Some of the health care industry’s most valuable employees are the first-responders. Paramedics, EMTs, emergency room nurses, and admittance staff all play vital roles in helping get those in need to help quickly and efficiently. Yet an often-overlooked part of that first-responder team is the x-ray technologist, who helps work with patients to uncover the pain inside. This crucial health care position is critical in making sure doctors can make the right diagnoses and save patients’ lives.
However, there is some confusion about what an x-ray tech is and does. Many people use the terms x-ray technician and x-ray technologist interchangeably, when there is actually quite a difference; radiologic technicians are those individuals tasked with fixing x-ray, MRI, and CT scan machines when they break down, while x-ray technologists work with patients and doctors to create x-rays and other internal images.
X-ray techs combine bits of several professions into their job descriptions. Like nurses, they prepare patients for radiologic procedures, usually making sure patients are calm and in the proper position for the x-rays to be taken. This involves talking to the patients and determining their areas of concern, as well as sometimes collecting survey information or filing paperwork.
Another similarity with nurses is that x-ray techs primarily collect and deliver data to physicians; technologists are expressly forbidden from talking to patients about the results of their scans, or giving them any form of diagnosis. Skilled technologists may be able to spot breaks, hernia, and other problems in images, but are duty-bound to report these findings to a doctor for interpretation and action.
The bulk of an x-ray tech’s job is operating x-ray machines–both smaller, portable equipment and larger, stationary ones–to capture pictures of patient’s bones, soft tissues, and organs. They then develop these pictures and pass them on to doctors and radiologists, making sure to alert fellow staff member to any urgent problems that may need immediate care.
X-ray technologists work both full-time and part-time in hospitals, laboratories, outpatient care centers, clinics, and a growing number of diagnostic imaging centers. Full-time techs generally clock in 40 hours per week, while part-time employees may only work 20 hours a week. However, since injury and illness can happen at any time of the day, most technologists, especially those just breaking into the field, have nighttime, overtime, or on-call shifts they must complete occasionally.
By its very nature, working in radiology involves regular exposure to radiation, although, at their strongest, a single x-ray or CT scan produces less than 1% of what would be considered a lethal dose. However, the medical industry takes strong precautions to protect x-ray technologists from radiation and its effects, requiring the use of protective vests, gloves, and screens, keeping tabs on employees’ cumulative radiation exposure, and taking steps to make sure techs don’t reach dangerous levels.
So to be on the front lines, fighting disease and illness with the click of a shutter and hands of a healer, consider a career as an x-ray technologist, rooting out the cause of the problem to fix it.