becoming a technologist: how did your totally rad tech get here?

Many times during my career as an x-ray or radiologic technologist, patients would often mistake me for a nurse or doctor. It’s an easy thing to do given the fact that most medical professionals wear a similar uniform of lab coat, scrubs, and badge. And let’s face it, in this new world of healthcare where organizations are being asked to do more with less, many times one individual is responsible for multiple areas of the patient’s experience. But the key differences come from the type of training, certification, and licensing each role has. Defined as “the scope of practice,” each professional can only perform the duties their credentialing allows. More specifically, doctors, nurses, and technologists collaborate together as a team and have parameters around what they can and cannot do.

As an x-ray technologist, we are the individuals responsible for providing medical imaging exams and the comprehensive patient care around those exams. Often called rad or x-ray techs for short (we are pretty “rad”ical), we are experts on everything related to radiation and how it affects patients as well as masters in the field of human anatomy imagery. Photographers for the internal structures of the body, we can visualize the most hidden gems within. While we all begin as technologists, many of us also go on to train and achieve advanced certification in other imaging areas as well such as MRI or CT.

Not to be confused with the repairman or technician responsible for repairing imaging equipment or a “techie” who is an expert on information technology, x-ray technologists are fully trained and qualified to perform both indirect and direct patient care experiences related to imaging. Our basic patient care skills are very similar to nursing, yet our ability to operate and perform procedures using radiation make us unique. Who else in healthcare can boast x-ray vision? Such transparency isn’t as easy as it looks and involves a lot more than button pushing.

We are trained through accredited hospital or university based programs.

Every x-ray technologist must attend a fully recognized and accredited teaching facility for proper training. Whether hospital based or university based, the required number of course hours combined with real life “on the job” clinical training must be accumulated first before one is eligible to take the national board exams. Each program sets a high bar that requires minimum passing grades and most programs typically take 2 to 4 years to complete. Common curriculum includes anatomy, physics, math, biology, chemistry, as well as radiology specific courses. It is not uncommon to achieve a degree as well as a certificate and many hiring facilities prefer their techs to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

In order to work as a technologist, we are required to pass a board exam.

Just like lawyers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals, x-ray technologists must complete and pass a national board exam in order to work independently within their field. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is the national organization that provides, records, and maintains certifications for all technologists. Most students will sit for their boards shortly after graduation and must receive a passing score in order to successfully become a registered radiologic technologist RT(R) and begin their job search.

We are also required to maintain a current license within the state we work in.

Not only is your technologist registered nationally, they are also required by law to carry a current state license in the state they are working in to operate radiation producing equipment. A license for each technologist is kept in their employee folder at all times and they are not allowed to work if their license has expired. Because of the safety precautions surrounding radiation as well as the hazards associated with imaging equipment, technologists and the radiologists they work with are amongst the select few within all of healthcare allowed to use radiation.

We are required to complete continuing education credits to keep our registry active.

And the training never stops! We are required to maintain our registered status by continually educating ourselves on best practices, policies and standards of care. Through on-site training, national conferences, and online studies, we constantly refresh our knowledge base. The physicians who read our images, known as radiologists, also help us with our clinical understanding of the images. While we are not allowed to provide patients with diagnosis, it certainly helps to know how to spot an abnormality on an image.

By Julie Kaufield