People looking into the field of medical imaging may come across job titles such as “x-ray technician” and “radiologic technician.” Both jobs just seem to be technicians working in the field of medical imaging. Just how different could their roles be? The answer is actually “not very different.” A radiologic technician is a medical health professional who is qualified to perform imaging examinations including x-rays, mammography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and computed tomography. An x-ray technician is simply a radiologic technician that specializes in the field of x-rays. Other common titles for people performing duties consistent with those of a radiologic technician include radiology technician, radiographer, medical radiation technologist and registered radiographer.
Whether you’re interested in being an x-ray technician or a radiologic technician, there’s good news for you: According to the National Employment Matrix developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs available in these fields are projected to increase within the next few years. In 2008, there were approximately 214,700 people working as x-ray technicians or radiologic technicians in the United States, and the National Employment Matrix estimates that by 2018, there will 251,700 people working in these fields. In 2008, a radiologic technician or x-ray technician’s median annual salary was $52,210; most technicians make anywhere between $42,000 and $63,000.
X-ray technicians and radiologic technicians perform many of the same tasks. For example, both are required to correctly position the equipment and the patients on the examining table in order to get the best view of the body part in question. Both need to be able to set up, calibrate and utilize the equipment, and some technicians may be required to know how to perform medical imaging in a variety of different environments ranging from an x-ray room to a private home and from an operating room to an emergency room. The technicians need to make sure that they always have on hand necessary supplies such as films, chemicals, contrast materials and catheters. They also need to know how to process the exposed radiographs either through a computer or a film processor.
In addition to technical skills, x-ray technicians and radiologic technicians need to know how to deal with patients; being a technician doesn’t just mean knowing how to operate an x-ray machine. Many patients these technicians will see will be suffering from anxiety, and a good technician will know how to calm the patient by being reassuring and carefully explaining the procedure to them; in order to succeed as an x-ray technician or radiologic technician, a pleasant bedside manner is crucial. Some other important skills x-ray technicians and radiologic technicians should have include active listening, communicating effectively, reading comprehension, critical thinking, social perceptiveness and problem solving.
Both x-ray techs and radiologic techs have a greater risk of developing certain cancers due to the extended exposure to radiation. They also have a duty to make sure patients are exposed to as little radiation as possible. To protect both themselves and their patients, these medical professionals are trained to limit the size of the x-ray beam or use lead shields to protect areas of the body that do not need to be exposed to radiation. In addition, they wear badges that measure how much radiation they are being exposed to at any given time, and they keep meticulous records to determine how much radiation they have been exposed to over their lifetime.
It’s important to make a distinction between a radiologic technician and a radiologic technologist. A technician’s primary responsibility is to produce clear images. A technologist is also responsible for producing clear images, but they usually have gone through a more extensive training period, have more responsibilities and have higher degrees than technicians, which means they tend to earn more money. Typically, x-ray technicians only need to have a certificate in order to get started on their career while a radiologic technologist would need an associate’s degree or higher. A few states require x-ray technicians to be professionally certified, but a majority of states require radiologic technologists to be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. It’s also important to note that radiologic technicians and x-ray technicians are not radiologists; radiologists are physicians that specialize in interpreting medical images and using medical images to aid in treatment. Although technicians may be trained to look at medical images and report problems that require immediate attention to a radiologist, x-ray technicians and radiologic technicians are not allowed to give patients diagnoses.