Radiologic science is the study of medical imaging, which is the proper term for creating visuals of the inside of a body. If you think of an X-ray machine or a ultrasound picture, those are both methods of medical imaging. Medical imaging can be used in procedures as simple as the X-ray of a broken toe or as complex as oncological radiation therapy.
Online radiological science degree and degree completion programs can allow medical imaging professionals to pursue further education and specializations within their field. Read on for more information about degree options, specializations and the career outlooks for graduates of radiological science programs.
Best Online Colleges for Radiologic Sciences in 2018
Our rankings were made to take the guesswork out of choosing an online program in radiologic science. OnlineColleges.com has developed a unique methodology to evaluate programs in radiologic sciences based on factors that matter to online students — like in-state tuition costs and how many degrees in the field were awarded in recent academic years. Our data was gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS); for more details on our methodology, see the bottom of this page.
Midwestern State University
Oregon Institute of Technology
Adventist University of Health Sciences
Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health
Fort Hays State University
Clarion University of Pennsylvania
University of Louisiana at Monroe
Siena Heights University
La Roche College
Interview with an Expert
students for their registry exams. There is not much we won't do for our students.
Beth L. Vealé, PhD., RT(R)(QM)
Professor, Radiologic Sciences
Midwestern State University
Beth L. Vealé, PhD., RT(R)(QM)
Professor, Radiologic Sciences
Midwestern State University
Q: What qualities make Midwestern State University's online radiologic sciences program so outstanding?
A: There are several factors that contribute to this. To begin with, Midwestern State University is very supportive of online programs. Our online students really matter. We make sure we are available for our students. Our online students comment that when they call, we are there.
Class size is another factor. With 30 students in each course, we can ensure each one receives individualized attention. When our students raise concerns, we listen. In fact, the transition from an entry-level associate degree to baccalaureate degree program grew out of a request from our students. They were spending four years of study only to come out with an associate degree. The degree itself has really transformed from a vocational, technical degree to a research-based bachelor's degree.
Our professors are another factor. All of our professors are registered radiological technicians. Several professors still practice. They serve on national boards. They work with national and state legislatures to address concerns related to radiology programs and to stay at the forefront of the industry. Our professors serve as expert consultants and are active in publishing and research. Our professors make sure our courses stay up-to-date on current research and practice. When students take our courses, they bring back to their own practice what they have learned. This has lead not only to positive changes in their practice, but also to promotions and new job opportunities.
Finally, the nature of our online program means we are not bound by walls. We make connections all over the country and all over the world.
Q: What support does Midwestern State University offer their online student body?
A: Our online students get the same support that our on-campus students get. The online program actually allows for more one-on-one interaction between students and professors. Our online students have access to all the same opportunities as our on-campus students. If they are in the area, their student ID can get them into university activities and concerts.
As far as our online courses, the university provides an online orientation. Then, there is an online orientation specific to our program. Once you are in our program, we provide easy access to all our university services. Using the D2L portal, students can access services including financial aid and our online bookstore. Even the library has online support that connects students directly with librarians. We have tried to make things as accessible as possible, so that students reach the services they need in as few clicks as possible.
We offer online advising. Students are connected with one advisor who stays with them throughout the course of the program. When students first apply, they receive a degree plan. We believe all of our students are important and we will even help them access resources in their own community — not just within our university program. Our support system is great. Our secretaries are so knowledgeable and able to help if, for instance, a degree plan goes missing. They can provide a new copy and connect the student to their advisor to make sure things stay on track.
We even provide support after graduation. I've run study sessions and helped prepare students for their registry exams. There is not much we won't do for our students. We have high standards and we hold our students to them. But, we are flexible, too.
Q: How does the online program differ from the on-campus program?
A: The online program is a completion program for technicians already working in the field. Whereas, the on-campus program is an entry-level baccalaureate program and includes lab classes be completed at the university. Online students are able to complete their lab courses by observing and practicing with registered technologists in their own facilities at work.
In some ways, our online students have it better than our on-campus students. Online courses are capped at 30 students, as opposed to 50 or 60 on campus. And, I have noticed that online students are often more willing to ask questions of me than their on-campus counterparts. Online courses allow me to pinpoint students who are having issues and offer targeted support. Online students also have the flexibility to schedule how and when they take the course. They are not bound by the university's hours or vacation schedules. With our online proctoring program, our students can take exams at any time of day or night. And, they know they can always reach me if they have any trouble.
