What You Need to Know if You Want to Be an X-ray Tech
What do I need to know to become an x-ray tech?
To become a ARRT certified x-ray technologist in the medical radiography field, you will need to attend college and earn an associates degree in radiography. Most colleges have two-year programs, though some offer a one-year program for those already in the healthcare field.
For others who may be looking to increase their earnings and expand their credentials in medical radiography some colleges offer a four year bachelors degree program.
This is a quick look at the entire process of becoming a tech in medical radiography.
What is an x-ray technologist?
X-ray technologists, aka radiographic or radiology techs, perform a variety of tasks. They will screen patients and prepare them physically and mentally for the x-ray. They will be responsible for properly entering data into computers, and for keeping their work areas clean and stocked.
The most frequent procedure a tech will perform in a clinical setting is x-raying a patient's bones, lungs, and/or abdomen. Most work will be done alone, but some work will be done to assist a doctor during surgery or a in a diagnostic room.
An x-ray techn also performs mobile x-rays, diagnostic barium enemas, assists during procedures such as barium swallows, and operates imaging equipment during surgical procedures.
X-ray techs do NOT read the x-rays and tell the patients. That is up to a doctor with many years of training to do. Patients will ask what you see in their x-ray, but you must not tell them even if you know!
How to prepare for the college radiography selection process
Due to the large number of people applying to college radiography programs, it is a good idea to prepare well beforehand; This will give you a edge over other less qualified applicants.
Earning good grades in physics, chemistry, anatomy, and advanced math classes, either in high school or college, is extremely important and will help you make it through the selection of applicants to a college radiography program.
If you have been out of school for a while, or didn't get good grades in physics, chemistry, anatomy, and advanced math classes while in school, you may want to take these classes again at your local college before applying to the radiology program.
Education and/or experience in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, or medical fields is helpful and will show a previous interest and aptitude for the medical industry.
What is the curriculum for a college radiography degree?
These are the classes which may be a part of a college radiography program. Some colleges may require these classes as prerequisites that need to be completed before applying to the radiography program.
- Anatomy: This course teaches you about the physical structure of every part of the human body, from the nervous system to the skeletal system.
- Physiology: It is not enough to know where everything is, you need to know how each part of the body functions and how it relates or interacts with other systems of the human body.
- Patient care: This course will cover all aspects of patient care from communicating and preparing patients to proper sterile procedures.
- Radiation physics: This course explains the physics of x-rays. To make a quality, diagnostic image you must understand how x-rays are created and how they interacts with human tissue and other substances.
- Medical terminology: A person entering the medical field must have a working knowledge of medical terms. Can we say salpingo-oophorectomy?
- Medical ethics: This is a course which covers aspects of moral and legal ethical practices in the healthcare field. It includes many topics such as end-of-life discussions and patient privacy.
- Radiobiology: This course teaches you how about natural and man-made radiation, and who living tissues are affected by radiation.
- Pathology: This will be a class which studies diseases and illnesses in humans.
- Positioning Classes: These classes will teach you how to properly position patients to obtain the best diagnostic images
- Labs: You will experiment with different machine settings, and will learn how to properly care for and clean the machines. You will also learn IV insertion and learn how to take a patient's vital signs.
The Medical Radiography Clinical Experience
Your clinical rotations are where you will get your hands-on practical experience needed to become an x-ray tech. You will rotate through different hospitals and clinics, usually every semester. Every school has its own schedule. These are some clinical areas you may be assigned to:
- Emergency Room/Emergency Department: This is where you will learn to deal with real life emergencies. You will do a lot of chest x-rays, mobile x-rays, and extremity x-rays here.
- Diagnostic Rooms/Centers: This is an area where you will learn to do barium swallows, barium enemas, retrograde cystography, and many other interesting procedures using a fluorscope and an x-ray machine. You will also do routine x-rays of bones and soft tissue.
- Operating Room/OR: In the OR, you will learn how to take x-rays using sterile procedures and a mobile x-ray machine, and you will learn how to use a c-arm imaging machine.
- Morgue: While not normally a full-time clinical rotation, you may be asked to take x-rays of people who have died. It will be a sobering learning experience.
Certification and Licensing
As of 2013, only 37 states require a person who produces imaging x-rays to have a license. That means any person in the remaining 13 states, with or without training, can expose other people to radiation without any proper training.
The other 37 states require a person who exposes another to medically necessary radiation to be certified and/or licensed. Check your state for laws and licensing requirements.
National and/or state certification is usually acquired by taking a test through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Their website has more information and many useful links.
Other Medical Radiography Career Choices
Computed Tomography Tech aka CT Tech: A person who makes diagnostic images using a CT machine and radiation.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist: A person who makes medical images using magnetization of hydrogen atoms in the body.
Nuclear Medicine Tech: This technologist injects radioactive substances into a person for imaging purposes.
Ultrasound Tech: This tech creates diagnostic images using ultrasound machines.
Radiation Therapist: This technologist uses radiation therapy in cancer and other medical treatments.
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- Radiography | ARRT - The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
ARRT’s Radiography certification page provides details about radiography certification eligibility, including education, ethics, and examination requirements.
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