X-Ray Technician and Radiographer Training
The first x-ray photograph of a human body part was taken in 1895 by German physics professor Wilhelm Rontgen, of his wife's hand, with a ring on her third finger. Since then, radiation technology has hugely impacted the health care sector, creating one of the most well-known medical diagnostic tools today.
What is an X-Ray Technologist?
The job of an X-Ray Technologist, also called a Radiologic Technologist or Radiographer, is to take x-ray photographs of patients for diagnostic and problem-solving purposes. In practice, this could also involve minor patient-care practices such as explaining procedures, positioning the patient and removing metal jewelry or other objects that might block x-rays. The x-ray technologist's main function, though, is to produce an x-ray that can then be studied by a physician and used in the process of diagnosis.
Under the umbrella of X-Ray Technologist there are a few specialty areas. These include mammography, the use of low-dose x-rays to identify tumors and cysts in breast tissue; computed tomography (CAT or CT scans), the use of many two-dimensional x-ray "slices" to produce a 3-D image of the inside of an object; and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a method used for soft-tissue imaging.
Since most X-Ray Technologists are employed in hospitals, many of them are trained on the job. However, formal training is still necessary, since most employers won't hire technologists who are not formally trained to start out with.
There are several options when it comes to X-Ray Technologist training. Students can pursue a 1, 2, or 4-year program, resulting in either a certificate, associate or bachelor degree. 2-year programs are the most common, and one-year certificate programs are available for health care professionals in other fields, such as medical technologists and registered nurses who wish to change careers. Of course, more education is needed for advancement to administrative positions. Formal training usually takes place at a college or university, though training at more affordable vocational-technical institutes is also common.
The coursework taken on by radiography students covers a variety of medical subjects such as anatomy, physiology and medical terminology, as well as radiation-oriented topics like radiation physics and radiation protection. Patient-care courses surrounding procedures, positioning and ethics round out the curriculum.
Radiographer certification and licensing
In addition to formal training, some x-ray techs may also wish to pursue voluntary certification, which involves passing an exam administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). In order to qualify for this exam, students must have graduated from a program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT), so entrants into the field should ask schools about their accreditations before committing to a program. Further, once an X-Ray Technologist gains certification, it is their option to maintain it by way of annual registration through ARRT. Though certification and registration are not required of X-Ray Technologists, most employers prefer it.
Beyond training and voluntary certification, most states require X-Ray Techs to be licensed. The standards for licensing vary by state, but it usually involves passing an ARRT exam. Though this exam is created by ARRT, it is administered by the state, which maintains authority over licensing. In order to be eligible for licensing, entrants must graduate from a JRCERT-accredited program, so once again, asking about a school's accreditations is important. A list of JRCERT-accredited programs organized by state can be found on the JRCERT site.
X-Ray Technologist job outlook
The US Labor Bureau predicts an excellent job outlook for certified and properly trained X-Ray Techs, with an expected employment increase of 15% by 2016. This growth is spurred by a continually growing and aging population, and an expanding health care industry in general. Most of these jobs will be found in hospitals, though physicians' clinics, imaging centers and other outpatient care facilities will also experience growth.