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Online Bachelor Degree Programs in Radiography

The field of medical diagnostic imaging continues to grow with an increase in the number of tests conducted annually. In response, several schools offer online radiography bachelor's degrees. Read on to see program information, coursework, on-site requirements and career options.

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Program Overview

Although the interpretation of diagnostic images is left to radiology physicians, it is the responsibility of radiographers to determine whether the images are clear and cover the specified target area. Radiographers, also known as radiologic technologists, work directly with patients to capture diagnostic images using X-rays, magnetic resonance, computed tomography and related technologies.

While many radiologic technologists hold an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree in radiography may be preferred by some employers. Students in bachelor's programs are trained to understand the requirements, hazards and limitations of radiographic equipment, as well as techniques necessary to produce precise and medically appropriate images. Prospective radiographers also gain the knowledge and skills to administer ionizing radiation to patients as part of a cancer therapy regimen.

Admission Requirements

The majority of online bachelor's degree programs in radiography are two-year programs, and are also referred to as bachelor's degree completion programs. They are offered at four-year universities and colleges. Applicants are expected to have earned up to two years of credits in an associate's degree program in medical technology or an accredited certificate program. Accrediting agencies include the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (www.jrcert.org) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (www.caahep.org).

Many schools also allow students with a license in radiography, work experience in medical imaging, a non-credit certificate in radiography or a bachelor's degree in another subject to earn credits by passing challenge examinations.

Typical Coursework

The coursework in online and on-campus bachelor's degree completion programs in radiography have the same curricula. General education credits in subjects such as mathematics, English and the basic sciences have typically already been earned by students through an associate's degree program. The core courses in a distance learning radiography bachelor's degree program include:

  • Sectional anatomy
  • Positioning
  • Radiographic biology
  • Principles of mammography
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Clinical ethics
  • Principles of radiation exposure
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI physics and procedures

Students may opt to concentrate their studies on clinical or non-clinical specialty areas. Clinical concentrations focus on a specific radiographic modality, such as magnetic resonance, computed tomography, nuclear medicine, radiation therapy or ultrasound. Non-clinical specialties include administration, informatics and education, as well as a general science focus for students continuing on to further study in medical or dental school. Some programs encourage radiography majors to earn a minor in health care administration to expand their medical horizons and increase their advancement potential.

Online Learning

Online programs are often described as career-oriented because a student can continue to work while also earning an online bachelor's degree. During a time convenient for them, students can access lecture materials, videos, assignments and assessments from their school's online classroom environment. Class chat rooms, message boards and group collaboration tools allow students and professors to interact on a regular basis.

On-Site Requirements

Due to the hands-on nature of medical imaging and radiation therapy, programs may require online and on-campus students to spend several months working on-site in a clinical setting. Schools maintain links with clinical groups and actively help students find sites appropriate to their needs. In addition to clinical experiences, distance learning students could be required to go on campus to complete laboratory components of the coursework or to take tests. Some schools may allow online students to take their exams in an alternative proctored setting if necessary.

Career Overview

Most radiographers work in hospitals, but other job sites include medical laboratories, outpatient clinics and private physician practices. The workload is generally 40 hours per week, but some medical imaging specialists work longer hours, night shifts or week-ends, or must be available on-call. Radioactivity, hazardous particles, intense magnetic fields or large amounts of energy have the potential to expose radiographers to physical harm, although industry-standard precautions minimize these risks.

Jobs for radiographers may include the following:

  • Bone densitometry
  • Cardiovascular radiography
  • Mammography
  • CAT/MRI/PET scans
  • Radiation therapy
  • Sonography
  • General diagnostic radiography
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Angiography

Certification and Licensure

Some U.S. states require radiographers to be licensed, and licensure requirements vary by state. Some state licensing boards rely on American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam results for licensure.

Students typically qualify for ARRT professional certification upon completion of an associate's degree or certificate program prior to entering a two-year bachelor's degree program. Radiography subspecialties are also supported by groups such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board.

To become certified in radiography or a subspecialty, candidates must first meet educational and clinical criteria and then pass an examination. To remain certified, radiographers must adhere to the ethical standards and earn credits through work in the field and completion of continuing education coursework. Certification is voluntary, but many employers prefer certified radiographers.

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job opportunities for radiologic and MRI technologists would grow 21% in the 2012-2022 decade, which is faster than average (www.bls.gov). BLS data from May 2013 reveals that the average annual income was $56,760 for radiologic technologists and $65,960 for MRI technologists.

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