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X-ray Tech At a Glance
What Is an X-ray Tech?
X-ray technologists create medical images to help physicians and specialists diagnose and treat health conditions. There are two paths to this career: a certificate and an associate degree.
The job of X-ray technologist is one role within the field of radiologic technology. Depending on state requirements, X-ray techs may need to hold an associate degree in radiologic technology to practice.
This two-year degree includes coursework that covers not only X-rays, but also MRIs, CT scans, sonography, and other imaging, and can set you up to expand your career.
Other states recognize certificate programs like limited medical radiologic technologist (LMRT). This type of certificate program provides training in one specific imaging procedure and limits a technologist to creating only that type of image.
Steps to Become an X-ray Tech
If you want to pursue a career in this field, consider using these steps as a guide.
Earn your high school diploma or GED.
This is a necessary prerequisite for an X-ray technologist certificate or a radiologic technologist degree. You may find it useful to study human anatomy before starting a program.
Earn a certificate or associate degree.
Your choice could depend on cost, career goals, and time. You can complete some X-ray certificate programs in a year, allowing you to jump into the job market sooner.
Consider earning a specialty certification.
You can’t earn a specialty certification unless you have an associate degree. Certifications can allow you to move beyond X-rays and work in other areas of imaging, such as mammography and bone density.
Maintain your certification.
Certifications generally must be renewed every two years.
Job Duties and Responsibilities
X-ray technologists spend most of their time with patients, explaining the procedure, positioning them correctly, and operating computerized equipment to capture a clear image.
Doctors use X-rays to diagnose health conditions such as fractures, tumors, lung infections, and arthritis. Techs sometimes work with doctors to evaluate the images.
X-rays can be images of a patient’s bones, soft tissue, or organs. Doctors use X-rays to diagnose health conditions such as fractures, tumors, lung infections, and arthritis. Techs sometimes work with doctors to evaluate the images.
X-ray technologists work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, and diagnostic labs. However, hospitals may prefer X-ray techs who have an associate degree over a certificate because they can do other types of imaging as well.
This means that LMRTs may find more jobs in smaller physicians’ practices or clinics that perform routine X-rays.
A Day in the Life of an X-ray Technologist
An X-ray tech’s typical day can vary depending on where they work. For Camry Robison, a radiologic technologist who works at a hospital in Utah, a typical day usually involves spending most of her time in the operating room taking portable X-rays after surgery.
She also works in the emergency room, taking X-rays of broken bones or areas where a patient might be in pain, like the abdomen.
“We work hand-in-hand with other modalities (imaging procedures) and will sometimes do two or more different types of images on one patient,” Robison says.
Who’s a Good Fit for this Career?
Certain skills and traits can help you succeed as an X-ray technician. They include:
- Working well with other medical professionals is crucial to ensure a smooth process for the patient. “We have to be able to work with different departments and help our fellow co-workers in their separate modalities, too, because we tend to share a lot of the same patients,” says Robison.
- Robison emphasizes that every patient is different and X-ray technologists need to be flexible. “It’s vital for us to be willing to adjust and change our habits, angles, and exams to best suit our patients to minimize pain for them but still maximize image content,” she explains.
- Patients are often nervous or anxious during X-rays. “A lot of our patients are coming in to find out some pretty devastating news—whether they have cancer, if their cancer has spread, or if they have fractures that need to be surgically fixed,” says Robison. “There are some less-than-optimal diagnoses, and we need to be tender and sympathetic towards our patients as they come in.”
X-ray Technician Versus Radiologic Technologist
The titles X-ray technologist and radiologic technologist are often used interchangeably since people in these roles may have the same responsibilities and duties. However, X-ray technologists and radiologic technologists can have different education, and that can lead to different duties and opportunities.
With a limited-scope X-ray certificate, you can only do X-rays and you can’t earn certifications—even the basic credential for radiologic technologists. Some state regulations don’t allow X-ray techs without an associate degree to work in hospitals, which could limit job opportunities and pay.
