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Radiation Technology Jobs

by Jennifer Alyson

Radiologic technologists are the specialists who take X-rays, bone-density scans and CT images. Most technologists work at hospitals, where they work hands-on with patients and prevent overexposure to radiation. Technologists can advance to management positions with experience and education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts job growth in the field of 28 percent from 2010 to 2020, as the population ages and requires greater healthcare services.

What Technologists Do

Radiologic technologists let doctors see what’s causing aches and pains inside patients. They use X-rays or CT machines to spot broken bones or large tumors, or radiopharmaceuticals and special cameras to take snapshots of how organs function. Some technologists use the sound waves of sonography, or the giant magnets of magnetic resonance imaging, to create an anatomical map of what’s ailing a patient. Radiation technologists can also specialize in patient types, including expectant moms, women who need mammograms or seniors with orthopedic problems. Other specialty areas include bone-density scanning or cardiovascular intervention. Regardless of subfield, technologists need to take patient histories and update medical records.

Working Conditions

Radiologic technologists must be people-oriented and detail-oriented. Expect to work constantly with patients, giving them instructions, administering imaging agents, positioning them on equipment and making sure they’re comfortable. Attention to details is essential in a field that works with radiation. To prevent overexposure, technologists have to follow both legal and clinical policies, such as limiting the size of radiation beams or using lead shields. Technologists also risk exposure to infectious diseases, must wear badges to measure radiation levels and need to keep records on their lifetime radiation dose. It can be tedious work, but the job offers the work-life balance of a flexible schedule. Technologists can work full- or part-time, or choose evening or graveyard shifts. Or they can schedule several days in a row on the job, followed by a few days off.

Where the Jobs Are

As of 2010, 219,900 radiologic technologists worked in a variety of healthcare facilities in the United States. The majority — 61 percent — worked inside hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’ll find most hospital-based technologists in trauma departments, surgery suites or angiography rooms. Another 21 percent were employed in doctors’ private practices. Medical and diagnostic labs employed 9 percent, while outpatient clinics employed 3 percent. Finally, 2 percent worked for the federal government.

Qualifications

Radiologic technologists need an associate or bachelor’s degree in the field. It can take two to four years to finish a program, which teaches students anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, health conditions and how to use radiation technology. With a basic degree, a radiologic technologist can take additional classes in specialty areas, such as radiation therapy, ultrasound or mammography. Important traits include physical strength to help patients get onto and off of equipment, and manual dexterity to take precise images. Technologists also have to be able to communicate verbally and in writing, to discuss procedures with patients, and share images and diagnoses with doctors.

Advancement

With some experience and additional education, radiologic technologists can become managers. Options include program director, shift supervisor or chief radiologic technologist, all of whom manage teams of technologists. Other management responsibilities include quality assurance, budgeting, personnel and bringing in new technologies. Landing a top management job usually requires at least five years of experience as a technologist. Some employers prefer managers with formal business education.

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