The position of radiologist assistant (RA) is a reasonably new occupation in health care. The role has its own specific certification and educational standards set by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART). Although RAs are not physicians, they are considered to hold the most advanced position in radiology without being a radiologist.
Radiologist assistants are expected to play a prominent role in performing advanced imaging procedures and techniques to assist with the diagnosis of illnesses or medical conditions. RAs perform both pre and post-procedure evaluations with the patient in order to alleviate the workload of the radiologist physician.
What is a Radiologist Assistant?
A radiologist assistant is an advanced practice radiologic technologist and works under the supervision of a radiologist. RAs work side by side as vital members of the radiology team to perform complex medical imaging and therapeutic procedures to help diagnose and treat medical conditions in the delivery of patient care.
What’s the Difference Between a Radiology Technician, Radiologic Technologist, and Radiologist Assistant?
The primary differentiator between a radiology technician, radiologic technologist, and an RA is the amount of education and training required for each role. Additionally, the ability to assume more responsibility and earn greater compensation is also a differentiator.
A radiology technician typically holds a two-year degree from a trade school or community college. Their study time is primarily focused on learning how to operate x-ray, mammography, and computed tomography (CT) equipment.
In their role, the radiology tech is focused on positioning patients for imaging and operating various imaging machinery including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), x-ray, and mammography equipment. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a radiology technician is $51,107.
Also called radiographers, a radiologic technologist has similar job duties as a radiology technician. However, radiologic technologists typically hold a four-year bachelor’s degree from an RA program and are able to act in supervisor roles. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a radiologic technologist is $56,617.
Radiologist assistants are radiologic technologists who have attained an advanced degree from a nationally recognized radiologist assistant curriculum and completed a clinical preceptorship under a radiologist. They must also have their ARRT certification.
RAs manage patients, perform assessments, and provide preliminary evaluations of test results to the supervising radiologist. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for an RA is $138,823.
What Does an RA Do?
RAs help radiologists assess and manage patients and assist with various radiological procedures. Radiologist assistants also typically provide their observations of diagnostic images to the radiologist who will, in turn, provide an official written report on the assessment of those images.
Radiologist assistants execute fluoroscopy, feeding tube placements, venous diagnostic exams, and most non-invasive procedures under the close supervision of the physician.
In addition, RAs are a much-needed bridge of communication between the radiologist, radiology department, and patients. Although the formal diagnosis needs to be signed and authorized by the radiologist, the assistant plays a crucial role in assisting with the diagnosis and communicating it to all involved parties in the course of delivering patient care.
Where do Radiologist Assistant’s Work?
More than half of all RAs work in hospitals. Others can be found working in radiology clinics, government and military facilities, or research centers.
An even smaller number of RAs come across unconventional opportunities, such as working on cruise ships and even as movie consultants.
How Do You Become a Radiologist Assistant?
Because RAs work closely with radiologists, they need to possess advanced levels of health care knowledge to correlate all their findings and help determine the best course of treatment.
A radiologist assistant (RA) must be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). In order to receive your ARRT certification, you must have successfully attained an advanced degree from a nationally recognized RA program. You must also have completed a clinical preceptorship.
In order to attain an advanced degree or master’s degree, you need to first achieve a bachelor’s degree in radiology. Then, you can move on to completing a master’s degree from an accredited graduate radiologic sciences program, complete your preceptorship, and take the RRA examination.
Within the RA program, students get a hands-on learning experience and essential clinical training in a hospital or outpatient care setting.
After graduating from an advanced RA program, RAs must become certified registered radiologist assistants. According to ARRT standards, all applicants for certification must be of good moral character. Individuals with past convictions, criminal procedures, or military court-martial for felonies and misdemeanors may not be eligible for certification.
Once education and ethical standards have been met, the candidate must pass the RRA examination. Upon successfully passing the exam and becoming certified, the certification of a registered RA must be maintained through ongoing registration and continuing education.
How Long Does it Take to Become an RA?
If you are starting with a high school diploma or GED, it will take you approximately six years to complete the RA program and become an RA. That includes two years of each of the following:
- General education courses such as English, critical thinking, and mathematics.
- Core curriculum courses such as patient assessment and care, clinical radiology, health information management, diagnostic testing and imaging, pharmacology, radiobiology, healthcare law and medical ethics as well as classroom instruction and a radiologist-supervised internship.
- Master’s-level courses including a thesis.
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How Much Does a Radiologist Assistant Make?
According to ZipRecruiter, as of Feb 21, 2021, the average annual pay for a Radiologist Assistant (RA) in the United States is $138,823. RAs earn the highest salaries of all positions in radiology, with the exception of the radiologist.
Expected earnings for a radiologist assistant vary depending on the individual’s experience and location. The lowest twenty-five percent in the field earn $33,500, while the top seventy-five percent earn $288,500 each year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a radiologist assistant RA in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Oregon earns the highest salaries.
The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of radiologists and registered radiologist assistants in the field. Therefore, the demand for skilled and trained RAs will be very high until the shortage abates.
While hospitals are the largest employers for the position, radiologist assistants are also in high demand in outpatient clinics and diagnostic imaging centers nationwide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the radiology field is expected to grow by 28 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the average of all careers.