X-Ray Technician: Job Duties, Employment Outlook, and Training Requirements

As an x-ray technician, you would be responsible for operating the medical equipment used to capture internal images of patients' bodies. Read on for details about the tasks you'd perform as an x-ray technician, the education and certification requirements for the position and the salary potential. Schools offering Cardiovascular Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an X-Ray Technician?

X-ray technicians, also known as radiologic technologists, are medical support professionals who specialize in the operation of x-ray equipment. Before a procedure, x-ray technicians meet with the patient to discuss their medical history and answer any questions they might have. Then, they position the patient and the equipment in a way that protects patient safety, and they take images of all parts of the body that the doctor requested. Afterward, technicians may discuss the images with the ordering physician to determine if they are clear enough, or if more images are necessary for the doctor to make a diagnosis and/or develop a treatment plan for the patient. Between procedures, technicians maintain x-ray equipment to ensure that it is in good working order.

This table provides some more information about x-ray technicians:

Degree Required Associate's Degree
Education Field of Study Radiologic Technology
Key Responsibilities Operate and maintain x-ray machines; prepare patients for x-ray procedures; assist physicians with x-ray image evaluation
Licensure Requirements Licensure or certification required in most states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for radiologic technologists)*
Mean Salary (2015) $58,520 (for radiologic technologists)*

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of an X-Ray Technician?

As an x-ray technician, you receive instructions from doctors regarding the x-rays patients require. You are responsible for getting clear imaging results, which requires proper use of the equipment and keeping patients calm and informed throughout the x-ray procedure. If a patient has any questions or concerns about the procedure, you can provide answers and assistance. You must comply with the safety regulations involving the use of radiation to protect yourself, patients and other staff members from over-exposure to radiation.

To lessen radiation risks, you will use a technique called patient-shielding, which involves placing lead shields or aprons on parts of a patient's body that aren't being photographed. Alternatively, you may adjust x-ray beams so they cover a limited area. You must also position the radiographic machinery so it is at a proper distance, angle and height from the patient. Other duties include keeping equipment in good working order, maintaining patient records and developing exposed radiographs.

You may use portable x-ray equipment to conduct x-rays in patients' hospital rooms. You may work in a hospitals or medical center's radiology department or work in emergency rooms. Some x-ray technicians specialize in areas such as computed tomography (CT) scanning, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and mammography.

What is the Employment Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that job opportunities for x-ray technologists and technicians would increase by approximately 9% between 2014 and 2024, which was more rapid growth than average (www.bls.gov). The aging population's need for disease detection through diagnostic imaging was thought to be one of the reasons for growth.

Some job openings were expected because of x-ray technicians leaving the field. It was believed that better job opportunities would exist for those with experience in mammography, MRI and CT imaging. Radiologic technologists and technicians earned average annual salaries of $58,520 as of May 2015, according to the BLS.

How Do I Fulfill the Training Requirements?

When planning your education in radiography, be aware that, although there are some bachelor's degree programs available, most radiologic technicians pursue associate's degrees. Some programs offer certificates in radiology, and they can take up to two years to complete. Consider enrolling in a program that is accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. You'll receive both classroom instruction and clinical training in areas such as medical terminology, medical ethics and radiation physics. In addition, your curriculum might include courses such as patient care, positioning, radiation biology and advanced medical imaging.

In most states, it is necessary to obtain a license to operate radiologic machinery. Requirements for licensing can include graduating from an approved radiologic technology program and successfully completing an examination.

A voluntary certification program is offered through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Maintaining this certification will require that you complete approximately 24 hours of continuing education courses in two-year intervals.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other areas in the medical field need technologists trained in operating specific machinery. Medical sonographers and cardiovascular technicians also use specialized imaging equipment to create images and perform tests to help medical professionals diagnose conditions. In addition to gathering images, nuclear medicine techs also have to prepare and administer radioactive drugs to highlight abnormal areas of the body. Radiation therapists have a similar role but instead, use radiation therapy. The standard education requirement for all of these careers is an associate's degree. While employers only prefer to hire certified sonographers and cardiovascular technicians, roughly 50% of all states actually require nuclear medicine technologists to hold licensure. Most states require licensure for radiation therapists.

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