Radiology Technician Career and Degree Programs

What is a Radiology Technician?

A radiology technician is an important member of a radiology team, who often works under a radiology technologist. They are often members of a team of technicians who may have different specialties in radiology and who may be overseen by another radiology technician with more experience.

A radiology technician is often incorrectly referred to as an X-ray technician, however their job duties often extend beyond this one type of radiology screening. Radiology encompasses a variety of different medical imaging techniques, including X-rays, mammography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), among others. Radiology technicians can be found working in hospitals, dentist offices, and numerous other medically based locations.

What Does a Radiology Technician Do?

Overall, a radiology technician will have similar job duties regardless of what type of radiology equipment they are using, with some variation. They are responsible for operating the equipment, which could be an X-ray machine, MRI, CT Scanner, or Ultrasound, among others. Radiology technicians will ensure the equipment is working properly, that the patient is comfortable, and, most importantly, that the clearest images possible are received from the equipment. Images that are hard to read would require more scanning, which is often not desired by patients or could be time consuming for medical staff.

A common place that radiology technicians work is in dental offices and other places that use X-rays. For example, in a dentist’s office, some patients need to receive X-rays for the dentist to further investigate cavities or to update their records every couple of years. The radiology technician would be responsible for preparing the patient to take X-rays by placing a lead vest to reduce radiation exposure to organs, among other simple preparations.

Patients may also be worried about the amount of radiation being received, so the technician may have to comfort the patient and explain the procedure. The technician will administer the X-rays to the patient and give the records either to a radiology technologist or dentist for interpretation.

The radiology technician may also be responsible for handling image records of patients. For instance, after a doctor and radiology technologist has finished examining the CT scans from a patient, the technician may be responsible for filing this image with the patient’s medical record. Within a hospital setting, the radiology technician may spend a lot of time moving between departments to operate a variety of radiology machines. A hospital will often have a team of technicians, managed by a technician with more experience or a radiology technologist.

It is important to recognize that radiology technicians and radiology technologists have different job duties. The technologist is mainly concerned with administering the equipment, ensuring it is functioning properly, and reducing radiation exposure to patients, themselves, and other medical staff. The radiology technologist is responsible for interpreting the images taken. Their background is more medically based and they have in depth knowledge of how to read and interpret charts. Technicians will often work closely with technologists and will take direction from these individuals as well as other in the medical department.

Are Radiology Technicians in Demand?

Radiology technicians are expected to be in demand until at least 2026. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the field will grow between 12-14% in that time, higher than other jobs that are estimated at 7%. It should be noted that this estimate also accounts for health and medical technologists as well. This growth is largely attributed to the growing aging population, who will likely need more medical care, including medical imaging.

Additionally, as more individuals are covered by health care, this gives more opportunities for individuals to seek medical care, which can include receiving radiology imaging.

Radiology technicians are important members of medical teams, as they allow radiology technologists and other medical professionals to spend more time on image interpretation rather than image obtainment. Having multiple individuals working with radiology equipment ensures patients are given accurate results in a timely manner.

In addition, the need for radiology technicians is expected to rise in the future because more and more people are turning to outpatient care (instead of hospitals) to receive x-rays and other diagnostic imaging tests. It is less expensive to receive outpatient care then hospital care.

What Do You Learn in a Radiology Technician Degree Program?

  • Medical Terminology: Radiology technicians work within a medical team whose members have varying levels of knowledge regarding medical terminology. Technicians need to be able to communicate with a variety of individuals who have a deep knowledge of medicine.
  • Patient Positioning: Ensuring that a patient is positioned appropriately is extremely important and takes a lot of practice to perfect. An incorrectly positioned patient has the potential to give inaccurate test results, which could cost a life in more serious circumstances. Additionally, as X-ray exposure needs to be minimized, ensuring correct positioning ensures multiple imaging sessions are not needed.
  • Operation of multiple machines: Many radiology technicians will not focus on only one particular imaging machine. The operation of multiple machines will give technicians a leg up in the field when searching for a job. Imaging machines vary widely in their use and operation; spillover of knowledge between imaging machines is not likely, requiring specific knowledge to be gained.
  • X-Ray Knowledge: Operation of X-ray machinery is taught in nearly every program, while programs vary with regards to other types of imaging machinery. Students will become familiar with X-ray tools such as X-ray film, X-ray apparatus filters, darkroom equipment, and X-ray software.
  • Ethics: A radiology technician program will offer at least one course covering ethics, while weaving ethical considerations throughout many other courses. There can be dangers to incorrectly using imaging machinery so students need to always remember to put patient comfort and care first.
  • Image Processing: Students will understand how to process images they take in order for physicians and doctors to easily interpret the images. This can cover physical processing or understanding certain computer processing programs that may vary across medical fields.
  • Understand Image Quality: In times when a first image is captured incorrectly, a radiology technician should be able to understand what this looks like so it is not handed to a doctor with false confidence. While technicians will not be trained on image interpretation, having more than one person trained to catch general errors helps to ensure the patient is not getting incorrect test results.
  • Communicating with Patients: Patients may arrive with anxieties regarding imaging or want to get a better understanding of the process. While individuals will enter programs with varying levels of communication skills, the program will ensure students graduate knowing how to comfort patients and explain the imaging process in a calm and informative manner.
  • Administration: Many radiology technicians need to enter images into patient files and make notes for doctors or physicians. Programs will familiarize students with common electronic medical record (EMR) software used by hospitals and other facilities.

