X-Ray Technician Career Guide

Overview

If you find technical work engaging and interesting, and if you have a natural aptitude for handling complex equipment, then a career in x-ray technology might be right for you. This diagnostic medical imaging field is crucial to properly diagnosing and treating a variety of ailments. With proper education and training, x-ray technicians use imaging equipment like x-ray machines to take images of internal body parts that would otherwise be impossible to see without invasive procedures.

Do you enjoy helping others and making a difference in others’ lives? Then continue reading through this career guide to learn how you can start your journey to a new career and a new you.

What Does an X-Ray Technician Do?

X-ray technicians are specialists within the field of diagnostic imaging. Besides x-ray technology, other forms of imaging include ultrasound, CT scans, mammograms, and MRI scans. Though the technician’s primary duty is to manage the images and maintain the equipment to ensure clear, accurate images, they must also possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills, as they spend a lot of time interacting with patients.

X-ray technicians educate patients before a procedure, define the process of the procedure to them, and then prepare them for tests on the basis of medical history. Technicians are trained to protect the areas which should not be x-rayed so as to prevent unnecessary radiation exposure, which can have negative health consequences in high dosages

Where Does an X-Ray Technician Work?

X-ray technicians have the capacity to work in a variety of locations within the medical industry. They are needed primarily in hospitals, medical clinics, and in privately run medical imaging labs. X-ray techs work anywhere that medical imaging equipment is used.

When troubleshooting or working toward a diagnosis, doctors will requisition x-rays and patients will be sent to the hospital’s lab where the x-ray technician will perform an x-ray. Sometimes, they are equipped with portable x-ray machines and they go to patients’ rooms and conduct x-rays. Then the x-ray technician would perform a preliminary analysis of the results prior to reporting to a physician and/or a radiologist.

Some medical clinics are equipped with their own lab, so patients can quickly be sent for an x-ray or other type of medical imaging, and then see the doctor again moments later to discuss any results.

X-ray technicians also work in privately run medical imaging facilities. These facilities generally have multiple rooms and different types of medical imaging equipment. When a patient sustains an injury or suffers from a condition that requires internal images, doctors frequently send their patients to these labs to have x-rays and other types of medical imaging tests performed.

What are the Education Requirements to Become an X-Ray Technician?

The first step on your path to becoming an x-ray technician is to earn an associate level degree in healthcare. The quickest option would be to go straight from the associate’s program into a certification program, which can last between six months and a year, and then into practice. If you have the time and resources, however, a better option might be to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program for radiology. Coursework includes multiple medical subjects like physiology, anatomy, imaging equipment operation, patient care, healthcare ethics, and medical terminology.

If desired, you can specialize in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), sonography technology, and computerized tomography (CT) scans. In addition to your regular coursework, you may need to undergo certification before you can begin working professionally. Specific requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to check your state’s health board to know exactly what is expected of x-ray technicians in your state.

What Skills are Needed for an X-Ray Technician?

X-ray technicians supply x-rays to physicians who use the images to diagnose and treat disease and injury. Since x-rays use radiation, which can provide a danger to the patient, the x-ray technician must be skilled in safety measures. This includes an in-depth understanding of the human body to position the patient on the x-ray table and knowing the safety and health procedures that are best for the patient using a particular type of imaging equipment.

One of the primary skills needed by the technician is to operate medical imagery equipment. The technician will receive general training through coursework, but the technical aspects of different models of the same piece of equipment may vary. The technician must understand the specifications and operating procedures for every piece of equipment they use. They must be able to adjust the time a patient is exposed to radiation and the intensity of the radiation to obtain the best image.

X-ray technicians are also proficient in using diagnostic equipment, including fluoroscopes used to find kidney and urinary problems and mammography to detect problems with the breast.

Skill in the area of sensitometry is crucial for an x-ray technician. Sensitometry involves ensuring that the quality of the images is high enough for the physician to use for patient diagnosis and treatment.

The x-ray technician must also have knowledge of various type of film, exposure and image processing. The technician may use a test image to make sure that the x-ray equipment is operating properly.

What is the Job Outlook for X-Ray Technicians?

The career prospects of x-ray technicians are extremely bright and projected to be more positive in the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 229,300 radiologic and MRI technologists were employed in the United States in 2012. By 2020, that number is predicted to increase to 277,900. Technicians who have additional specialties, such as those experienced with CT, MRI, and mammography scanning, can expect even greater opportunities for employment.

Technicians most commonly work in hospitals, radiology clinics, doctors’ offices, outpatient centers, and dental offices.

What is the Salary for an X-Ray Technician?

According to Payscale, the average salary for a x-ray technician is $42,290, as of May 2015. Depending on experience, location, and education, an entry-level technician in his first year of practice might expect a yearly salary of $27,000, while someone with more experience could earn an annual income of $60,000 (payscale.com).

What is the Difference Between an X-Ray Technician and a Radiologic Technologist?

The roles of x-ray technicians and radiologic technologists are quite similar in that they both deal in the field of medical imaging (and are often thought of as interchangeable), however they differ in a few key areas. First of all, the educational requirements are different. Second, different tasks are required for x-ray technicians from those performed by radiologic technologists.

Despite the fact that x-ray technicians and radiologic technologists are often mistaken for one another, they are two different things. X-ray technicians can take courses that range from six months to a couple of years. Radiologic technologists require more of an in-depth education to become accredited in their field, and the education required in most places is a minimum of two years. There is also a great deal of hands-on training that takes place in healthcare settings prior to accreditation as a radiologic technologist.

The tasks performed in each role are also somewhat different. X-ray technicians are responsible for preparing the patient by covering parts of his or her body to mitigate the exposure to harmful radiation, and conducting x-rays. They work with various types of x-ray and imaging equipment, and continue studying new types of equipment throughout their careers since technology is advancing so quickly. X-ray technicians sometimes work in mammography and MRIs. They are responsible for analyzing imaging results, communicating with physicians, radiologists, and other medical professionals, and helping to determine next steps in patient care.

In addition to performing x-rays and other imaging, radiologic technologists provide a range of services in medical care, including assisting patients in preparation for surgical procedures and even being present during surgery. For certain imaging methods, radiologic technologists sometimes have to inject patients with a substance called contrasting ink. Radiologic technologists work closely with patients and have an important role in their care.

What are the Disadvantages of Being an X-Ray Technician?

While the profession can be rewarding, there are some disadvantages including exposure to radiation. Prolonged exposure can result in health hazards, including serious problems like cancer. X-ray technicians protect themselves by operating radiographic equipment from outside of the room and wearing protective gear like gloves, lead aprons and thyroid protectors to limit exposure. Special badges monitor the radiation level.

An x-ray technician may be prone to developing orthopedic injuries. Patients in need of x-rays may have to be moved or lifted. This can lead to back problems and injuries from falls. The x-ray technician may be required to stand for long periods of time, resulting in leg and foot problems. To avoid these issues, it is recommended that they wear sturdy shoes and maintain physical fitness.

X-ray technicians often face strong competition for the most coveted jobs, and may have to start with a position that requires a lot of standing or is in a located in an undesirable setting.

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