There are about 215,000 radiologic technologists and technicians in the United States. Job growth indicators suggest that over the next ten years, the field will grow by 17%, which is well above the average rate of growth for all jobs.
Radiologic technologists and technicians are responsible for imaging examinations for diagnostic purposes.
Radiologic technicians, who are also referred to as radiographers, use x-ray machines to form images and generate x-rays, or radiographs, of the body in order to diagnose illnesses, disorders or injuries. After the radiologic technician explains the process, the patient is positioned for x-ray filming. In order to limit radiation exposure, areas surrounding the part to be filmed are covered with a lead shield or other protective device; alternatively, the technician can narrow the beam. Radiographers position x-ray machines to the right height and angle above the patient’s body. After measuring the thickness of the area to be x-rayed, settings are adjusted to the machine to produce radiographs of the correct detail, density, and contrast. Radiologic technologists must be careful to protect themselves from excess radiation as well as protecting co-workers and patients. Radiologic technologists not only operate the medical equipment, they are also responsible for maintaining and cleaning it. Other tasks include preparation of work schedules, reviewing medical machinery purchases, and managing the radiology department.
While the work done by radiologic technologists is similar to that of radiologic technicians, technologists follow imaging procedures using methods that are more complex, and many choose to specialize. Computed tomography (CT) is one area of specialization. CT scans create detailed cross-sections of the area under examination to produce a three-dimensional image. Because CT scans involve ionizing radiation, technologists must take the same safety measures as technicians. Another area of specialization is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI technologists also create numerous cross-section detailed images that are then used to form a three-dimensional image. MRIs, however, utilize non-ionizing radio frequencies rather than ionizing radiation. A third specialty is mammography. Mammographers use x-ray systems that deliver the lowest required dose to create a diagnostic breast image.
Radiologic technicians and technologists need both physical and psychological stamina. In addition to helping patients on and off the table, they may need to assist patients when walking or standing. They spend much of their work time standing. Good communication skills, excellent manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination are required to do this work. In addition, radiologic technicians and technologists should be detail oriented and project a sympathetic demeanor. In addition to working in well-lit, very clean examination rooms, some technicians and technologists might go to nursing homes, extended-care facilities, or the patient’s bedside to deliver treatment. Hazards of the job include radiation exposure. By utilizing lead aprons, goggles, gloves, and similar protective devices, as well as checking sensitive badges that record radiation levels, these workers can protect themselves. Nonetheless, detailed documentation notes their collective lifetime exposure. Full-time radiologic technicians and technologists work 40 hours or more per week. Those who work in round-the-clock locations, such as hospitals, might be put on a rotating shift that requires evening, night and weekend work as well as overtime.
There are a number of ways to become trained for this kind of work. Colleges, universities and hospitals all offer radiography programs. Depending upon the length of the program and the courses taken, this will result in certification, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Certificate programs can take up to two years to complete. An associate’s degree takes a minimum of two years, while a bachelor’s degree is typically a four-year program. Schools offering these types of programs are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. Over 200 programs in the U.S. lead to a certificate; nearly 400 result in an associate’s degree, and approximately 35 programs earn a bachelor’s degree. Classroom and clinical instruction in patient care, anatomy and physiology, radiation physics and protection, terminology, principles of imaging, medical ethics, and pathology compose the curriculum.
Federal guidelines require radiologic technicians and technologists be trained in an accredited program. While most states also require licensure, a few do not. Voluntary certification for technologists is offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Some states use ARRT-administered tests for state licensing as well. Certification requires technologists have graduated from an ARRT-approved program; applicants must also pass an exam. Recertification every two years is required.
Technologists can make career advances by specializing; additional training can result in stepping up to radiologist assistant. Supervisory, chief radiologic technology and departmental administrative or director positions are other ways to advance. Some become instructors, while others use their experience and knowledge to go into marketing or sales of radiologic equipment.
The median annual income for radiologic technologists is approximately $53,000. Those in the midrange were paid between $43,000 and $63,000. Those in the lowest 10% earn less than $36,000, while those at the top earn over $75,000.