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Guide to X-Ray Technician Degrees & Careers

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If you are detail oriented, enjoy working as part of a team, and are excited about the opportunity to help diagnose diseases and injuries, then a career as an X-ray technician might be a good fit for you. Also known as radiologic technicians, these professionals are responsible for safely using radiation to record an image of a person's bones and tissue. First, the technician must explain the procedure to the patient and situate him or her on a table. They must also use protective lead coverings to protect the areas of the patient's body that are not going to be imaged. The technician then selects the correct angle and contrast in order to produce the most accurate picture of the area in question. X-ray technicians are commonly employed in hospitals, physicians' offices, and outpatient care centers.

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The most common way to begin a career as an X-ray technician is to earn an associate degree in radiography, although certificate and bachelor's degree programs exist, as well. In these programs, students learn about anatomy, physiology, and radiation physics, as well as the clinical procedures and hands-on aspects of the job. Most states require some sort of registration or licensure of X-ray technicians, including a proficiency exam. Techs can also earn voluntary professional certifications from organizations like the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, in order to improve their resume.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for X-ray technicians should be favorable in the coming years, as these positions will be created faster than the national average rate of job growth. As the entire healthcare industry expands to serve the aging U.S. population, X-ray technicians and their diagnostic imaging skills will also grow in demand. The middle half of X-ray technicians earn $43,000-63,000 a year, with the average wage at about $43,000.

Career Specializations

There are no distinct specializations inside the X-ray technician career. X-ray technicians should not be confused with X-ray technologists, also known as radiologic technologists, who are trained on a wider variety of diagnostic imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and mammography.

Degree Levels

  • Certificate: 21-24 months to complete
  • Associate Degree: 2 years to complete
  • Bachelor's Degree: 4 years to complete

Education & Certification Requirements

The most common educational path for a career as an X-ray technician is the associate degree in radiography. These two-year programs are commonly offered by community colleges, allied health organizations, and technical schools. In these programs, students spend time in the classroom, learning about the human body, X-ray physics and radiation, and general medical science. Students also spend time in clinical labs, setting up the X-ray machine, situating mock patients, processing X-rays, and practicing clinical protocol.

Less common than the associate degree are certificate programs in radiography. These programs may be slightly shorter than the associate program and include fewer liberal arts requirements. They are more likely to be offered by hospitals and other health care institutions. A bachelor's program in radiography is likely to train students on more than one imaging technology, such as CT and MRI; graduates are prepared to enter the X-ray technologist career rather than the X-ray technician career. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is the most important accrediting body for certificate, associate, and bachelor's programs in radiography.

Licensure requirements vary by state, but most do require radiologists to be registered and to pass a proficiency exam. Contact your state's radiography board to see which rules apply to you. X-ray technicians can also pursue voluntary certifications offered by professional groups, such as The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To earn this credential, applicants must graduate from an ARRT-recognized program and pass an exam. Some states use ARRT's test as part of their licensure process. (BLS)

Salary Information

New graduates with a radiography certificate or degree can expect initial offers of around $43,000 a year; those with a bachelor's degree may receive better offers. X-ray technicians with professional experience earn $52,000-63,000 a year, depending on their skill level and geographical location. Hospitals, physicians' offices, outpatient care centers, and medical and diagnostic labs are the largest employers of X-ray technicians. (BLS)

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 17 percent increase in jobs for X-ray technicians, between 2008 and 2018. This growth is faster than the national average rate of 7-10 percent. In the coming years, the entire healthcare industry is expected to grow as the aging population requires more services. The higher prevalence of injuries and sickness in the elderly means that they rely more heavily on diagnostic imaging techniques, such as radiography. Furthermore, as medical technology improves, diagnostic imaging will become an even more important player in the fight against disease. Job growth will be especially fast in outpatient centers, such as physicians' offices and diagnostic labs, as more procedures are modified to be done on an outpatient basis.

While the overall job opportunities for X-ray technicians will be good, openings will vary by geographical location, and areas with growing populations will have more X-ray technician jobs. Those trained in X-ray technology, plus other imaging techniques, will have better job prospects than those who are only familiar with radiography. X-ray technicians can boost their employability by earning relevant professional certifications. (BLS)

Related Careers

Ultrasound technicians, also known as sonographers, are also skilled in a particular diagnostic imaging tool. These healthcare professionals use sound waves to generate images of a person's internal body, rather than X-rays. Although obstetric/gynecological sonographers are the most well known, ultrasound technicians can also specialize in cardiovascular, brain, and abdominal imaging.

EKG technicians are another type of diagnostic technician. These workers help prepare and give electrocardiographic tests to patients, which use electrodes to trace the electrical activity of the heart. Like many healthcare professionals, EKG technicians are predicted to have good job opportunities over the coming years.

Radiologic technologists are closely related to X-ray technicians; however, these professionals are also trained in other sorts of imaging techniques besides the use of X-rays. The training to become a radiologic technologist is generally longer, but employment prospects are also better for those who are versed in more than one imaging technique.

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