Career Guide: Radiologic Technologists and Technicians
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Nature of the Work
Radiologic technologists take x rays and administer nonradioactive materials into patients’ bloodstreams for diagnostic purposes.
Radiologic technologists also referred to as radiographers, produce x-ray films (radiographs) of parts of the human body for use in diagnosing medical problems. They prepare patients for radiologic examinations by explaining the procedure, removing jewelry and other articles through which x rays cannot pass, and positioning patients so that the parts of the body can be appropriately radiographed. To prevent unnecessary exposure to radiation, these workers surround the exposed area with radiation protection devices, such as lead shields, or limit the size of the x-ray beam. Radiographers position radiographic equipment at the correct angle and height over the appropriate area of a patient’s body. Using instruments similar to a measuring tape, they may measure the thickness of the section to be radiographed and set controls on the x-ray machine to produce radiographs of the appropriate density, detail, and contrast. They place the x-ray film under the part of the patient’s body to be examined and make the exposure. They then remove the film and develop it.
Radiologic technologists must follow physicians’ orders precisely and conform to regulations concerning the use of radiation to protect themselves, their patients, and their coworkers from unnecessary exposure.
In addition to preparing patients and operating equipment, radiologic technologists keep patient records and adjust and maintain equipment. They also may prepare work schedules, evaluate purchases of equipment, or manage a radiology department.
Experienced radiographers may perform more complex imaging procedures. When performing fluoroscopies, for example, radiographers prepare a solution of contrast medium for the patient to drink, allowing the radiologist (a physician who interprets radiographs) to see soft tissues in the body.
Some radiographers specialize in computed tomography (CT), and are sometimes referred to as CT technologists. CT scans produce a substantial amount of cross-sectional x rays of an area of the body. From those cross-sectional x rays, a three-dimensional image is made. The CT uses ionizing radiation; therefore, it requires the same precautionary measures that radiographers use with other x rays.
Radiographers also can specialize in Magnetic Resonance Imaging as an MR technologist. MR, like CT, produces multiple cross-sectional images to create a 3-dimensional image. Unlike CT, MR uses non-ionizing radio frequency to generate image contrast.
Another common specialty for radiographers specialize in is mammography. Mammographers use low dose x-ray systems to produce images of the breast.
In addition to radiologic technologists, others who conduct diagnostic imaging procedures include cardiovascular technologists and technicians, diagnostic medical sonographers, and nuclear medicine technologists.
Work Environment: Physical stamina is important in this occupation because technologists are on their feet for long periods and may lift or turn disabled patients. Technologists work at diagnostic machines but also may perform some procedures at patients’ bedsides. Some travel to patients in large vans equipped with sophisticated diagnostic equipment.
Although radiation hazards exist in this occupation, they are minimized by the use of lead aprons, gloves, and other shielding devices, as well as by instruments monitoring exposure to radiation. Technologists wear badges measuring radiation levels in the radiation area, and detailed records are kept on their cumulative lifetime dose.
Most full-time radiologic technologists work about 40 hours a week. They may, however, have evening, weekend, or on-call hours. Opportunities for part-time and shift work also are available.