How To Earn Your Ultrasound Technician Degree

Radiology is an umbrella terms used to describe several forms of non-invasive medical imaging. There are several imaging types included in the field of radiology. These include diagnostic medical sonography (also known as ultrasound), x-ray, CT, MRI and nuclear medicine. The difference between each radiology specialty is in the equipment used and the areas of the body evaluated with that equipment. Although all of these radiology specialties are considered forms of radiology, they represent a range a different career paths.

On this page we will discuss your different options for radiology specialty degrees. You’ll learn how to become an ultrasound technician, x-ray technician, CT technician, MRI technician, and nuclear medicine technologist. You’ll also find out what degree levels are available for each imaging specialty, how much they cost, the length of each degree, admission requirements, and courses you will take as part each degree.

You will also learn about the imaging types in detail, including their definitions, the role of the person responsible for administering the procedure, the type of equipment used, and salary ranges. Some specialties offer, or even require, special certifications or credentialing. To learn more about the certifications required, click here for the certifications page.

Differences Between Radiology Careers: Pick a Specialty

The medical imaging field includes many different technologies and populations, so you have plenty of choices for specialization. Ultrasound imaging produces computerized images from sound waves reflected by internal organs. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields and radiofrequency to provide visualization of the body’s internal structures. Molecular imaging uses small amounts of radioactive markers to produce details of the structure and function of organs and tissues.

Different kinds of patients have different needs. You may find you prefer to work with a certain population group such as children, women, or the elderly. Each has its own unique set of challenges and rewards.

As you consider specializing, here are some things to think about that may help your decision-making process:

  • Your level of interest in the intellectual content of the specialty
  • The type of patients you’d work with
  • Your personality match with the specialty
  • Market demand and job opportunities
  • Income potential
  • Quality of life
  • Issues facing the specialty area
  • Research opportunities

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) offers specialty exams in abdominal/small parts, Ob/gyn, vascular, and breast. You can hold more than one credential, which can increase your value, marketability, and income.

When picking a specialty, you should know that most of the courses you take will be the same. You can expect to take courses in anatomy and physiology – both normal and abnormal. You will also take classes in medical ethics, patient care, and pathology. You will also spend a significant portion of your studies focusing on the clinical side, learning how to actually operate the imaging machines. Any specific courses you will take for a specialty are discussed below, within the section for that specialty.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Diagnostic medical sonography, often referred to as just sonography or ultrasound, is a popular and high demand form of radiology. Sonography uses high frequency sound waves that are transmitted from the probe, which is a camera used by the sonographer, to show an image of the patient’s anatomy on a screen. The people who perform sonograms/ultrasounds are known as sonographers, sonogram technicians, ultrasound technologists, ultrasound techs, or ultrasound technicians.

Because ultrasound does not use any form of radiation, it is considered a cost effective and very safe method for evaluating anatomy. When many people think of sonograms they picture them being performed on unborn babies of pregnant women, but sonography is also used to evaluate pediatric and adult hearts, blood vessels throughout the body, and all abdominal parts like the liver, kidneys, pancreas and spleen. Because it can be easily administered by the technologist without any discomfort from the patient, it is often a first line of defense in imaging.

The education and credentials needed to be a sonographer vary by employer, type of environment (e.g. hospital vs private practice), and which subspecialty you are working in. Ultrasound technicians carry a variety of degrees from certifications only, to associate, bachelor’s, and even master’s degrees. Our sonographer page discusses degrees available within the field, as well as typical salary ranges.

Degree Information for Sonogram Technicians

  • In most cases, a degree is not required for application to an entry-level sonography job.
  • The most important factors for employment are typically graduation from an accredited program and registration with the ARDMS by passing board exams.
  • Certificate/associate degree programs are often 18-24 months in length and result in appropriate education and clinical experience to become a board-certified sonographer. This is an efficient way to learn the skills to enter the workforce on a shorter timeline.
  • 4-year degrees will often be called degrees in Diagnostic Medical Imaging, but may be listed as an emphasis to a Bachelor’s in Health Sciences (BHS). Some choose this route because they have a personal goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree or have career goals of working in administration, which may require a 4-year degree.
  • Master’s degrees specifically in ultrasound are not common but are available at some schools. They often require a more extensive research-based course load. An example would be a program that allows someone with a bachelor’s in a different healthcare field to complete the ultrasound courses offered for a bachelor’s, in addition to extensive research, and obtain a master’s degree.
  • In addition to the courses most commonly offered by medical imaging programs, ultrasound has a special emphasis on physics. In order to sit for a registry exam, sonographers are required to pass a Physics and Instrumentation board. Therefore, ultrasound programs will have 1-2 courses specifically dedicated to the physics involved in the specialty.

