How to Become an X-ray Technician

You’re wondering how to become an X-ray technician—because Superman has been your hero since you were six and those ads for X-ray glasses at the back of the comics always intrigued you. Or maybe it was the hospital shows on TV that caught your imagination, or the time you fell and hurt your wrist and that nice X-ray tech gently positioned it on the cold X-ray film plate as she explained the procedure and in a few minutes confirmed that it was indeed broken—a distal radius fracture. Magical. Now you want to see into bodies and be that superhero—X-Ray Man or Radiograph Woman! You could be an integral team member in the fight to heal people by providing physicians with crucial diagnostic images. Read on to find out how to become an X-ray technician, or as they’re known to each other and those in the know—radiologic technologist. It may be just the rewarding career for you.

Years of Education

The minimum education requirement is a 21‒24 month certificate program after high school.

Degrees & Licenses

  • Certificate
  • State license

Job Availability

This occupation has faster than average projected job growth, but demand can be regional. Radiologic technologists willing to move are more likely to find jobs.

Income

Low

$35,100

Average

$52,210

High

$74,970

Perks

  • You get to meet all kinds of people and teach them about their bodies.
  • Making images of the inside of bodies just can’t get old.
  • You get to wear those fashionable lead-lined aprons at work.

1. Graduate high school, for starters.

The first step to becoming an X-ray technician is getting a high school diploma. X-ray techs, I mean radiologic technologists, make use of their knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and radiation physics daily in their work, so you will want to pay attention in your math and science classes. Physics, chemistry, and biology will be of great use to you. If you don’t have a high school diploma, don’t despair—a general equivalency diploma (GED) will suffice. Simply study for and take the examination for your GED. Employers are looking for someone who is sensitive to the psychological as well as physical needs of patients, able to follow instructions, who is detail-oriented, and can work with a team. Radiologic technologists also need manual dexterity and mechanical ability to operate complicated equipment.

2. Earn a certificate or degree in radiography.

Brain scansFind an accredited program to begin your formal training in radiography. There are three paths to training for a career in radiography. Two of these paths are offered in traditional colleges and universities and lead to either an associate degree (two years), or a bachelor’s degree (four years). The third, certificate programs (21‒24 months), is traditionally offered in hospitals but is now also offered in technical colleges. Most X-ray technologists get an associate degree. Each of these programs offers both classroom and clinical instruction in subjects such as patient positioning, medical ethics, medical terminology, pathology, radiation protection, imaging principles, and radiobiology. In 2009, the profession’s accrediting body, the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, accredited 213 certificate programs, 397 associate degree programs, and 35 bachelor’s degree programs.

3. Get licensed by your state board and certified.

You’ve got your certificate or diploma; now it’s time to take more tests. Although federal regulations require that X-ray techs be properly trained to avoid exposing patients to unnecessary radiation, each state determines its own licensure requirements, i.e., an exam. Check with your state’s health board for specific requirements. The profession’s credentialing organization, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), has licensing agreements with numerous states and administers their exams. In addition, ARRT offers certification in specialized areas such as mammography, magnetic resonance imaging, computer tomography, and ultrasonography. Many employers prefer an ARRT certification. Now you’re ready to become a practicing radiologic technologist. But be aware that 24 hours of continuing education must be completed every two years to maintain an ARRT certification.

4. Become an X-ray technician: get a job.

X-Ray of a jawMost radiologic technnologists work in hospitals. Of the nearly quarter million radiologic technologists employed in 2008, the majority held jobs in hospitals while most others worked in physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, and medical and diagnostic laboratories, such as diagnostic imaging centers. With an aging population and a focus on using diagnostic imaging in preventative care, radiologic technology is a fast-growing profession. But because growth isn’t uniform across the country, you’re more likely to find a job if you’re willing to move. So if there aren’t any jobs in your area, look for one somewhere you wouldn’t mind living. You’ve come this far, so go ahead and embrace the adventure.

Advance Your Career as a Radiologic Technician.

Cartoon of a dog xray-edExperience, additional training, and education are the keys to advancement. A long-time radiologic technologist, my aunt, told me she would suggest that all new X-ray technicians work in a hospital where they can broaden their exposure to people—patients and physicians—and different radiologic technologies and techniques. And after you’ve had some experience with CT scanning, MRIs, and the various other technologies, or “modalities,” as they’re called in the profession, you can then decide which ones interest you most and pursue them as specialties. This may require additional certification, but my understanding is that it will increase your pay, make you a more valuable team member, and a more desirable applicant if you want to switch jobs. With experience you may also be promoted up the management and administrative ladder to supervisor, chief radiologic technologist, or possibly even department administrator.

Further Reading for Aspiring X-Ray Technicians

Introduction to Radiologic Technology (LaVerne Tolley Gurley, William J. Callaway). This book will provide you with answers to most questions you have about beginning a career in Radiologic Technology from an overview of your coursework to a history of radiologic technology to preparing for Registry exams and advancing in your career.

The Shadowmakers: A History of Radiologic Technology (E.L. Harris). This book, published by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, presents the history of radiologic technology from discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895 to the passage of the Radiation Health and Safety Act of 1981 to recent advances in radiologic technologies.