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What You Need to Know If You Want to Be an X-Ray Tech

Gable Rhoads has an AD in radiography. She is passionate about her family, animals, gardening, and the odd and unusual.

What you need to know!

What you need to know!

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 associate's degree in radiography. Most colleges have two-year programs, though some offer one-year programs 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 bachelor's 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 in a diagnostic room.

An x-ray technologist 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 an 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.

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 interact 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 that 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 what living tissues are affected by radiation.
  • Pathology: This will be a class that 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 the 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 fluoroscope 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.

Median Salary of Imaging Careers 2013

This is the median salary with an associates degree across all experience levels and regions, according to Job Geek.

OccupationMedian Income

Radiology Tech


CT Tech


MRI Tech


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What non-educational requirements are needed for an X-ray tech?

Answer: You need to work well with others and have compassion and patience.

Question: What are the vision requirements to become an x-ray tech? My vision is 20/70 in both eyes when corrected with glasses, and 20/200 uncorrected.

Answer: You do need to be able to see your patient from a distance, and you need to be able to look at a computer screen to ensure the x-ray was done properly. You may want to speak to an instructor of radiography to get her opinion.


Shiv on April 16, 2020:

The digital doctor : hope, hype, and harm at the dawn

Peggy on March 20, 2020:

I have been a Radiologic TECHNOLOGIST .. ( not technician ) over 30 years, I have loved my job since the first day. School was very demanding time wise and grading . When I was in school if you made under 75 on a test it was an F. So a good portion of your life will be devoted to work training, classes , and studying. If you love the clinical portion of training then you will be encouraged to put in the study time. It is a fascinating job , I encourage anyone interested to do it!

Adelina on December 17, 2019:

I know I sound like everyone else but is the physics/math in MRI more intense than the rest of the areas in this field?

Gable Rhoads (author) from North Dakota on May 31, 2019:

You should be proficient with math as you will be working with mathematical formulas. I took precalculus to qualify for the school, but check with your intended college to see what they recommend.

me on May 31, 2019:

how hard is the physics? i had to drop that class because I was super lost. Does it involve calculus?

LabFinder on July 30, 2018:

Great post, really informative. we really need people who are aware and has knowledge on the medical field. if you want to get tested on any kind of complication that you might have. try searching LabFinder they have a site that lets you book for a lab test near you.

Gable Rhoads (author) from North Dakota on October 28, 2017:

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.

eprce on October 27, 2017:

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?


Gable Rhoads (author) from North Dakota on September 20, 2016:

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

ANDY on September 20, 2016:


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

Wesen on March 25, 2016:

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

TANJIM ARAFAT SAJIB from Bangladesh on February 15, 2016:

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...

M. Loritsch on January 02, 2016:

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.

Andi on January 01, 2016:

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.

Gable Rhoads (author) from North Dakota on September 09, 2015:

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


Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on September 09, 2015:

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

whonunuwho from United States on September 09, 2015:

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

Reena Dhiman on April 22, 2015:

All hospitals now a days have positions in this field.

Bonita Community Health Center on March 03, 2015:

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

Gable Rhoads (author) from North Dakota on May 13, 2013:

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.

Melody Collins from United States on May 13, 2013:

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.

Gable Rhoads (author) from North Dakota on April 09, 2013:

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

Sheri Dusseault from Chemainus. BC, Canada on April 09, 2013:

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