Salary Range for Ultrasound Techs

  • Associate: $43,800-$109,400
  • Bachelor’s: $52,600-$97,050
  • Master’s: $65,100-$95,100

X-Ray

X-ray, or radiography, is a common radiology specialty. X-ray was the original form of medical imaging and is an art that has evolved dramatically over the decades.

An x-ray technician uses an x-ray machine, which produces a focused beam of radiation, to image a specific part of the body. Because the dense tissue of bones blocks the radiation waves, they produce a white image on the screen. Because of that x-ray is often used to evaluate bones and the skeleton. However, a chest x-ray used to evaluate the lungs and heart tissue is the most common radiology imaging procedure performed.

Although x-ray does expose the patient and technician to radiation, efforts are taken to reduce the exposure, and the benefits of the imaging have been determined to outweigh the risks of radiation exposure. Radiography is an inexpensive and easily accessible form of medical imaging.

Although many employers only require completion of an accredited program and appropriate credentialing, many x-ray technicians hold a variety of degrees up to master’s degrees.

Degree Information for X-ray:

  • Similar to sonography, x-ray hiring requirements often include completion of an accredited program and licensure through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
  • Obtaining a certificate or associate degree is an expedited way to complete the necessary training to begin working in 12-24 months.
  • A Bachelor of Science in Radiology Technology, or BSRT, can provide a more comprehensive set of skills that may make someone eligible for cross-training in other imaging modalities or move to a graduate level, making them competitive for advance healthcare careers. Bachelor’s programs may be a 4-year program or a completion program that allows the credits from an associate program to be transferred in and count towards the completion of the bachelor’s degree.
  • A master’s degree in radiologic sciences is a path to becoming a radiologist assistant. These practitioners perform as an extension to radiologists, participating in advanced patient care and procedures. This would also be a common path for those who want to make a career in radiology education. The coursework will vary based on the desired career outcome (advanced practitioner, administrator, or educator).
  • Doctorate programs in radiology often have a focus on multiple sub-specialties of radiology and may be combined with medical school in a MD/PhD program, allowing the provider to practice independently as a radiologist. A doctorate program has a high level of research involved.
  • Specialized courses for x-ray programs include education of radiation exposure and protection as well as image acquisition and interpretation.

X-Ray Technician Salary by Degree Level

  • Associate: $39,750-$63,550
  • Bachelor’s: $41,050-$94,250
  • Master’s: $51,000 – $94,350
  • Doctorate: $51,800-$136,700

MRI Technologist Information

Magnetic resonance imaging, commonly referred to as MRI, is a unique specialty within radiology. Unlike other types of radiology, MRI uses magnets and radio waves to produce images. MRI is often used to evaluate soft tissue and bones of the spine, vasculature and brain.

MRIs are performed by professionals called MRI technologist or technicians. The results are read by radiologists. MRIs are performed in both hospital and outpatient settings.

MRI machines are large and require the patient to lay down and be inserted into a tube-like structure. They are also quite noisy and require ear protection. Although MRI is an excellent resource for seeing anatomy in more detail, it is also a costly procedure and is utilized only in situations that justify the costs.

Most MRI careers require an associate degree from an accredited program. Additional credentialing and state specific certifications may also be required. The date included on the MRI page demonstrates the different types of degrees available and salaries offered with the career. Find more information about MRI careers here.

Degree Information for MRI:

  • Like x-ray, MRI careers require registry with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
  • Two common paths to MRI credentialing are an associate degree in MRI or completion of a radiography registration, followed by obtaining a certificate in MRI.
  • As stated above, an associate degree is a common requirement for working in MRI. Although going specifically into a program for MRI is an option, many students complete their MRI education as part of a broader education in radiology.
  • A bachelor’s degree in MRI is often an emphasis of a bachelor’s degree in Advanced Radiology Sciences. A bachelor’s degree may be required for those who aspire to work in healthcare leadership.
  • Those that desire a higher level of education and hold a bachelor’s degree in a field related to MRI or radiology can obtain a Master of Science in Magnetic Resonance Imaging. These programs place an emphasis on research, clinic practices and leadership.
  • With an even greater emphasis on research and management, a PhD in Medical Imaging with an emphasis on MRI is available.
  • Courses specific to basic MRI programs are MRI safety, imaging principals and imaging procedures.

 

Salary Range by Degree Level

  • Associate: $60,000-$89,700
  • Bachelor’s: $60,050-$84,200
  • Master’s: $67,300-$81,000
  • Doctorate: $72,400-$90,400

CT

Computed tomography, also known as CT, is another form of radiology that is often pursued as a career. A CT machine is similar to an MRI machine in that the patient is inserted into a tube-like structure while laying down, and the technologist or technician ensures that images are taken of the necessary body structures.

CT is often used to detect cancer, as it can detect a tumor’s size and location, as well as produce three-dimensional images of the area. While CT is not the most cost-effective type of imaging, it can be lifesaving when used to detect internal bleeding in a trauma patient. The level of definition is often greater than ultrasound or x-ray and CTs are very accurate.

