Providing invaluable assistance to doctors, dentists and other medical professionals, Radiologic Technologists (RTs) perform imaging exams of patients with complex problems to those with minor complaints for diagnostic purposes. The use of these visual aids is a critical part of clearly understanding the condition and treatment options for patients.
The term Radiologic Technologist is an umbrella term used to represent a wide variety of technologists in the medical field. These include Bone Densitometry Technologists, Cardiovascular-Interventional Technologists, Computed Tomography Technologists, Magnetic Resonance Technologists, Mammographers, Nuclear Medicine Technologists, Quality Management Technologists, Radiographers, and Sonographers. Each of these titles implies a different specialty, with Radiographers representing the entry level position to Radiologic Technology.
It is imperative that a Radiologic Technologist show a calm, professional and helpful demeanor. One of the most difficult elements of a RTs job is to keep calm and display an unaffected demeanor when they see something that concerns them in the images that they take. This is where a maintaining a professional attitude becomes very important. When a patient arrives for imaging, they may be anxious and think or expect the worst. For this reason, strength of character and compassion are also very important and critical characteristics for an RT to possess. Generally working as part of a team, RTs must also have strong interpersonal skills, easily and comfortably communicating with staff as well as patients. Maintaining a professional attitude and addressing the concerns of patients without entering into diagnosis conversations can be a challenge.
Individuals who enter this career field can expect to work in a variety of different environments. RTs are employed in hospitals, doctor’s offices, walk-in clinics, imaging centers, nursing homes and dentistry facilities. Some are trained to work in the emergency room or to be a part of the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) team.
The type of schedule and hours that you work will depend greatly on where you work. If you work in a hospital or emergency room that need to be staffed 24 hours a day you can expect to work a variety of shifts. These shifts can include night shifts, weekends, and holidays. Those who work in a doctor’s office or imaging center can expect to work a normal Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm shift without weekends, evenings or being on call.
The basic duties of an RT include;
- Preparing patients for the procedure by explaining to them how it works and ensuring that they are comfortable
- Position patients and set up and adjust equipment to obtain the best quality x-ray of the specific body area requested by the physician
- Taking preventative steps to minimize radiation exposure to the patient and fellow staff
- Prepare and set up x-ray room for patients
- Position x-ray equipment and adjust controls to set exposure factors, such as time and distance
- Assure that all materials and other required equipment, are present and in working order
- Process films using film processors or computer generated methods
- Clean the necessary equipment
- Keep accurate patient files
RTs may specialize in general radiography or in specific imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), mammography, or sonography to name a few. For a comprehensive list of procedures that RTs perform you can go to RadiologyInfo.org.
An RT cannot discuss image results with patients or issue diagnosis. Instead, they will tell the patient when they will be notified about the results by a radiologist or their doctor. If the RT notices a problem that is considered an emergency, they notify a radiologist immediately. Respecting the proper lines of communication are a must in the medical imaging field.
Education, Training and Certification
There are a few different paths to becoming an RT. You can enroll in and attend a hospital based program and earn a certificate, attend a 2-year college program and earn your associate’s degree, or attend a 4-year college and earn a bachelor’s degree. If you are looking for the quickest way to get into the field of radiology, pursuing a basic certificate may be the best way for you to start. However, the most common path involves earning an associate’s degree. It is not necessary to complete a bachelor’s program in order to become an RT, however doing so will help you to further advance your career and take on a supervisory role and interpret data for diagnosis.
In accordance with the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS), Texas requires specific education and experience to earn licensure. The following highlights requirements for license options in Texas;
- High school graduate or the equivalent
- Graduate (or within 28 calendar days of graduating) from an accredited or approved education program in radiologic technology
General or Limited Certificate
- Qualify for and hold a temporary certificate
- Graduate from an accredited education program in radiologic technology or an approved limited medical radiologic technology program Pass an examination approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services
Non-Certified Technicians (NCTs)
The Medical Radiologic Technologist Certification Program in Texas maintains a registry of individuals who have completed an approved NCT training program.
Per the Texas Department of State Health Services, non-certified technicians (NCTs) are defined as persons performing radiologic procedures (x-rays) for medical purposes, who are not TDSHS-certified medical radiologic technologists (MRTs) or limited medical radiologic technologists (LMRTs). These individuals are not allowed to perform dangerous or hazardous radiologic procedures.
Because the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) administered exams are the exam approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services for licensing, you should look for and enroll in a radiologic technologist program at an accredited institution that will prepare you for this exam. Earning a certificate, from certain schools, in radiology or an associate’s degree will get you into the field and prepare you for the ARRT exam. ARRTs website lists 45 accredited radiography schools in the state of Texas.
The cost to complete a two-year program and obtain a certificate or an associate’s degree in Radiologic Technology ranges from approximately $5,800 to $35,000 depending on resident status (in-state or out-of-state) and whether it is a public or private institution.
Education for an X-ray technician will include core classes such as basic anatomy, physiology, medical ethics, and medical terminology, and more specific courses such as x-ray technology, image quality, x-ray equipment operation, patient care principles, patient positioning techniques, medical records management, and x-ray safety. Radiologic technology programs also provide students with hands-on training necessary to begin employment. This provides students with the opportunity to train under the supervision of an experienced technician while working with patients and interacting with other medical professionals.