Finally, I feel like teaching online has made me a better teacher. The nature of online courses means my materials and course must be highly organized. It makes me more specific and more proactive.
Degree Overview: Radiologic Science
Online colleges for radiologic sciences engage students in a wide variety of learning opportunities to help them build skills for this allied health care field. Students may want to look for radiologic sciences programs that incorporate curriculum set by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists and that also help students to prepare for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists examination.
Online Radiologic Science Courses
Students can pursue online education for radiologic sciences from the certificate to the bachelor's degree level. Program requirements vary depending on the the specific type of program that is pursued, with longer programs often having more clinical components and general education requirements.
- A certificate program is meant to introduce students to the very basics of radiologic science, such as ethics and law, medical terminology and patient care. Human structure and function is important as is understanding radiographic procedures and imaging and processing. Additionally, students may learn about radiographic pathology and pharmacology.
- In a diploma program, students usually cover many of the same topics as in a certificate program, but in more depth. Students in diploma programs may also explore technologies, such as fluoroscopy live motion X-ray (which is typically used for the digestive system) or computed tomography (which offers cross-sectional views of the body).
- Students interested in online radiologic science degrees at the associate degree level can learn about the different types of high-tech equipment that are used. Typically, in the first year of a program, students have the opportunity to gain understanding into basic radiographic principles, followed by a second year that focuses more on radiographic procedures and pathology.
- Most online bachelor's degree programs in radiologic sciences are designed for students who have an associate degree. In fact, applicants may be required to already be registered radiographers in order to enroll in a bachelor's degree completion program. Online students also may need to have access to a local lab to complete the clinical components of this degree.
- A master's degree program in radiologic science may give students the opportunity to specialize in specific areas, including administration or education. Even for a master's degree program that is offered online, clinical courses may still be offered or required at a physical location in order to help students develop even more nuanced radiological skills.
- A radiological PhD program helps students to delve deeper into learning about the connection between radiologic testing and diagnosis and treatment of disease. Concentrations may be available in a PhD program, including in human imaging, medical physics, radiation biophysics or neuroscience imaging.
Career-Related Skills to Develop
Radiologic technologists may need vastly different skill sets based on the type of equipment they use, but generally speaking, the following list of skills are beneficial for radiologists regardless of the machinery they utilize.
- Attention to detail: Radiologic technologists work with specific types of equipment and tools, including image storage systems and scan converters, and being able to carefully use them — and not damage them — is important. This is a key component of most radiologic science programs, and graduates should be both more informed and more secure in their understanding of many of these tools.
- Communication: Patients will be coming in for scans and images to check on their health and to seek any diagnoses. Making sure that patients are comfortable in a room and understand any imaging or X-ray procedures they are about to undergo is important for creating a caring environment.
- Physical stamina: A minor but important detail to this allied health care field is that radiologic technologists often need to spend a long part of their day on their feet. Clinical experiences in campus and online radiologic sciences degrees may help to prepare students for this, but being in good shape and being well-rested may provide a greater benefit.
- Technical knowledge: It is not regularly said that radiologic science is a technical field, but many of the instruments that radiologic technologists use are both technical and complex in nature. For this reason, technologists should be comfortable using technical machinery as well as the various computer applications and software that are part of their job.
Radiologic Science Specializations
Radiologic technologists are the third largest group of people working in health care, followed only by physicians and nurses, according to the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART). Certification in a specific radiologic technology field can assure working professionals, employers and patients that a person is capable of providing high levels of care, also according to the AART.
Certification may be necessary to obtain licensure and work in a state. The AART reports that 75 percent of states have licensing requirements, some of which include certification or test scores. After certification, technologists may be able to list a recognizable, professional credential after their name, such as "CNMT" for anyone certified as a nuclear medical technologist through the Nuclear Medical Technology Certification Board (NMTCB).
Certification requirements vary depending on the certificate being pursued, but most require applicants to obtain a specific type of education, such as an associate degree from an accredited institution, and to pass a qualifying examination. Often, radiologic technologists start their careers by seeking certification in a field such as:
- Sonography: Diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasound machines to take pictures of the soft tissues and organs inside the body. Sonography is used to detect masses such as tumors or cysts within the body; evaluate blood flow through the veins; or even to check the growth and development of a baby.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI technologists operate machines that use powerful magnets and radio waves to produce very detailed images of the soft tissues within the body. It is commonly used to diagnose aneurysms, tumors, diseases in organs such as the liver, and injuries to muscles, tendons and ligaments.
