Whether you call it a medical radiographer, X-ray technician or radiologic technologist, the role is the same—and so is the sense of fulfillment one experiences in this growing healthcare field. Use this guide to learn what an X-ray technician does, why becoming an X-ray tech could be the right career choice for you, and the education you need to become an X-ray tech.
What Is Medical Radiography?
Medical radiography is a broad term that refers to any one of several types of studies which require visuals of the inside of the body using special X-ray techniques.1
Radiography is used to diagnose and sometimes to treat patients by recording images of the internal structure of the body. These visuals are used to assess the absence or presence of diseases, foreign objects, and internal damage or anomaly.
How Do X-Rays Work?
When taking an X-ray, an X-ray beam passes through the body of the patient. Some of the X-rays are either scattered or absorbed by the body’s internal organs and structures, and the rest of the X-ray pattern is sent to a detector, which records the pattern as an image. The image capture may happen on film or through digital means.
Radiography vs. Radiology
Radiographers are medical professionals who operate highly specialized, state-of-the-art scanning machines. This scanning equipment includes X-ray machines, computed tomography (CT scanners) and advanced technologies such as digital fluoroscopy.
A radiologist, in contrast, is not the one performing the actual imaging, but the one interpreting the image and making a diagnosis based on what they see. Radiologists are fully licensed medical doctors specializing in the field of radiology. Because they are licensed medical doctors, years of education are required to become eligible for this position.2
What Does a Medical Radiographer Do?
Typical job duties of a medical radiographer include:3
- Processing patients, which includes obtaining medical history and answering questions about the procedure they are having
- Preparing patients by positioning them correctly for the imaging and placing shields over parts of the body not being imaged
- Operating various kinds of equipment to capture images
- Producing quality images that can be used to make a diagnosis
- Working under the supervision of and with radiologists
Common technology that medical radiographers encounter includes:
- Computer tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
There are strict protocols that X-ray technicians must follow to ensure their safety and the safety of their patients when working with radiation.
Why Become an X-Ray Technician
The job outlook for radiologic technologists over the next decade is positive, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).4
Employment as a radiologic technologist and technician, also referred to as an x-ray technician, can satisfy both a personal passion for technology and a calling to help others. Additionally, there is schedule flexibility offered in healthcare that cannot usually be found in ordinary office jobs. There is also the potential to work in or near a hospital, which allows for plenty of geographic flexibility as well.
According to the BLS, the states with the highest employment levels for radiologic technologists and technicians in May 2020 were:6
|State||Employment||Employment per thousand jobs|
Start Your Career in Medical Radiography (X-Ray)
Carrington College focuses on small class sizes and hands-on training. Here you’re more than a face in a room. Take the first step on your way to a new career in Medical Radiography.
Where Can I Work as an X-Ray Technician?
The largest employers of radiologic technologists and technicians in 2020 were as follows, according to the BLS:7
- Hospitals (state, local, and private): 60%
- Physicians offices: 19%
- Outpatient care centers: 7%
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories: 7%
- Federal government, excluding postal service: 3%
Because hospitals are essential everywhere and they employ the majority of X-ray technician jobs, it is possible to find work across the country.
Aspiring X-ray technicians should note that the job requires standing for long periods of time. You should also be able to lift a significant amount of weight, as you may need to lift, turn or slide patients occasionally.
How to Become an X-Ray Technician
There are a number of x-ray technician requirements that are typically required to work in the field.
- Education – Typically, radiologic technologists are required to have an associate degree.8 Educational programs include textbook, classroom study and hands-on clinical work. Medical radiography students can expect to cover anatomy, pathology, patient care, radiation physics and protection, and image evaluation in their course work. Most associate degree radiologic technologist programs can be completed in about two years. Shorter (typically one year) certificate programs are available as well.
- Licensure – Most states require X-ray techs to become licensed through the state’s radiologic technologist licensure board. To look up your state’s information regarding X-ray technician licensure, visit the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, or contact your state’s department of health.9
- Certification – Regardless of your state’s requirements on licensure, you may wish to earn certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.10 X-ray technician certification demonstrates that you have satisfied certain professional standards in medical radiography, and employers may regard it as a sign of dedication to the field.
- Employment. Once you become licensed and/or certified (if your state requires it), you are eligible to begin your job search. Most medical radiographers work a 40-hour week in a variety of shifts.
Do I Need to Be Certified to Be an X-Ray Technician?
Radiologic technologists are required to be licensed or certified in most states. Employers typically require or prefer that medical radiographers be licensed, even if the state does not require it.11
To become licensed, X-ray technologists must pass an exam from their state or obtain a certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
For specific licensure requirements for radiologic technologists, contact your state’s health board or visit the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.
Can I Attend X-Ray Tech School Online?
You may be able to attend x-ray tech school online, though it is not offered by Carrington College. Because you need to learn how to handle delicate equipment, it may be beneficial to get hands-on experience.