After graduating from an accredited program and earning temporary licensure, individuals can pursue certification through the ARRT, which is required for state licensing. This certification ensures that technicians have the qualifications to conduct medical imaging tests. The exam features 200 questions and covers topics involving radiation protection, equipment operation, image acquisition, imaging procedures and patient care. The ARRT and American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) web sites have information that will help you decide what to study prior to the exam.
RTs are required to complete 24 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years for re-certification by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
There is an increasing trend in which employers are requiring ARRT certification as a condition of employment. This trend has caused many schools to adjust their training and certification program curriculum in order to prepare students to take the ARRT exam.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national median annual wage for an RT in 2010 was $54,740. According to a nationwide survey (Radiologic Technologist Wage & Salary Survey 2012) conducted by the ASRT, the average full time compensation for an entry level RT in Texas was slightly above the national median at $55,457. The median annual salaries for select major cities in Texas according to Salary.comfall a bit below the national average as well as the ASRTs reported average.
According to the Texas Workforce Commission, employment in the field of Radiologic Technology is projected to grow faster than average. Individuals with knowledge of more than one diagnostic imaging procedure will have the best employment opportunities.
It is expected that many new positions will become available in Texas hospitals. However, even more growth in anticipated in medical offices, clinics, and diagnostic medical imaging centers. This trend is occurring in part because of the national push to reduce health care costs. Imaging centers, clinics and medical offices provide an outpatient setting for RT procedures, therefore reducing costs. Also, as the diagnostic imaging technology becomes cheaper to produce, these outpatient facilities will become more prevalent.
The field of radiology presents many interesting paths and advancement opportunities. Once you have been in the field for a while you may decide to learn other aspects of the radiology profession and become certified in a specialty. Many medical imaging professionals began as radiologic technologists or medical assistants and then became cross trained or certified to perform additional procedures. Some even worked their way up to radiologist assistant positions. RTs familiar with a variety of imaging techniques will have a distinct advantage when it comes to advancement.
Advice from the Inside
Some information cannot be found on the internet or in a book. That information is the valuable insight that can only be gained by talking with someone who has followed a path to becoming a radiologic technologist and held a position as an RT and beyond. Kevin Powers, Ed.S., R.T.(R)(M), ASRT’s director of education shared his thoughts on this exciting career and what he offers as some important things to remember as you begin.
“Nothing is ever really standard in this profession. There are a lot of routine things, but each patient is different and each procedure provides you with a slightly different challenge – there is always an opportunity for learning to occur. It is a thinking profession and has the potential of holding your interest for a long time,” says Powers. The career of an RT can be a very fulfilling one in many different ways. “The skills that someone develops in terms of being able to communicate with patients – being able to make them feel comfortable, the written communication skills, organization and management skills,” says Powers, “all help the individual to develop a range of skills or characteristics that will benefit them throughout their entire career.” He adds, “Whether they decide to stay in medical imaging or pursue an alternative career such as management, education, or even sales – their experience provides them with a well rounded tool set that are valuable in many different areas of healthcare. In no way is it a career that will limit someone in terms of their career aspirations, advancement, and promotion.”
The ability to communicate and put patients at ease is extremely important. “Often times what happens in the imaging department, the first thing we do is take the patients identity away from them. We have them change into the gown and then they become just the elbow, or the knee or shoulder. They become the procedure as opposed to the individual. Many times the patient doesn’t know what to expect. When the individual that is performing the procedure has the ability to connect with the patient, make them feel comfortable, and really help communicate to them what is needed for the exam it makes for an overall better experience. In many cases doing so goes a long way to producing an image that is of very high diagnostic value – which is important to the RT. Within any radiology department when images are looked at for evaluation or review, there is a lot of personal pride that people have when it is their image on the display and the image looks outstanding.”
When reflecting on his own start in this career, Powers commented, “initially the pathway you enter on seems overwhelming. There is so much to learn, areas where you may make mistakes. But once you understand the process and once you get comfortable with managing that process it really makes you much more receptive or open to those fun things, those unique experiences that make everyday rewarding.”
For students that start out as general radiographers and decide that they want to learn more and advance within their field, Powers offers up the following; “Be sensitive to what you can offer the radiological team in terms of value added when wanting to make a transition. Ask to gain experience working with the CT unit on your own time or on weekends or holidays. Come up with create ways to earn the experience. This way you are leaning, getting to collaborate with your peers and it becomes a win-win situation.”
Keep in mind that like any other career, there is a social aspect to this field – a group identity or profile that sometimes people find it difficult to fit in and feel comfortable with. For his own students, Powers recommends “to focus on and align yourself with the people that have your personal interest in mind. Those who are willing to share with you the things they rely upon –the little anchors that help them to be accurate at what they are doing. Model yourself after the people that you admire and seek out the people that have your personal interest in mind. Don’t worry about trying to fit into that social setting because that is fleeting.”
Lastly Powers wants students to remember that over the course of their career they will go through “high-tide and low-tide periods.” Sometimes you will be successful at doing things the first time and then you will have times where you feel like everything is out of control. “The peripheral stuff will dominate – it is during that time that you have to figure out a way to be self confident and focus on the things that will benefit you in the long run. Remember to take opportunities at various periods in your career to look back at what you have learned and how far you have come. Celebrate that success along the way.”