Though the word assistant may make the job sound less than glamorous, becoming a radiology medical assistant is one of the most important jobs that anyone can hold. Because they collect medical evidence and thus diagnose patients’ illnesses, the work they perform is vital to any hospital or medical practice. The radiology medical assistant is the man or woman who, under the direct observation of the radiologist, assists in the general procedures of radiology. What this means in laymen’s terms is that the assistant is the one who does a lot of the work. Up until recently, radiologists had to do a lot of the scanning, diagnostic images and the like, that is, until they had radiology assistants.
The assistant, after completing a four-year degree and being licensed by the state, has to perform the radiology scanning that patients need. They will first have to take full medical histories and, once the scanning is done, analyse the data they have collected to determine what problems the patient is facing. This is not a job to be taken lightly, and involves a lot of hard work. To succeed in this job, you will need the following personality traits:
- Patience – because the patients you see are probably scared and worried about getting bad news, it is up to you to allay their fears, and this means being patient no matter what state they are in.
- Tenacious – a radiology medical assistant does not become qualified by sitting back and letting information wash over them. Becoming an assistant is hard work, and this means long nights of study and endless hours in the clinic dealing with patients from all backgrounds and in all mental states. However, this hard work eventually pays off for those who keep at it.
- Interest in science – due to its nature, radiology is based in science and biology. This means that an assistant must have a vested interest in the human body and medical developments. They will need to understand specific parts of the body as well as general health and will be required to be able to read the language of x-rays.
- Intuition – this quality may very well be the most important, since a radiology medical assistant has to make diagnoses. These require a certain amount of intuition, since you will have to look at x-rays and determine what is wrong with a patient and what kind of help they need.
Studying To Become A Radiology Medical Assistant
To become an assistant in this field, you will have to graduate from a bachelor’s program at a reputable university or college. Of course, to do this, you will need a year’s experience as a radiologic technician, which in itself is not an easy job. This means you will have done extensive training for many years before you actually qualify as an assistant. You will also have to be certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, and will have to keep a full portfolio of your clinical work, with full documentation of all of your experiences, assessments, case studies, activities and evaluations.
If none of this dissuades you, then becoming a radiology medical assistant may be just the right job for you. Once you have completed your training, as mentioned above, you will need to pass a specialized exam, namely, the ARRT. This is the exam that certifies registered radiology medical assistants to work and perform their job functions and without a pass, you will not be allowed to practice.
The assistant has an important role to play, and this is why the study process is so rigorous. They have to ensure that the patients receive the best case, and that they can answer any questions the patient may have. Add to this the need to perform procedures and supervise others, and you have a job that is not to be taken lightly.
Anyone who wishes to go into this field should already be studying science, either in high school or in college and must be interested in new technologies in medicine. They also have to be relatively friendly and easy to talk to, since bed-side manner is so important, and they may find themselves in the position of having to give bad news to families.
There are some requirements that you need to be aware of that will serve you in becoming an assistant. These are:
- Education – A radiology medical assistant must already be a certified and registered radiographer, and must have completed the four year bachelor’s degree in radiology. In addition to this, the assistant will need some clinical experience too, usually full time, which they can complete at the same time as their studies.
- Ethical requirements – According to the governing bodies of radiology, anyone who becomes an assistant has be a good person. This is clarified as having morals and ethics, that is, someone who has not, or is unlikely to engage in in anything immoral or unethical. Because the definitions of these are hard to figure out, many hospitals have rule books to ensure that the behavior of all their staff is regulated. In some cases, a radiologist can be fired for not living up to this code, and this includes doing anything illegal. So for those who have a past, it is best to be honest and upfront about it. The only exception here is for anyone who committed a violation when they were a minor that did not involve drugs or alcohol. These persons do not have to report on what they have done, and those files will generally be sealed.
- Exams – to become a registered radiology medical assistant, you will need to complete certain exams, as explained above. These exams usually take the form of tests throughout the year, culminating in one final exam at the end of the four year study period. Study guides for these exams can be found online.
