Until the late 19th century, doctors could only learn about the internal structure and condition of a human body by cutting into it. That changed in 1895, when physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays. Within months X-rays were being used clinically to diagnose broken bones, and radiographers -- the radiologic technologists who create X-ray images -- remain an important part of the clinical care team in the early 21st century. Several variables affect their pay, but they're well-compensated for professionals with just an associate degree.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track income figures separately for radiographers, grouping them instead with MRI technologists, CT technologists and others in related fields. As of May 2012, the BLS reported an average annual income of $56,450 for that group. In its own 2010 study, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists reported an average income of $61,190 for a broader group of professionals including highly-paid dosimetrists and registered radiologist assistants. For radiographers alone, the ASRT survey reported an average income of $53,953.
The ASRT study provided detailed analysis of radiographers' salaries, illustrating the effect of experience, geography and other factors. For example, radiographers within their first two years of practice averaged $44,439 per year. Their colleagues with six to 10 years' experience averaged $51,169, while those with 21 to 30 years' experience averaged $60,598. California's radiographers earned the most, at an average of $75,363, and Alabama's were lowest at $42,312. Education was also significant. Radiographers with an associate degree averaged $50,800, while their colleagues with doctoral degrees averaged $79,833. The highest-paid were corporate representatives, who averaged $113,820 in training and sales support positions.
Radiographers can improve their employability and pay by specializing in advanced forms of radiography, or by cross-training in other radiologic technologies. Bone densitometrists, who use X-rays to diagnose osteoporosis, averaged $56,521 per year. Mammographers averaged $60,263 performing breast X-rays, and CT technologists averaged $60,586. Technologists in magnetic resonance imaging, a related field, averaged $65,099. Radiographers who trained as nuclear medicine technologists can earn $70,822 per year, and those who trained as radiation therapists averaged $79,125. Some of these qualifications can be earned on the job, while others require radiographers to take a one-year training program granting a certificate.
Most radiographers enter the field with a two-year associate degree in radiologic technology, or an equivalent from a training hospital or the U.S. military. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offers professional certification, which isn't mandatory but usually speeds promotion. Radiographers who earn a basic certification from the ARRT can go on to add more advanced certifications such as CT or MRI technology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 28 percent employment growth for radiologic technologists between 2010 and 2020, double the average for other occupations. Technologists with multiple certifications should find the strongest opportunities.
- American Physical Society: November 8, 1895 - Roentgen's Discovery of X-Rays
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory: Radiographer
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: Radiologic Technologists
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists: ARRT Certification
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Radiologic Technologists
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