Radiology technicians and technologists perform diagnostic imaging for patients. They work closely with physicians and other health care professionals to ensure their images are accurate, clear, and as relevant as possible. They adjust and maintain equipment, ensure patients and health care workers are shielded from radiation, prepare patients for procedures, and analyze the images to ensure the doctor's orders have been met. Radiology technicians take X-rays, work with MRI or CT machines, and sometimes specialize in certain areas of imaging, such as mammography.
What does a radiology technician do?
Radiology technicians perform an array of diagnostic imaging examinations on patients, such as x-rays and computed tomography (CT) imaging. Some of the daily duties of a radiology technician may include:
- Maintaining patient records
- Answering patients questions about the procedure
- Maintaining imaging equipment
- Following physicians orders on what parts of the body to image and working with physicians on evaluating images
- Positioning the patient and the equipment in order to get the correct image, and shielding parts of the body that do not need to be imaged
Radiology technicians can work in a number of different settings, including hospitals, physicians' offices, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and outpatient care centers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the nature of their work may at times expose them to infections and diseases. Radiological equipment like X-ray machines could also expose them to radiation. Because of this, it is important that these professionals adhere to all health and safety protocols, such as wearing gloves, masks, and lead aprons.
According to the BLS, radiology technicians and technologists are often on their feet for long periods of time, and may be asked to lift or reposition patients who are disabled. Physical fitness is important. Because radiological imaging procedures are often used in emergency situations, radiology techs may be expected to work evenings and weekends or go on call. This is particularly true among those who work in round-the-clock facilities like hospitals.
How to become a radiology technician
According to the Department of Labor's O*Net OnLine, the field demands a variety of specialized skills and abilities, so employers typically look for candidates who have at least one of the following credentials:
- At least two years of relevant on-the-job experience
- A postsecondary certificate from a vocational radiologic technology program
- An associate degree from a formal radiology tech training school
The latest data from O*Net shows that almost all radiology technicians have some type of postsecondary training; a full 67 percent hold an associate degree, another 26 percent hold postsecondary certificates, and four percent have some education, but no degree. That leaves just three percent with no formal classroom training at all, according to the data. Those who hope to move into positions of higher responsibility, such as management or administration, might pursue a bachelor's degree.
Associate degrees, which typically last 18 to 24 months, are available at community colleges, technical schools, hospitals, and universities. Applicants to radiology degree programs at the associate level should have a strong background in chemistry, biology, physiology, mathematics, physics, and anatomy. All programs require study in patient care, anatomy, pathology, image evaluation, radiation physics, and protection. Below is a sampling of courses students can expect to find in a radiology technology program:
- Radiologic positioning
- Radiologic exposure and principles
- Nursing procedures in radiology
- Image analysis
- Advanced exposures
- Advanced medical imaging
- Medical terminology
While training and education are important, there are many additional skills and abilities that employers look for in radiology technicians. Some skills are more technical, like being computer savvy; others are more inherent, like having good listening skills. The following are just some of the knowledge and skills radiology technicians need, as reported by O*Net and the BLS:
- Active listening skills
- Strong verbal communication skills
- High stress tolerance
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Social sensitivity, particularly when working with nervous patients
- Critical thinking skills
- Excellent eyesight with near vision
- Physical stamina for lifting and moving patients
- Keen attention to detail
- The ability to develop and maintain cooperative working relationships
Radiology technician certification
Although requirements vary by state, most states require radiology technicians to be licensed or certified, according to the BLS. In order to become licensed, radiology technicians must graduate from an accredited program and successfully complete a certification exam from the state or the American Registry of Radiology Technologists. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology is the accrediting body for radiology programs. As of March 2014, the JRCERT accredited 725 programs in radiology studies across the United States. Alaska is the only state that does not have an accredited radiology program.
Career and salary information
Employment of radiology technicians is expected to increase 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to BLS projections. This growth is contributed to expanded health care legislation, an increase in chronic medical conditions in an older population, and the rise of imaging in outpatient care centers and offices of physicians. The BLS reports that those who earn multiple certifications are likely to see the best job prospects.
As of May 2014, the mean annual wage for radiology technicians was $57,510, with the top 10 percent making $80,080 or more, and the lowest 10 percent making $37,610 or less. According to the BLS, the top paying states for radiology technicians (based on mean annual wages) are:
- California: $73,550 per year
- Washington D.C.: $72,530 per year
- Massachusetts: $70,010 per year
- Alaska: $68,870 per year
- Hawaii: $68,190 per year
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Radiologic Technologists, Occupational Employment and Wages, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292034.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
- Student FAQs, Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, http://www.jrcert.org/students/student-faqs/
- "Summary Report for: Radiologic Technicians," O*Net OnLine, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2099.06