Once you have completed your exams and become a certified assistant, you will be required to comply with the Ethics and Rules and Regulations of the ARRT for every year that you practice. There are additional requirements, but these may depend on the state in which you live and on your workplace.
Choosing Your School
If you have decided to study to become a radiology medical assistant, you need to know what schools are available to you and which ones are classified amongst the best. The school you eventually end up in will determine your career, and you need to ensure that they offer the correct programs in research, lab work, clinical work and case studies.
In these courses you will learn all kinds of new skills from anatomy and terminology to pharmacology and pathophysiology. You will also be taught how to use the x-ray machines, take x-rays and interpret the results, so that you can assist the radiologist in their work.
You will also be taught certain people skills that you will need to succeed in your career, such as how to interview and talk to patients, how to review their records and how to determine whether the patients have followed the directions when preparing for treatment. This is vital as, if they have not, their lives could potentially be at risk.
Some of the colleges with the highest student populations are listed below:
- Ohio State University
- Virginia Commonwealth
- University of North Carolina
- Weber State
To find the school that is right for you, you will have to do some research. This may involve visiting the brick-and-mortar colleges or the online colleges and getting a feel for the campus and what the program is like. If you need more convincing, you can also go on a tour of the campus, which will give you a better idea of what life will be like for you, should you choose to study there.
Most colleges will also have brochures and links to more information, and will often assign you someone to talk to so that you can prepare for what the experience may be like. For those who are interested in the training, it is often a good idea to job shadow someone who is already a radiology medical assistant, so that you get an idea of what they do on a daily basis.
Once you have selected a school, you will need to consider how much it costs and the possibility of getting financial aid. Four years of college, in which you may also be required to do clinical work, can end up costing quite a lot and so you may need to apply for grants, scholarships, federal financial aid or even student loans.
These can usually be arranged through the college as they will have financial advisors on campus to help you make the best decisions. If you are planning on taking a student loan, consult with your bank and see what kind of interest rate they can offer you. Remember that it is vital to negotiate the terms of the loan, because if you have to pay the loan back from the day you graduate, you will instantly lose out on salary. Try to negotiate terms where you can have several months before starting your repayments, so that you can set up your life comfortably and with little worry about money.
What You Can Expect From The World Of Work
As a radiology medical assistant, you will be doing a job that is difficult, and that involves a lot of responsibility. The field itself is relatively new, and this means that assistants are in high demand, since there are not many of them. Hospitals are generally the biggest employers of these assistants, and thus, you would probably earn between $80 000 to $100 000 a year.
Of course, the salary you earn and perks you get will depend on the place you work in and the state in which you live. Experienced assistants will earn a lot more providing they are keeping up with their qualifications and are regularly going through the tests required. Those who simply coast along will find that they do not reap the full benefits of their status.
On a day to day basis, you will be required to assist the radiology specialist with any tasks they may have and this can differ greatly depending on where you are based. A hospital for example, may have very different requirements than a private practice. Many radiology medical assistants will work in hospitals part time if they are employed elsewhere as this gives them a number of clinical hours which they need to keep certified.
However, the rewards for performing your job tasks well will be plentiful. As well as a high salary you will also be looked upon as a valued member of staff, since this position is one that not many people occupy. And if recognition and money are not enough, you can also advance your studies to become a radiologist yourself, though this will take up a few more years of study.
What It Requires
In essence, the job of a radiology medical assistant is not an easy one. It requires you to be tenacious, intuitive and incredibly patient, since you will be dealing with people who are frightened and unsure of their own fates. You will have to go through many years of training, both theoretical and practical, and will have to succeed at exams and tests, as well as clinical work to show that you are serious about the career path you have chosen.
This is not a job for those who wish to take it easy, and you may find yourself working long shifts, at the end of which you are both physically and emotionally drained. However, the rewards of the career are multiple too. So, if you have a love for science and for people, and you have the kind of mind that is good at analysis and at making diagnoses, you should consider this career path. After all, besides the money, the recognition and the mental challenge, there is also a degree of satisfaction that comes from being a radiology medical assistant.