- Mammography: Mammograms use X-rays to examine breast tissue. This is used both as a routine cancer screening tool and as a specific diagnostic tool.
- Computed Tomography (CT): Also known as a CT or CAT scan, this process is used to produce highly detailed cross-section images of the body, allowing for diagnosis of heart and vascular diseases, tumors and cysts, malformations of skeletal structures and organs, and injuries to bone or soft tissue.
- Radiation Therapy: Commonly used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors, radiation therapists use concentrated doses of radiation, delivered via X-ray, CT, MRI or brachytherapy (implanting radioactive material within or adjacent to a tumor).
- Nuclear Medicine: A fascinating branch of medicine, nuclear medicine uses safety-approved radioactive drugs (called "tracers") and specialized cameras in order to assess bodily functions as well as diagnose and treat disease.
As time passes, radiologic technologists may want to pursue certification in additional or more advanced fields, such as computed tomography, cardiac vascular radiography or bone densitometry. Continuing education is required to stay certified, often through more coursework.
Radiologic Sciences Completion Programs
Degree completion programs offer working professionals a bridge to a college degree, allowing them to use the experience they have previously earned as the foundational learning for a shorter, more focused program. This can be an easy way to advance your education without letting your hard work at an associate degree, a certification program or a relevant career go to waste, making your resume more attractive to possible employers and opening the door to certain specialties within your field.
Radiologic science education requires hands-on skills practice. Therefore, most degree completion programs require prospective students to have a solid background in radiology prior to applying. In some cases, lab courses and practice are completed at the student's work site under the supervision of a fully credentialed, registered technologist. Occasionally, online degree completion programs will require students to participate in a formal externship as well.
From a Certificate... to an Associate Degree
Associate degree completion programs offer a degree pathway for professionals holding limited practice certificates or who are graduates of non-degree granting hospital programs. As of 2015, ARRT requires at least an associate degree to be eligible for primary certification and registration in many of the radiologic sciences fields.
From a Bachelor of Science... to a Master of Science
A master’s degree is appropriate for professionals interested in advanced practice, administration or radiologic science education. While not technically a completion degree, some programs will allow radiologic professionals to apply continuing education credits toward their master's degree.
From Radiologic Technologist... to a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences
Prospective students of a bachelor's degree completion program should have completed an associate degree or hospital-based training program. Radiologic technologists may use degree completion programs in order to specialize their practice into women's imaging, MRI, or a similar area; move into senior positions; or transition into management or administration.
From Radiologic Technologist... to a Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
This completion program is specifically geared towards radiologists interested in becoming diagnostic medical sonographers. As with the more generalized radiologic sciences bachelor's program, students will generally need to meet the following requirements:
- Be registered or registry-eligible
- Be a graduate of an associate degree or hospital-based program
Radiologic Sciences Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, strong overall job growth is predicted for radiologic science careers over the next decade. This trend is driven by the increased availability of healthcare coverage that stems from the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicare. Furthermore, as the baby boomer generation ages there will be an increased need for medical imaging to both diagnose and treat their ailments.
There are a number of specialties within the radiologic sciences. Each requires specialized skills and training. Below you can see the career outlook for several jobs in this field.
There are a number of specializations within cardiovascular technology including echocardiographers, EKG technicians and cardiovascular technologists. Each of these professionals perform different tests to the heart to help diagnose and treat patients.
The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography offers certification in a number of specialties in addition to the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential. Sonographers need a combination of formal education and clinical experience to be eligible to take the certification exams. Employers generally prefer to hire certified sonographers. The BLS notes that job prospects are strongest for sonographers holding multiple certifications.
Radiation therapists work in hospitals, outpatient clinics or physician's offices. Most states require additional certification from ARRT for radiation therapists. Radiation therapists may further advance their careers with additional education and a certification as a medical dosimetrist.
The majority of radiographers and MRI technologists work in hospitals. Others work in medical laboratories or outpatient clinics. While not all states require certification, most employers prefer to hire technologists certified by ARRT or the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists.
To be included in these rankings, all colleges had to meet the following criteria for the specific subject being ranked:
- Offer at least one degree or certificate in that subject online
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2015-16
Once we had our list of schools for each subject, we ranked them on six criteria:
- In-state tuition, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Accessibility, based on the admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded by the school in 2015-16 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar programs that the school offers at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Variety of degree levels, based on the number of degree and certificate levels out of a possible nine that the school offers in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/