Most everyone has needed an x-ray at one time or another in their lives. It could be that they had an accident and broke an arm or leg or they had a chest x-ray during a routine exam. While the x-ray procedure is almost nothing to a patient, much goes into creating quality images that a doctor can use. This is the job of an x-ray technician who possibly assists an x-ray technologist.
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At a Glance
Other Job Titles: Radiologic Technician
Salary Range: $22,000-$73,000; Median $42,432
Education/Training Required: Typical is a two-year associate’s degree in radiography
Desired Skills/Aptitude: detail-oriented; science; mathematics; technical; interpersonal communication skills
Certification/Licensing: Most states require a limited x-ray license in order to do basic x-rays;
Locations with Best Opportunities: Mississippi, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, California
Employment Outlook: Expected to grow 28% through 2020 (faster than average)
Opportunities for Advancement: X-ray technicians further their education and find opportunities in radiation therapy and diagnostic medical sonography; They can also meet certification requirements to become radiologic technologists; Some go on to become doctors of radiography after completing further education
What an X-Ray Technician Does
It is important to first understand that an x-ray technician is not the same as an x-ray technologist. The latter requires more stringent requirements plus certification.
An x-ray technician’s main responsibility is to produce images that show the internal region of a patient as directed by a physician. The technician oftentimes will assist the technologist. The physician will order the x-rays giving instructions as to which area should be imaged. For example, if the physician suspects that a patient has a broken ankle then x-rays will be ordered for that region. It is up to the x-ray technician to carry out the order and produce quality images that allow the physician to diagnose the condition such as where the fracture is.
The technician’s other responsibilities are to:
- Position the patient for taking an x-ray
- Describe the procedure to the patient
- Prepare the patient by removing anything to hinder an x-ray
- Position radiologic devices for getting the right image
- Ensure patient safety with proper safety devices such as lead shields
Experienced and certified technicians who advance to technologists may also move into supervisory roles where they must manage shifts, prepare work schedules, and evaluate radiologic equipment purchases.
Most x-ray technicians work in hospitals and are shift workers. You will also find that some work in doctor’s offices, medical laboratories, and outpatient centers.
A typical day requires interfacing with patients and in some cases can be hurried and stressful. This is especially true for emergency rooms where several patients may all need x-rays at once.
Education and Certification
The typical program for an x-ray technician is for an associate’s degree in radiography. There are also certificate programs that last between 6 and 12 months but the associate’s degree is where you will get the best training. This is because the two-year associate’s degree also has clinical training where you actually practice in a hospital setting. There are four-year bachelor degree programs as well.
Accreditation of radiography training programs is done by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). Check this before choosing a school because some states have strict requirements that a technician be trained only in a school with this accreditation.
Most states require licensing of x-ray technicians but only on a limited basis. A full license as a technologist is possible only after completing an accredited training program and passing a certification exam. Some states offer their own certification and nationally it can be obtained from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). However, the ARRT does not give certification to x-ray technicians even though they can take the exam. Nonetheless, if you have completed an accredited education program and passed the certification exam, you will become a radiologic technician. Continuing education is a must for keeping certification active.