What Are X-ray Technicians?
X-ray technicians operate high-tech medical equipment to produce images used for patient diagnosis. Sometimes known as radiologic technologists or radiographers, they work closely with members of the medical team to provide pictures of the internal workings of a patient's body. These views may be of bones, soft tissue such as muscles and tendons, or organs. For more information about X-ray technicians and similar positions, see our radiologic tech careers page.
X-Ray Technology Program Information
X-ray technology programs are available in universities, colleges and trade schools through on-campus, online or hybrid (both virtual and offline instruction) offerings. Students have the opportunity to merge classroom education with direct clinical practice, and some programs may be linked to clinics and other medical institutions. The curriculum may span topics such as image evaluation, radiation biology and physics, and the use of radiographic equipment. Additional courses include patient care, medical terminology, and human anatomy and physiology. Some states mandate that students complete an accredited training program in order to become licensed.
X-Ray Technology Program Types
X-ray technician training can be found in standalone programs, but is more commonly included as part of broader radiologic technology programs. Students interested in entering the field can consider the following options for X-ray technician training:
- Certificate or Diploma: Studies may blend classroom instruction and clinical experience. Some programs offer a limited scope covering only certain X-ray procedures. X-ray technology certificates and diplomas may take as little as six months to complete.
- Associate Degree: This is the most common path for X-ray technology programs, according to the BLS. Studies typically last about two years for full-time students and encompass some general education requirements.
- Bachelor's Degree: Some colleges combine X-ray technology training with a Bachelor of Science degree. A bachelor's degree usually takes four years, depending on a student's schedule, and includes general education subjects such as math, English and computer applications.
Advanced degrees are also available. Examples include a master's in radiation sciences, a Ph.D. in radiation biophysics or a medical degree specialized in radiology or radiation oncology.
X-Ray Technology Course Descriptions
The curriculum may vary between X-ray technology schools, but core courses typically include topics such as the following:
- Radiation Physics: Overview of the basic principles of Roentgen or X-ray technology
- Radiation Safety Principles: Exploration of how to protect the patient and the technologist from the potential dangers of radiation.
- Image Evaluation: Introduction to methods for interpreting results and reporting them accurately to the other members of the healthcare team.
- Anatomy and Pathology: Focus on locating a specific injury or illness that requires examination and diagnosis.
- Patient Care: Responsibilities of the healthcare team for the comfort and safety of the individuals being treated.
X-ray technology programs can help graduates pursue certification or licensure, which are required in most states according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Usually, graduates must take an examination from the state or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, but each state has its own requirements. Continuing education may be needed for license renewal.
X-Ray Technology Specialties
X-ray technology programs may allow students to specialize in a particular area of radiography, including:
- Mammography: Create images of the breast, using low-dose radiation, in order to discover potentially cancerous breast tissue.
- Computed Tomography: Use specialized X-ray equipment to create cross-sectional images for diagnostic purposes.
Related Career Options
Graduates of X-ray technology schools could explore related healthcare career paths, which can often require additional education, training or certification/licensure. Examples of similar professions include:
- Cardiovascular Technologists: Use a variety of diagnostic tools to examine the health of the heart muscle and the blood vessels that feed the heart.
- Radiation Therapists: Apply radiation to treat cancerous tissue and other diseases, working in environments such as oncology departments.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: Perform ultrasounds, sonograms or echocardiograms to assess medical conditions of patients in settings such as cardiology or maternity clinics.
- Nuclear Medicine Technologists: Administer radioactive substances to patients in order to create scans of different areas of a patient's body and identify abnormalities.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following resources can provide additional information about X-ray technology:
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, arrt.org
American Society of Radiologic Technologists, asrt.org
ASRT Education and Research Foundation, asrtfoundation.org
Radiologic Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, jrcdms.org
Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology, jrcert.org
Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology, jrcnmt.org
Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, sdms.org
Society of Nuclear Medicine, snm.org