written by Leanna Neubrander, M.H.Sc., RT (R)(CT)
Clinical Coordinator, Department of Radiologic Sciences
Assistant Professor, Adventist University of Health Sciences
If you have thought or are thinking about advanced imaging certification, then pay attention! There is some important information that you need to know. Effective January 1, 2016, all candidates for post-primary certification and registration will be required by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) to complete 16 hours of structured education related to the content specifications for that exam. So what does this mean?
The ARRT has always required academic training for primary certifications, which includes Radiography, Nuclear Medicine Technology, Radiation Therapy, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Sonography. As of July 1, 2013, candidates completing professional education (non-degree or certificate) or an academic degree program for primary certification must attend a program that is accredited by an organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (USDE). These program accrediting agencies include the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT), Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRC-DMS), and the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The ARRT website (www.arrt.org) contains a full list of acceptable accrediting agencies.
On January 1, 2015, the ARRT enhanced its education requirements for primary certification by requiring all candidates to complete an associate degree, baccalaureate degree, or a graduate degree from an institution accredited by an agency acceptable to ARRT. This meant that professional certificate programs were no longer acceptable pathways to primary certification education.
As the ARRT moved towards elevating the education standards for primary certification, it was natural that the same became true of secondary, or post-primary certification. Examples of post-primary certification are: Mammography, Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Quality Management (QM), Bone Densitometry, Cardiac-Interventional (CI) Radiography, Vascular-Interventional (VI) Radiography, Sonography, Vascular Sonography, and Breast Sonography.
In the May 2013 ARRT Update, it was announced that the ARRT would begin requiring candidates for post-primary certification to complete structured education beginning on January 1, 2016. Prior to this, candidates did not have to complete formal education; instead, they could choose to prepare for the certification exam through self-study, and would have to complete any specified clinical requirements. Despite the lack of required structured education, many candidates chose to purse certificate and academic degrees to educate themselves on the content specifications for their desired post-primary certificate.
What is “Structured Education”?
The structured education required by the ARRT can take place in one of two ways: completion of continuing education (CE) activities or formal academic coursework in the discipline the candidate wishes to pursue. All post-primary certifications require the candidate to complete 16 hours of structured education. These 16 hours must cover the topics identified in the content specifications for the exam.
If a candidate chooses to complete CE activities, they must be approved for Category A or A+ by a Recognized Continuing Education Evaluation Mechanism (RCEEM). Examples include the American College of Radiology (ACR), American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), and American Healthcare Radiology Administrators (AHRA). The ARRT website has a complete list of RCEEMs. Candidates will need to document at least one CE credit in each topic area defined in the exam content specifications; the remaining hours may be distributed among any categories of the content specifications. For example, the CT Exam Content Specification topics are: patient care and safety, imaging procedures, and physics and instrumentation. A candidate could choose to do 3 CE credits in patient care and safety, 6 CE credits in imaging procedures, and 7 CE credits in physics and instrumentation, as long as at least 1 CE credit is done in each of the categories.
Those candidates choosing to complete the 16 hours of structured education through formal academic coursework must follow a similar path. The classes taken must cover the topic areas listed on the exam content specifications. For example, the MRI Exam Content Specification topics are: patient care, imaging procedures, sequence parameters and options, data acquisition and processing, and physical principles of image formation. If a candidate was enrolled in a degree or certificate program that covered all of these topics in a total of 16 credit hours, then the requirement would be fulfilled. For those certifications with very specific and multiple content specification categories, formal education is a more desirable path, as it can become difficult to find CE activities for each specific category.
Regardless of the method used to complete the 16 hours of structured education, candidates must keep in mind that the education must be completed within a 24-month period immediately preceding the submission of their post-primary certification application.
Frequently Asked Questions
While the ARRT website does a great job of explaining these requirements, you might still be wondering a few things:
Q. If I took classes on CT (or any other advanced imaging modality) while enrolled in my primary education program, can they count towards the 16 hours of structured education?
A. Yes, as long as the coursework was completed within the 24-month period preceding the submission of application for post-primary certification.
Q. What type of documentation do I need to prove that I have completed the 16 hours of structured education? How do I submit this documentation?
A. You may submit copies of your CE certificates if you are completing the requirement using CE credits. If you are taking academic courses, you will need to submit copies of your transcript and a description of the course content (syllabus or course description). The transcripts do not have to be official. Currently, the ARRT is working on an online submission method for the documentation. In the interim, you may contact the Initial Certification Department at 651-687-0048 ext. 8560 to find out where to submit the documentation.
Q. If I am scheduled to take my post-primary registry exam prior to January 1, 2016, do I still need to document 16 hours of structured education?
A. No. This requirement is only for those candidates taking the exam on or after January 1, 2016
Q. Do I have to re-enroll in a degree or certificate program just to obtain the 16 hours of structured education?
A. No, you may fulfill this requirement through CE credits if you desire. Often times, candidates wish to pursue advanced imaging education, and within this education, you may complete this requirement.
Q. If I choose to complete the 16 hours of structured education though CE credits, will those credits also count toward my ARRT certification renewal?
A. Yes! The ARRT requires that every other year, when your CE biennium ends, you must report at least 24 Category A or A+ CE credits with the renewal of certification and registration. If you are completing 16 CE credits for post-primary certification, they will also count towards the required CE credits for current certification renewal/registration. You do NOT have to complete 16 additional CE credits. If you are taking academic courses to complete the 16 hours of structured education, you may also submit them to the ARRT to count towards ARRT renewal.
Q. Do I need to complete anything else to apply for post-primary certification?
A. Yes. In addition to the 16 hours of structured education, each post-primary certification has its clinical requirements that must be completed prior to submitting the application. You can refer to the ARRT website for the specific clinical requirements.
The Drive for Higher Education Standards
The idea of elevating the standards for education in imaging has long since been around. This requirement by the ARRT for advanced imaging certification is just one of many initiatives. One of the motivating forces for higher standards in certification and education for medical imaging is the Consistency, Accuracy, Responsibility and Excellence in Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Bill, known as the CARE bill. This bill seeks to modify existing healthcare laws in order to establish education, training, and experience requirements for those providing or involved in medical imaging and radiation therapy procedures. According to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), currently, basic educational standards for medical imaging and radiation therapy professionals are voluntary and inconsistent in many states, allowing some individuals to perform radiologic procedures without any formal education. Six states, along with the District of Columbia, are without any regulations regarding the qualifications of personnel performing medical imaging examinations. The CARE bill was introduced to the House of Representatives in June 2011 and then to the Senate in June 2012 and March 2013. To date, the CARE bill has not be enacted, but organizations such as the ASRT continue to garner support for the bill.
The desire for higher and more standardized education requirements for medical imaging is a driving force in the imaging profession. Imaging technologists are an integral component of the medical community, and the public should expect that all who perform imaging exams are highly skilled and qualified, possessing the knowledge necessary to produce superior results. The requirement of structured education for post-primary certification seeks to meet this goal.