How Do You Become a Radiology Technician?

Educational Requirements

Radiology technicians working in the field will have a variety of educational backgrounds. At minimum, and Associate’s degree is needed, however some will go on to receive a Bachelor’s degree. Most of what needs to be learned can be obtained with an Associate’s Degree.

The radiology technician Associate’s degree program typically lasts about two years and requires about 87 credits or roughly 2,750 hours. These can be found online, at community colleges, or offered at technical schools.

Students should make sure they are enrolled in a program certified by the Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). Courses will cover basic medical terminology and familiarize students with the types of imaging equipment used and how to use them. Importantly, programs will also teach students patient care and medical ethics. Many of these programs offer externships so students can gain practical, hands on experience in the field.

While the majority chooses to move into the field after receiving an Associate’s degree, some pursue a Bachelor’s degree as well. A Bachelor’s degree program often offers more advanced courses on topics covered in the Associate’s degree program, as well as business-related courses. Individuals wishing to gain leadership and management positions within the field often pursue these programs.

Individuals can go onto a graduate degree program if they wish to become educators in the field. Courses will include teaching instruction in addition to more in depth information about the technical skills gained in the field.

Certification Requirements

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART) oversees the credentialing process for radiology technicians and technologists. Many states (but not all) require radiology technicians to gain credentials through AART before practicing in the field. After gaining at least an Associate’s degree, students will need to take an exam through AART to become a credentialed radiology technician. The exam is 200 questions and will take individuals about 4 hours.

Licensure Requirements

In general, states do not require radiology technicians to go through an additional licensing process. One exception is in Florida, specifically for individuals who will be operating X-ray machines. A Basic X-Ray Machine Operator (BMO) license must be acquired through the state. Individuals must fill out an application and background history form prior to taking the AART. The AART exam scores will go directly to the state, rather than the individual, for review and acceptance.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Radiology Technician?

At minimum, it will take students two years to become a radiology technician. There is no in-field experience required prior to gaining credentials or practicing in the field, so students can start work right after gaining their degree and passing the AART exam (if required by their state). Experience will be gained both in the field as job training as well as through externships within a program.

What Does It Take to Become a Radiology Technician?

  • Customer Service Skills: Comforting patients and discussing imaging techniques takes patience, an open ear, and empathy. Customer service skills can be taught, but those with a natural knack for helping others will do better in this field.
  • Critical Thinking: Sometimes imaging comes with challenges that will take some critical thinking. If incorrect images are taken, a radiology technician will need to be able to identify the problem and correct it.
  • Communication and Listening: Radiology technicians work with individuals throughout their day and need to have excellent communication and listening skills. The technicians needs to be able to listen to patient concerns, communicate imaging results to doctors, and take directions from team members.
  • Extrovert: While not completely necessary, extroverts will perform better in the imaging environment than introverted individuals. Oftentimes offices require constant contact and communication with individuals, and someone who excels in this environment will be able to perform their job better.
  • Precision and Repetition: Being able to correctly take images takes a good eye for physically manipulating equipment and positioning or adjusting patients. No patient is the same, and often images will be needed for different body parts between patients.
  • Openness to Learning: A facility where radiology technicians work may have slightly different equipment or operating procedures to the facilities where the technicians received their training. Learning quickly will give technicians an advantage in their work place.
  • Good Eyesight: Radiology technicians need to see small details on (sometimes small) images to detect if errors were made.
  • Honesty: It is often difficult for many people to admit when they have made an error. However, it is critically important in the best interest of the patient for radiology technicians to be honest about their mistakes. Technicians should always put the patient first, being honest with them about procedures as well as maintaining the integrity of following the ethical principles that guide the field.
  • Flexibility: Radiology technicians are not often in a position to make judgment calls, but rather follow directions given by team leaders or doctors, physicians, and other medical professionals. For this reason, they need to maintain an open mind and be flexible when directions change or last minute requests are made.

What are the Pros and Cons of Being a Radiology Technician?

Pros

  • Job Security: Most individuals within the medical field, including radiology technicians, can expect job security with the growing population of individuals who seek healthcare.
  • Potential Variety of Tasks: Dependent on location, some radiology technicians may need to operate multiple machines as well as update patient files, giving variety.
  • Good Pay: Radiology technicians only need (at minimum) two years of training before they can enter the field with relatively high starting salaries.
  • Variety of Work Places: There are a number of places technicians can work at, including hospitals, dentist offices, and neighborhood clinics.
  • Work with People: Technicians have the ability to work within a team as well as comfort patients. This makes the job more social than many people expect.
  • Job Satisfaction: Many technicians report being satisfied with their job. Patients and co-workers are often grateful that the technician is ensuring their safety and technicians can see the difference their work makes.

Cons

  • Lack of Respect: As technicians often perform tasks that technologists can perform, there may be question as to their utility within the field. References within the media have mistakenly poked fun at radiology technicians.
  • Little Room for Growth: While radiology technicians with more advanced degrees have opportunities for leadership within the field, many will not be able to advance in their field without additional training.
  • Repetition: Depending on location, a radiology technician may be asked to work with only one type of machine. A lack of task variety is possible in this field.

How Much Does a Radiology Technician Make?

As of May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, radiology technicians make about $42,700 per year. Those found in hospitals, on average, tend to have a slightly higher salary than those found in physician offices. Another source finds that the median average hourly salary is about $26 per hour, with annual salaries ranging from $35,000 to $77,000 per year. Salaries also differ based on location of occupation.

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