What You Need to Know if You Want to Be an X-ray Tech

Updated on October 28, 2017
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Gable Rhoads has an AD in radiography and is trained in CT and MRI. She is passionate about her family, animals, gardening, and autism.


What do I need to know to become an x-ray tech?

To become an 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.

X-ray by the discoverer of x-rays, Wilhem Roentgen
X-ray by the discoverer of x-rays, Wilhem Roentgen | Source

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.

A  lateral view of a total knee prosthesis is a common image if you choose a career in medical radiography.
A lateral view of a total knee prosthesis is a common image if you choose a career in medical radiography. | Source

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.

Oblique foot radiograph
Oblique foot radiograph | Source

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 other37 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.

Are you interested in becoming an x-ray tech?

See results

Incredible video of a man impaled by a pipe.

Median Salary of Imaging Careers 2013

Median Income
Radiology Tech
CT Tech
MRI Tech
This is the median salary with an associates degree across all experience levels and regions, according to Job Geek.

Questions & Answers


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      • Gcrhoads64 profile image

        Gable Rhoads 5 months ago from North Dakota

        The courses and the national registry include mathematical formulas that require the ability to do mathematics proficiently.

        Here is a link to a video where a rad tech explains the use of math in radiography. https://prairiepublic.pbslearningmedia.org/resourc...

      • profile image

        eprce 5 months ago

        Is there no success to be had in this field if you have no aptitude for mathematics? I have serious trouble learning and retaining various math-related information. How integral is it in this position?


      • Gcrhoads64 profile image

        Gable Rhoads 19 months ago from North Dakota

        It's never too late. I have read of people becoming doctors in their sixties!

      • profile image

        ANDY 19 months ago


        I am 53.Can I start try for this Job?Is it to late for my age?

      • profile image

        Wesen 2 years ago

        Oh yeah I read all of the above comments but it's hard to dicide I were looking to be Radiology technician but I'm far from school for while but still this field interested for me

      • breathing profile image

        Sajib 2 years ago from Bangladesh

        Good x-ray technicians are very much needed in the modern times. We hear many instances where the proper medication has not been performed due to some error in the x-ray report! By reading this post a wannabe x-ray technician can get all the required information and start the proceedings accordingly. Following this post can help you reach your goal. One thing I would like to mention that the hub author has not mentioned as it was not necessary with regards to the hub topic. The salary range is also good for the x-ray technician job. The median salary is above 50 thousand dollars which is higher than all the other health technology professions. Want anything more...

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        M. Loritsch 2 years ago

        Please use the professional term: TECHNOLOGIST not technician. We are

        Registered and Certified Radiologic Technologists. Most also hold state licenses. The term technician was changed to TECHNOLOGIST in the 60's.

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        Andi 2 years ago

        The thing that they don't tell you about being a Rad Tech is that after graduation there are no jobs. The market is so over saturated that unless you are lucky you won't get a full time job right out of school. I know people from my graduating class from 2 years ago that are still just trying to get an ECB position. Make sure you know the job market before spending a lot of money on your schooling.

      • Gcrhoads64 profile image

        Gable Rhoads 2 years ago from North Dakota

        Thank you whonunuwho and Kristen. I am very excited to be HOTD!


      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Great article with informative facts about the radiology tech field. Congrats on HOTD!

      • whonunuwho profile image

        whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

        Nice article. Interesting hand in the initial x-ray photo. whonu

      • dhimanreena profile image

        Reena Dhiman 3 years ago

        All hospitals now a days have positions in this field.

      • profile image

        Bonita Community Health Center 3 years ago

        Really nice guide to becoming an x-ray technician. It takes a lot of work but it can be a rewarding career.

      • Gcrhoads64 profile image

        Gable Rhoads 4 years ago from North Dakota

        I'm sorry you had to drop out. I'm surprised they wouldn't let you make up the clinical days you missed.

        I hope you have thought of trying again.

      • Bedbugabscond profile image

        Melody Trent 4 years ago from United States

        I did a year in a radiographer program. I ended up not being able to continue. Due to the fact that you are learning and working on real patients in hospitals for part of your learning, you have to have imbecile attendance. My child became very ill and I missed more than 3 days. I had to opt out at that point. So don't even bother trying unless you KNOW you can have near perfect attendance.

      • Gcrhoads64 profile image

        Gable Rhoads 5 years ago from North Dakota

        Thanks, Sheri Faye. If she has any questions that the hub doesn't answer, let me know so I can improve it. :)

      • Sheri Faye profile image

        Sheri Dusseault 5 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

        Interesting. My stepdaughter is considering a career in this field. I will pass this on to her. Very informative!