X-ray technologists and radiologic technologists can have different education, and that can lead to different duties and opportunities.
With an associate degree, you can branch out with certifications in other kinds of imaging, including:
Education Required to Become an X-ray Technologist
Which educational path you choose may well depend on your state’s requirements. Aside from the depth of education, the main difference between a certificate and an associate degree is the length of the programs.
Since a certificate may come with limited job opportunities and possibly less pay, it may be worth considering an associate degree to get the full benefit of working as an X-ray tech.
You’ll also want to check out your state’s educational, licensing, and certification requirements as you decide what educational path to follow.
- Curriculum: Includes human anatomy, patient care, X-ray imaging
- Time to Complete: 12-16 months
- Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED
- Online Programs: While some classes may be available online, you’ll need to complete hands-on clinical training in person.
- What to Look for in a School: A program that helps prepare you for the necessary licensing or certification exam in your state, plus accreditation, which tells you that a program has been evaluated and judged to deliver a quality education. Without accreditation, you won’t be able to get financial aid and some employers may not want to hire you.
- Who this Program Is Good For: People who want to start their X-ray tech careers as soon as possible.
- Curriculum: Includes human anatomy, patient care and procedures, advanced radiographic imaging
- Time to Complete: 2 years full time
- Prerequisites: Some schools require students to complete a class in human anatomy and an introduction to radiologic technology before granting admission to a program.
- Online Programs: You may find schools that have coursework online, but clinical training will be in person.
- What to Look for in a School: Look at a school’s graduation and employment rates. These can be good indicators of a program’s quality. Also look for accreditation, which tells you that a program has been evaluated and judged to deliver a quality education. Without accreditation, you won’t be able to get financial aid and some employers may not want to hire you.
- Who this Program Is Good for: Students who want a full education in radiographic technology and the opportunity to do a variety of medical imaging.
Licensing and Certification
State licensing requirements can vary, but many require recipients of a limited-scope certificate to take a licensing exam before they’re allowed to work. You may also need to choose a scope of practice for your exam. For example, if you wanted to work in a chiropractor’s office, you’d need to pass an exam for spinal X-rays.
Certifications and Specialties
Specialty certifications from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) are available to radiologic technologists with an associate degree.
Certifications are a way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in a specific medical imaging procedure. Some employers encourage techs to earn several specialty certifications.
Specialty certifications are available to radiologic technologists with an associate degree.
The ARRT offers a basic certification, the Registered Radiologic technologist R.T. (R). It also offers specialty credentials in other branches of radiologic technology. Introductory certifications include:
Salary and Job Outlook
The median salary for radiologic technologists, including X-ray technicians, is $61,370, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10% of earners make as much as $94,880 and the bottom 10% earn $46,850.
Here’s a look at how salaries range by state.
Median Salary: $61,370
Projected job growth: 6.3%
10th Percentile: $46,850
25th Percentile: $48,900
75th Percentile: $77,290
90th Percentile: $94,880
Projected job growth: 6.3%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$77,240||$60,590||$101,220|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries may vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Other Factors that Can Affect Salary
Other factors that can affect an X-ray technologist’s salary are experience and where they work.
According to the BLS, salaries for some top workplaces are:
|Outpatient care centers||$77,580|
|Medical and diagnostic labs||$66,370|
Jobs for radiologic technologists are expected to grow by 6.3% through 2031, according to the BLS. That’s in line with the nation’s job growth overall.
One reason for the greater demand for X-ray technicians and other technologists is aging baby boomers. These Americans are not only getting older, but they’re also living longer and requiring more medical care for diseases and chronic conditions.
Comparison with Similar Occupations
If you’re still deciding on a healthcare career, here’s a look at similar professions that require an associate degree.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Radiologic Technologists and Technicians||$61,370|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||$77,740|
|Nuclear Medicine Technologists||$78,760|