How to Become an X-Ray Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for X-ray technicians. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Cardiovascular Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an X-Ray Technician Do?

An X-ray technician, also known as a radiologic technician or technologist, is a medical support specialist who captures X-ray images of patients' limbs and torso for diagnostic purposes. As an X-ray technician, you would follow orders from a physician and work with patients to prepare them for the X-ray, which includes shielding areas that are not required in the image. You must be able to operate the specialized machines and equipment that capture the image and then share the images with physicians who analyze them. The following chart provides an overview of the requirements for becoming an X-ray technician.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Radiography, radiologic technology
Key Responsibilities Take patient history and prepare patient for procedure; properly position patient and equipment to obtain image ordered by doctor; use proper radiation protocols; adjust and maintain imaging equipment
Certification or Licensure Most states require licensure; professional certification may be preferred by employers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for all radiologic technologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $56,670 (for all radiologic technologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is an X-Ray Technician?

As an X-ray technician, your specific duties include reading physicians' instructions, explaining procedures to patients, positioning patients on examining tables, applying shielding to limit patient and staff radiation exposure, shooting X-ray exposures and processing X-ray film. You also perform light maintenance on equipment, order supplies and maintain records.

Step 1: Earn an Associate's Degree

Associate's degree programs prepare you to work as part of a medical team by developing your patient care, technical abilities and analytical skills. Anatomy and physiology, X-ray physics, X-ray technology and radiographic procedures are among the courses you're likely to complete. Most programs include clinical rotations.

Step 2: Obtain a License

In most states, you need licensure to operate X-ray equipment. Requirements vary, but completion of an accredited radiologic technology program and passage of a licensing exam are typical. Some states use the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) exam or accept ARRT certification as sufficient qualifications for licensure.

Step 3: Consider Certification

If you're working in a state that doesn't already use the ARRT exam for licensing purposes, you can obtain primary certification in radiography from the ARRT. Certification under those circumstances is voluntary, but can demonstrate your initiative, competence and knowledge. The exam consists of 200 questions; most of them are multiple choice. Certification is valid for two years, after which you need to have completed 24 hours of continuing education for renewal.

Step 4: Pursue a Job

A majority of your job opportunities will be with hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You could also find positions in physicians' offices, medical labs, imaging centers and outpatient care facilities. Approximately 197,000 people worked as radiologic technologists in 2014; this was projected to rise 9% to about 214,200 over the 2014-2024 decade. Increased use of diagnostic imagining, especially by a growing population of elderly patients, is expected to be the leading factor driving demand for your services.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

With enough experience, you could be promoted to chief X-ray technician or department supervisor. Additional education and experience could lead to a position as a radiologist assistant or an X-ray tech instructor. You could also choose to specialize in areas such as mammography, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Finally, you could go to work for an equipment manufacturer as a sales rep or instructor.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Careers that have similar education requirements include those of MRI technologists, which is a job that also involves operating medical equipment and capturing images of the body. You could also choose to pursue an associate's degree with a focus in sonography and become a diagnostic medical sonographer. These professionals also create specialized images - called ultrasounds - of various part of the body, including the female reproductive system and the abdomen. A specialization in cardiovascular technology would equip you to create similar images of the heart.

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