Medical practitioners depend on X-rays and other radiographic imaging technologies to examine areas of human anatomy otherwise inaccessible to the naked eye. X-rays provide a clear image of the skeletal system, aiding in diagnosis of broken bones and other medical conditions. X-ray technicians (also called radiographic technicians) are responsible for safely operating X-ray machinery and producing clear images that meet a doctor's requirements. For more information on how to become an X-ray technician, check out the helpful guidelines below.
What Does an X-Ray Technician Do?
Radiologic technologists are trained to operate the powerful radiographic technology used in medical diagnosis and radiation therapy. A basic X-ray procedure follows these steps:
- Prepare patients for the exam, explaining the procedure and asking them to remove jewelry and other objects that could obstruct X-rays.
- Protect the patient from unnecessary exposure to radiation by covering the body (all but the area under examination) with a protective device such as a lead shield.
- Adjust the radiographic equipment as needed. This may include limiting the size of the X-ray beam to minimize radiation exposure and positioning the instruments at the appropriate angle and height over the patient's body.
- Set the controls on the equipment to generate radiograph images with the necessary density, detail, and contrast to be useful for diagnosis or treatment.
- Take steps to protect themselves from radiation exposure.
- Store and send the captured radiograph images to the appropriate medical practitioners.
In practice, the radiographer's role is much broader and more technologically complex.
X-Ray Technician Specializations
An X-ray technician may specialize in various diagnostic imaging types such as:
- Diagnostic Radiography: The use of X-rays that enable views through tissues in order to examine bones, cavities, and internal matter; includes cardiovascular imaging.
- Sonography: The use of ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) that builds the image of a specific organ. This modality is typically performed by a trained sonographer (a specialist in the use of ultrasound).
- Fluoroscopy: A procedure or technique that uses a fluoroscope to view real-time images of a patient's interior body structures. A fluoroscope is a device which houses a fluorescent screen that, through the transmission of X-rays, enables the appearance of an object; in this case, the internal body structure.
- CT (Computed Tomography): An imaging method that creates cross-sectional scans (slices) of body organs; 2- or 3-dimensional images can also be created from the cross-sectional images taken.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): A non-invasive procedure that produces 2- or 3-dimensional images of the body through the use of powerful radio waves and magnets.
- Nuclear Medicine: The branch of medicine that uses radioactive tracers (radioactive molecules administered through the body) to diagnose and treat various diseases and examine bodily and organ functions.
- Radiotherapy (Radiation Therapy): The use of radiation (high-energy rays) to reduce or stop cancer cell growth and division.
- Mammography: The use of X-rays to produce breast tissue images.
Steps to Become an X-Ray Technician
There's no single prescription for how to become an X-ray technician, but all career paths start with formal training in radiography. There are hundreds of training programs at hospitals, colleges, and universities. The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology accredits training programs leading to a certificate (21 to 24 months), associate's degree (two years), or bachelor's degree (four years). Steps for how to become a radiography technician include:
- Get a high school diploma. Prepare for the radiography program with high school or community college courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.
- Complete a formal training program. It's important to make sure your program is from an accredited institution. Most radiologic technicians graduate with an associate degree. Programs combine classroom and clinical training in areas such as imaging technology, radiation physics, anatomy and physiology, and medical terminology. Applied training covers patient care, proper positioning, radiation protection, and equipment operation.
- Get a state license. In most cases it is mandatory for X-ray technicians to pursue state licensing, following the specific requirements for your state.
This information can help answer your questions on how to become an X-ray technician or radiographer. With training and licensure, you should have a strong foundation on which to develop your career.
How to Become a GREAT X-Ray Technician
Once you've achieved the first step of entry into the field, you can put your mind to becoming a great radiographer. The following strategies help you advance in the field by extending your expertise and your job responsibilities.
- Certification: Demonstrate your commitment to your profession by completing voluntary certification for radiologic technologists through The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
- Specialized Training: Train for a radiography-related specialty such as CT scanning, MRI, mammography, bone densitometry, or radiotherapy.
- Continuing Education: Continuing education courses help you keep pace with advancing radiographic technologies and procedures.
- Increased Responsibility: Apply for supervisory responsibilities and advance into department supervisor, chief radiologic technologist, or director roles. Advanced administrative positions will likely require a master's degree in health administration or business.
X-Ray Technician Resources
- The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology
- The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
- The Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, http://www.jrcert.org/