In order to become a radiology assistant, a technologist must complete a degree program at the bachelor’s or master’s level. Schools look for radiology technology experience, ARRT certification, and strong academic performance. Statistics is a typical prerequisite.

Radiology Practitioner Assistant

The role of the radiology practitioner assistant is similar to that of the radiology assistant, but the position draws from a different history and has a different certifying body. Some argue that the RPA model allows for the delegation of certain duties that RAs would not be allowed to perform. According to a 2007 paper published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, fewer states authorize the use of RPAs.

Next Steps

The development of RA and RPA roles is not a unique development in health care. It’s part of a growing trend toward use of mid-level practitioners, and is considered by many to be vital to the health of the nation. There simply aren’t enough physicians, and many duties can be performed by health care providers who have less than a comprehensive medical school education. The American College of Radiology has recognized the need and involved itself in the role development process.

Chances are good that the radiology extender role will, to an increasing degree, be recognized at the state level. Radiology assistants and radiology practitioner assistants will want to make sure, though, that they are within the scope of duty allowed by their jurisdiction. It’s important to retain ties to one’s certifying agency and to other professional organizations. Resources include the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, and the Certification Board for Radiology Practitioner Assistants.