Radiology Specialties: Numerous Opportunities and Choices for Your Career
As a rule, radiologic technicians are primarily responsible for making sure that both the patient and the medical imaging equipment being used are positioned correctly in order to produce the clearest image possible. If you choose to go into this field, some of the things you’ll learn in school and training include anatomy, examination techniques, radiation safety and protection, patient positioning, equipment protocols and patient care. Once you’ve finished learning all of this, don’t think that this is the end of your education; although many radiologic technicians specialize in only one kind of radiology, they’re not restricted to just one field of medical imaging. In fact, you can increase your value as an employee and your salary by specializing in additional fields. Many people may be under the impression that x-rays and MRIs are the only types of medical imaging being used today, but they would be wrong.
For example, you may choose to specialize in nuclear medicine, which has nothing to do with x-rays. As a nuclear medicine technician, you would deal with radiopharmaceuticals, radioactive materials that produce emissions strong enough to be detected externally and are attracted to certain parts of the body. These radiopharmaceuticals are introduced into the patient’s body and then tracked through the use of a gamma or PET camera. The information from the camera is fed into a computer that is able to form images, and from these images, a diagnosis can be made. Being a nuclear medicine technician can be challenging; with so many breakthroughs in this relatively new field, you’ll constantly be learning new techniques and procedures.
If you’ve always found the science behind magnets fascinating, then you might consider specializing in magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs). Magnetic resonance technicians know how to operate MRI machines that produce images of patients’ bodies by exposing them to a magnetic field. To get an image, you disrupt the magnetic field with a radiofrequency pulse. When the pulse is removed, the magnetic field reasserts itself and gives off signals that the computer uses to create images.
Another field you can specialize in is bone densitometry. As a bone densitometry technician, you will use x-rays to measure bone density. The results can be used to estimate bone loss, which is helpful when dealing with osteoporosis and other bone problems. Although bone densitometry and radiography seem very similar – they both utilize x-rays to look at bones – the main difference between the two fields has to do with the fact that each procedure achieves a different goal; bone densitometry looks at bone density while x-rays are used to literally look at bones or to detect foreign objects in the body.
Computed tomography technicians also utilize x-rays in yet another way. When a patient undergoes a computed tomography scan, also known as a CT or CAT scan, the technician basically x-rays them from a variety of different angles. A computer then combines these two dimensional x-rays into a three dimensional image. A CT scan allows a doctor to look inside of a structure, enabling doctors to diagnose something like a tumor in a kidney. CT is commonly used to scan the head, lungs, heart, abdomen and extremities.
If you find sound interesting, consider specializing in sonography, commonly known as ultrasound. As an ultrasound technician, you’ll learn how to use a transducer, a device that emits and receives sounds. The sound waves emitted by the transducer bounce off of the internal structures in the body and are received by the transducer. These sounds are analyzed by a computer that uses the sounds to produce an image. Most people first encounter ultrasound technicians when they find out they’re going to have a baby, and they go to the doctor to find out just how many they’ll be having; however, other areas of the body that are commonly analyzed with ultrasound include the abdomen, nervous system and breasts.
Some health care professionals that work in the field of oncology are also radiologic technicians. For example, a medical dosimetrist specializes in oncology radiation treatments. You would work with a radiation oncologist to develop a treatment and to figure out how much radiation should be used. A radiation therapist would be the one to actually administer the radiation treatments. Some people particularly enjoy being radiation therapists as it allows them to develop a more long-term relationship with their patients; most radiologic technicians only see their patients once or twice while radiation therapists work with their patients for weeks, if not months, at a time.
You can also look into specializing in the field of quality management. As a quality management technician, your primary responsibility would not be producing clear images yourself; rather, it would be to perform tests and analyze methods to make sure that the technicians working in your facility are able to produce the best images possible. If there are any quality control problems, then you would be the one to solve them.