An Interview with Eric Sprinkling
“Any experience that you can get working alongside or observing x ray techs and other medical professionals is something that you should pursue if you are interested in this field.”
Eric Sprinkling is the lead x ray technologist at Doctors Express Urgent Care in Seattle, Washington. He earned a Certificate in X Ray Technology in 2003 and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication from Portland State University in 1999. Eric has been an x ray technologist for 6 years.
Eric became an x ray tech after working as a registration clerk in the emergency room at a hospital. He enjoys his current position because he is able to work in many medical environments and has the opportunity to learn from co-workers, radiologists and physicians.
In your own words, what is an x ray technologist?
An x ray technologist is an allied healthcare professional who works in support of individual doctors or an entire hospital to provide diagnostic imagery, or x rays. X ray techs might operate equipment in operating rooms, pain clinics or in doctors’ offices.
X ray techs usually earn hourly wages, and the amount of money you make depends on your level of experience and the cost of living where you work. In Washington state, for example, x ray techs can expect to make between $22 and $30 an hour. Different workplaces also offer different levels of compensation. The best place to learn more about the job and job prospects is on the website for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming an x ray tech,” what would your response be?
I would tell the student that you should be aware of where you want to work once you finish an x ray tech program. Depending on how many hospitals and clinics there are in your area as well as how many students graduate as x ray techs, the ease with which you find a job can vary quite a bit. Going to school is always a big financial investment, so make sure that there are enough jobs available in your community before you make the commitment.
What level of education is necessary to become an x ray tech?
In order to become an x ray tech, you need to earn a 2-year degree. You can also opt to earn a 4-year degree and become an x ray tech or a physician’s assistant, which will give you more options in the long run.
Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become an x ray technologist?
Yes, you need to become certified to work as an x ray technologist. At the end of a 2-year program, students take a long test that includes about 200 questions. You have to meet a minimum score on that test in order to earn your certification. There are also continuing education requirements that you need to fulfill once you enter the field.
Why did you decide to become an x ray tech?
I decided to become an x ray tech while I was working in the emergency room as a registration clerk. After a couple of years, I decided that I wanted to fulfill a more clinical function. I talked with co-workers who were already x ray techs, and it sounded like a good fit for me. It is also a very flexible career that you can use to take on more responsibility if you want, so I liked knowing that I would have additional options for the future.
What were the biggest misconceptions that you had about becoming an x ray technician?
Before I started working as an x ray technician, I didn’t fully understand how much contact we have with patients and how much we see in a hospital. You can be present during procedures that are difficult to watch, or you might see a lot of blood or see patients vomit, pass out or be in pain and distress.
I also think that people often don’t realize how much responsibility x ray techs have in patients’ health and diagnosis. There is much more detail to our job than it may seem.
What do you enjoy most and least about being an x ray technician?
I enjoy that I am able to work in a variety of different settings as an x ray technician. Before I started working at the urgent care clinic here in Seattle, I worked at a pain clinic in Boston. I was able to learn a lot from the radiologist who ran the clinic, and I feel like I am able to learn and gain new skills in this field.
The thing that I least enjoy about my job is working with doctors who are under a lot of stress and have high demands. Sometimes doctors have expectations of you that you simply cannot meet until you have worked with them and learned their system.
What is a typical week like for you?
At the urgent care clinic where I currently work, I fulfill many duties in addition to working as an x ray tech because the clinic is not comprehensively staffed. I register patients, do triage, take insurance information, do lab work, take patients’ vitals including blood pressure, temperature, height, weight and record their allergies and known medical history.
Everything that I have described up until this point is work that is not typically performed by x ray techs. After I have helped the patient get in the door, I bring them to the doctor, and if the doctor orders an x ray, I will perform the x ray. After the x ray is taken, I will bill the patient, and I might collect their payment as well.
X ray techs who work in hospitals have very different work days. Often, you will walk into your department at the hospital and you will be told where you will work for that day. When I worked in a hospital, I would deliver x ray equipment to my work area, and if I hadn’t worked with the particular doctor who I was assigned to, I would ask my colleagues if there was anything unique to their process. Then I will perform the x rays requested by the doctor. In hospitals, you can bounce between different departments on a daily basis or be assigned to 1 department for many months at a time.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
I don’t have a hard time balancing my work and personal life because I currently work part time. My wife and I have consciously chosen to work less and make sacrifices in terms of salary and our standard of living in order to have more time to do the things we enjoy. I have a young daughter as well, so working part time means that I can be around for her.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as an x ray tech and what traits would hinder success?
To succeed as an x ray tech, you should be patient, detail-oriented and able to communicate clearly. Most of the time, you work by yourself, but you also follow the directions of doctors and radiologists, so good communication is a must. It is also important to be patient with them and know that they are very busy. And since you are responsible for producing high quality images, being able to notice the small details will help a lot.
On the other hand, being arrogant or over-confident will hold you back from succeeding as an x ray tech. There is always something you can learn in this field, and if you take the attitude that your co-workers are simply your co-workers rather than people you can learn from, you will not be as successful in the long run.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
I don’t regret the path I took, but I did things a little differently than most students. I spent 4 years earning a college degree and then spent another 2 years earning a technical certificate to be an x ray tech. Though I value my education a lot, I would be able to make the same amount of money with or without my bachelors degree.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming an x ray tech should pursue?
Any experience that you can get working alongside or observing x ray techs and other medical professionals is something that you should pursue if you are interested in this field. If you can find internship opportunities in any kind of medical work environment, you will be able to see what the day-to-day job and routine is like for medical professionals.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
In my x ray tech program, I spent about half of the program taking classes and the other half doing clinical work. The clinical work was certainly the most applicable to my job, but the class that I enjoyed the most was physics. We learned how radiology actually works and what it is doing to the patient’s body to produce an image. I found this fascinating.
The least valuable class that I took taught us about the mechanics of the machines we use and how to repair them if they break. Since I have worked as an x ray tech, I haven’t had to repair any of our machines, since we call in a specialist to do this.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming an x ray technologist?
If you are interested in becoming an x ray technologist, I would advise you to do your research. Make sure that this is the field you really want to get into, and make sure you understand what kind of educational program you need to complete to begin your career. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists are 2 great resources. On their websites, they provide information about the continuing education requirements that you need to keep your certification up-to-date as well as information about the field, job prospects and job duties.
I would also recommend that you talk to multiple x ray techs before you make a decision about entering the profession. Everyone has a different experience on the job, so don’t take just 1 person’s experience as the way that things work everywhere.