How Long Does it Take to Become an X-Ray Technician?
The Carrington College Medical Radiography program leads to an associate degree in as little as 23 months.
What Should I Look for in an X-Ray Technician School?
There are a number of things to consider when looking for a x-ray tech program:
Faculty experience and dedication: It’s important that the program’s faculty have years of real-world experience working in the field and are committed to students.
Cost: Education is an investment in your future. Make sure the X-ray tech school you are considering participates in federal and state financial assistance programs, as well as private financing. Your school should work with you regarding student loans, grants and scholarships.
Clinical training: It’s vital that radiography school students gain practical, hands-on experience through clinical education. Through academics and clinical experiences, you’ll learn the skills to pursue entry-level employment as a radiologic technologist.
Class size: When learning to be an X-ray technician, you want individual attention from your instructor. Smaller class sizes offer that opportunity.
What Will I Learn in a Medical Radiography Program?
Some courses you would take if you were to enroll in the Medical Radiography program at Carrington College include:
Anatomy and Physiology I and II: These courses examine anatomy and physiology of the human body. You’ll learn about the structure and function of the integumentary, skeletal, muscular, respiratory, digestive and urinary systems, as well as blood, growth and development, special senses and the cardiovascular, circulatory, lymphatic and endocrine systems.
Radiographic Procedures I, II, and III: These courses cover radiographic patient care:
- In Radiographic Procedures I, you’ll learn radiographic procedures of the chest, abdomen, upper extremity, shoulder girdle, lower extremity and pelvic girdle, as well as foreign body localization.
- In Radiographic Procedures II, you’ll learn anatomy and radiographic procedures of the spine and bony thorax, upper and lower gastrointestinal tract including esophagrams, upper GIs, small bowel studies, and single- and double-contrast barium enemas and urinary system, including kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder and urethra. Also included are accessory organs of the digestive system, including the gallbladder and biliary ducts, as well as intravenous contrast agents and venipuncture principles.
- In Radiographic Procedures III, you’ll learn radiographic procedures of the skull, facial and nasal bones, sinuses, mastoid air cells, orbits, optic foramen and mandible. Topics include trauma, mobile, pediatric and surgical radiography, computed tomography, mammography and angiography, intravenous contrast, venipuncture, various interventional procedures and additional diagnostic and therapeutic modalities.
Introduction to Imaging, Imaging II and Imaging II: These courses examine the principles of physics and imaging:
- Introduction to Imaging addresses X-ray machines, X-ray production and emission, radiation biology and protection. Principles of radiographic exposure and beam quality and quantity are also discussed.
- Imaging II examines principles of imaging. Topics include electricity, magnetism, X-ray machines, X-ray production and emission, beam-restricting devices, the grid, film processing and intensifying screen.
- Imaging III further examines principles taught in Imaging II. Topics include special X-ray equipment and procedures such as mammography, computers and digital imaging, CT, MRI, ultrasound and radiologic imaging facility design.
Pathology: This course provides an overview of major organ- and system-related diseases of the human body. Multiple organ system diseases that involve physical injury, bleeding, clotting, hypertension and cancer are studied.
Quality Control: This course examines advanced technical aspects of quality assurance. Coursework addresses film processors, radiographic equipment and associated quality assurance testing. Critical analysis of radiographic examinations, with reference to exposure factors, positioning and patient care techniques are discussed. Critical thinking, problem solving and application skills are addressed.
Medical Ethics and the Law: This course examines ethics, law, medical negligence, documentation, patient rights, informed consent, employment and labor law, risk management, safety, equipment safety, whistle-blowing and education.
Clinical Education I, II, and III: These courses provide students with competency-based clinical education under supervision of a clinical instructor and supported by the program clinical coordinator.
Radiography Registry Review: This course provides a comprehensive review of the radiographic curriculum as students prepare for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists exam. Test-taking and study-habit strategies are discussed.
Discover Your Career as an X-Ray Technician
Carrington College’s Medical Radiography Program offers you the hands-on training you need for a job in maintenance. Take the first step on your way to a new career.
Why Get an Associate Degree
When researching medical radiography training programs, you’ll find both one-year certificate programs as well as two-year associate degree programs. Both will provide you with the skills you need to start working in the field, but an associate degree program requires additional coursework including math, English writing and composition, and computer literacy.
An associate degree may also give you an edge in the job market. Many employers respect the dedication it takes to stick with a two-year degree program, and as such it may open more opportunities and better pay than a certificate program.
Learn More About Carrington College’s Medical Radiography Program
Medical Radiography at Carrington College is available at our Spokane campus. Our faculty bring practical working experience from the field into the classroom and give you the individual attention you need to learn and succeed. Class sizes are small, and students thrive in our supportive and caring environment.
If you would like more information about pursuing a career as an X-ray technician, request more information today.
Visit https://carrington.edu/admissions/student-consumer-information/ for important information on program outcomes.