Degree Information for CT

  • Jobs in computed tomography require registry with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
  • An associate degree or completion of a radiology program with an emphasis on CT will often take 18-24 months to complete.
  • An option for a four-year degree of a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences with an emphasis in Computer Tomography is available for those that desire a baccalaureate degree, making them more likely to be eligible in advanced positions such as healthcare leadership.
  • Like ultrasound, computer tomography also has courses that have an emphasis on the physics of the modality.

Salary Range

  • Associate: $59,500-$86,600
  • Bachelor’s: $64,150-$86,950

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine is a unique type of radiology. Unlike the other specialties that only require the technician to image specific body parts with the equipment, nuclear medicine also uses a special low dose of radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals. This radioactive material allows for visualization of the anatomy with the use of the of the special machine, called a gamma camera, that detects the radiopharmaceuticals and converts them to an image. Nuclear medicine can not only be used for detection of disease, but also for treatment.

Nuclear medicine is a highly specialized field of radiological imaging that requires appropriate education.

Degree Information for Nuclear Medicine

  • The credentialing body for nuclear medicine is the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board.
  • An Associate of Applied Science from an accredited program will be enough to get started in an entry-level position at some organizations, but associate degrees are not the most common level of education in nuclear medicine.
  • The most common degree held in this specialty is a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Medicine Technology.
  • A Master of Science in Nuclear Medicine Technology can be obtained if one has the desire to work at a higher level in the field of nuclear medicine.
  • Those who wish to be prepared to work in the world of research within nuclear medicine should probably obtain a doctorate level education or a Doctor of Philosophy in Nuclear Medicine.
  • Nuclear medicine programs stand out from other radiology programs by providing education on the radiopharmacy aspect of the field, as well as specific courses for gamma camera operation.

Salary Range

  • Associate: $65,050-$95,850
  • Bachelor’s: $62,200 – $86,400
  • Master’s: $76,050-$86,450
  • Doctorate: $81,750-$96,250

Radiology Degree Length and Costs

The length and cost of different radiology degrees is similar between specialties. For example, the length and cost of a bachelor’s degree in sonography is about the same as the length and cost of a bachelor’s degree in CT or X-Ray. Outliers are always possible, however, so be sure to check with the schools you’re interested in to determine if the program fits your schedule and budget.

Degree Degree Length Average Degree Cost
Associate 18 months-2 years $30,000-$40,000
Bachelor’s 4 years $50,000-$60,000
Master’s 2 years $65,000-$80,000
Doctorate 4-6 years $75,000-$92,000

Remember that even if a school looks pricey, there are loan, grant, and scholarship opportunities available to you. Make sure to do your research to find scholarships you are eligible for. You can start with the scholarship we offer!

Program Accreditation

When you review the requirements for any ultrasound technician education program, make sure you choose a school recognized by CAAHEP. They are the number one accrediting body for top healthcare education programs.

Even if your state does not regulate the field of sonography, your employer will likely want to know you went to a CAAHEP approved school. This is also essential for qualifying for the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) exam.

Regardless of the degree you earn, everyone who would like to work as an ultrasound technician must be aware of the licensing and credentialing requirements for each state. Make sure to check out the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) examinations and certification requirements so you have the best opportunity in your career.

Working with a Degree in Diagnostic Imaging

There are many different jobs you can pursue within the field of medical imaging. Even though you may focus on a different area of the human body or work with a specific technology or population, there are many similarities between these positions.

Like other healthcare fields, you need to be a caring and empathic individual to be a medical imaging technologist, regardless of your chosen specialty. There is so much more to medical imaging than the science and skills required to run the equipment and diagnose or treat illnesses. You will be the one who makes patients feel at ease before and during procedures.

Like other healthcare professionals such as medical assistants and nurses, people who work in medical imaging are on their feet throughout the day. You will also have to help position patients, which adds a bit of physical activity to your job, so it helps to be in pretty good shape and enjoy interacting with others.

Physicians will expect you to be highly organized and accurate when taking patient histories and recording information. These are things you should keep in mind when determining if this is the best career path for you.

Job Growth for Radiologic and MRI Technologists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for medical imaging technologists are expected to grow 13% between 2016 and 2026. That’s much faster than the national average.

The states with the highest rates of employment for radiologic technologists are:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania

The states with the highest rates of employment for MRI technologists are:

  • Florida
  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Michigan

Useful Resources for Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Find a Radiology School Today!

If you’re ready to embark on a rewarding career path within a high growth field, then radiology is a great fit for you. When you are ready to connect with schools, just click on the links next to any of the featured schools or search for schools by state clicking on the state link.

In addition to the campus based programs, there are a handful of online programs available for the common ultrasound/sonography degree types (Associate, Bachelors, Certificate/Diploma) and specialties. Please feel free to use the links on our navigation menu to explore some of the online degree programs available. Thanks for visiting!