What Kind of Work Does a Radiology Tech Do Day to Day?
Radiology technicians and technologists, also called radiographers, usually have consistent duties in their day-to-day jobs; however, their routines can vary depending upon their work environment. Working in a small clinic is different from working in a big, urban hospital. A radiographer’s routine also depends upon his or her skills and experience. Generally, radiology techs perform diagnostic imaging examinations like x-rays, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and mammography to help physicians diagnose possible internal medical issues.
Basic Job Description
Radiologic technicians and technologists use x-ray machines and other medical imaging equipment to non-invasively capture images of internal organs, bones, and tissue that may be damaged or at risk of disease. A high level of understanding of anatomy and physiology is a basic requirement of this job, and students who excel in biology courses in high school will more likely be prepared for work in this field. These images are used by doctors to diagnose everything from broken bones to cancerous tumors. The radiographer prepares a patient for radiologic exams and tests by:
- Explaining the procedure and providing protective garments so that x-rays do not reach parts of the body that can be harmed by them.
- Removing jewelry and other articles that may obstruct the x-ray.
- Positioning patients so that the necessary parts of the body can be imaged clearly.
- Using instruments, they measure the thickness of the section to be imaged and set controls on the x-ray or other machine to produce pictures with appropriate levels of density, detail, and contrast.
In addition to preparing patients and operating equipment, radiology techs also keep patient records and adjust and maintain equipment. They also may prepare work schedules, evaluate purchases of equipment, or manage a radiology department.
It is imperative that technicians follow physicians’ orders and conform to regulations concerning the use of radiation to protect themselves, their patients, and their coworkers from unnecessary exposure. To prevent unnecessary exposure to radiation, radiographers provide patients with lead shields to cover sensitive parts of their bodies, and often the x-ray machine’s “on/off” switch is in a different room so the radiographer is distant from the x-ray beam when they turn the machine on.
Federal legislation protects the public from the hazards of unnecessary exposure to medical and dental radiation by ensuring that operators of radiologic equipment are properly trained; however, it is up to each state to require licensure of radiologic technologists. Most states do require licensure for practicing radiologic technologists, though the requirements vary.
Radiologists wear dosimeters, which are rings or badges measuring radiation levels, when they work in the radiation area. These devices keep detailed records on their cumulative lifetime dose. Anyone who works in radiology, nuclear medicine, and any radiation oncology department staff (working as a radiation therapist) must wear such a device.
More Education, More Responsibilities
An associate’s degree is the most prevalent level of education among radiologic technologists and technicians, though some may receive a certificate from a one year training program instead. Earning a bachelor’s degree in radiologic technology or diagnostic imaging can lead to more advanced positions, and further training in the field can lead to a career as a radiologist, though that will require some amount of medical school, which is time consuming and expensive.
Radiology techs can learn more about different types of medical imaging either through a hospital or college educational program. Some students may choose to pursue expertise in imaging a particular part of the body such as the heart, where others will choose to specialize in using a certain type of machine, such as a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner or a computed tomography (CT) scanner. Some specialties for medical imaging professionals are:
- Obstetric Imagers: OB/GYN sonographers take images of a fetus before birth.
- Mammographers: They use special, low-intensity x-ray machines to produce internal images of the breasts for use in screening for breast cancer.
- Computed Tomography Specialists (CT): CT scans take a series of two-dimensional x-rays and splice them together to simulate a three-dimensional image of a segment of someone’s body. This technique is useful for exploring sites of potential trauma or looking for internal growths, tumors, or foreign objects in the body. The CT uses ionizing radiation; therefore, it requires the same precautionary measures that are used with x-rays.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Specialists: MRI, like CT, produces multiple cross-sectional images to create a three-dimensional image. Unlike CT and x-rays, MRI uses non-ionizing radio frequency to generate image contrast, so the risk of radiation exposure is lessened.
It is not the responsibility of the radiology tech to actually diagnose diseases and medical conditions, but some radiologists may want to pursue advanced education to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. Radiology techs just take the pictures. Doctors analyze them. A good tech will understand the images they take, and have a strong grasp of anatomy and physiology so that they can take good images on the first try. This saves the doctors time and keeps the whole operation running a little more smoothly.
Radiology techs must also take care of their equipment to a certain extent, though there are mechanics and maintenance professionals who will do major repairs. The machines used for diagnostic imagery cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Following proper procedures for maintenance and cleaning is an important part of the job every day.
Although most radiology jobs are in hospitals, technicians and technologists also operate sophisticated equipment to help physicians, dentists, and other health practitioners diagnose and treat patients in offices and clinics.
Hospital environments may be more hectic, especially if the radiologist is responsible for trauma or emergency diagnostic imagery. Physical stamina is important across the board, because technologists and technicians are on their feet for long periods of time and sometimes may have to lift or reposition injured or disabled patients.
Technologists and technicians work at diagnostic machines, but some procedures are also performed at patients’ bedsides. Some travel to patients in large vans equipped with sophisticated diagnostic equipment, while other technicians may work in offices that see few patients or in facilities that focus on women’s health and wellness.
Hospitals also provide the opportunity for radiology techs to learn how to use other types of diagnostic imaging machines, which looks good on any diagnostic imaging professional’s resume. With the amount of growth that is expected in the radiography field, it will pay to differentiate yourself from the crowd of applicants by having a diverse set of skills. The graph below shows the expected growth of radiologic technologist jobs compared to overall job growth in the U.S.
From Working with Patients to Managing Staff
Although radiologists can start a job at a hospital or other medical facility with an associate’s degree or certification, the only way to move up the career ladder is through further education or work experience. Depending upon the facility, management positions may require a higher degree.
Depending upon an institution’s policy, a tech may need additional courses or a master’s degree in business or health administration to work as a director for that facility. But, experience may count, as some techs can be promoted to supervisory positions without extra education. A higher degree, however, opens doors for teaching positions in colleges and in teaching hospitals. Some radiologists leave the testing environment altogether as they go on to become sales representatives or instructors with equipment manufacturers.
Combining a Role as a Radiology Tech with Other Responsibilities
Large medical facilities like hospitals usually hire employees into very specific roles in which they perform a small range of duties all the time. Smaller clinics or private practices may require employees to perform various roles and do whatever tasks need to be done at the moment. This creates good opportunities for radiology techs who have also been trained in medical assisting, record keeping, or even billing and coding. Showing that you are flexible and can fulfill different roles and learn diverse skills is a great way to show a potential employer what a valuable asset you’ll be, if hired.
Choosing a Radiology Tech Training Program
The point of a radiology tech training program is to get you a job, so having a clear idea of which skills are in the highest demand is one way to make sure you choose the most effective training. Whether you focus only on x-ray, or learn both sonographic and radiographic techniques for imaging bones as well as soft tissues, you will have to be certified to work with each type of machine that you plan on using, so choose a program that seems to prepare students well for certification examinations. The links below lead to accredited schools with all kinds of medical training programs that you can learn more about by clicking.