Radiology and X-Ray Technologist Programs
Advances in technology play a vital role in healthcare. Diagnostic tests, enabled by technology, help assure that correct diagnoses can be made so patients get the treatments they need.
As an X ray tech, you’ll be part of a healthcare team working closely with both physicians and patients. Knowing that you play an important role and make a difference in peoples’ lives makes this a rewarding and fulfilling career. If you’re interested in healthcare and enjoy working with technology, then a career as an X ray tech is one you’ll want to explore.
On this page you’ll read about:
- What an X ray tech does
- Salaries and career outlook
- How to become an X ray tech
- Certification, licensure, and career advancement
What Does an X Ray Tech Do?
X ray technologists — also called X ray technicians, radiology technicians, radiologic technicians, radiologic technologists, and radiographers — are used by different programs and employers. As healthcare has evolved, the job title and responsibilities of X ray techs have changed, too.
Depending on the employer and the position, an X ray tech job can cover a range of duties. X ray techs assist and care for others and use computers and technical equipment. They observe, obtain, and process information; they communicate with coworkers and the public in a variety of ways; they make decisions and solve problems.
On any given day, tasks performed may include:
- Preparing equipment for use
- Operating (or overseeing the operation of) imaging equipment
- Adjusting settings and positions
- Explaining procedures and answering questions
- Assuring patient safety and comfort
- Producing diagnostic images
- Collaborating and coordinating with other members of the medical team
- Compiling, categorizing, verifying, and auditing information
- Documenting and reporting information
- Completing various administrative tasks
With additional experience and training, X ray techs take on more responsibilities, such as:
- Evaluating diagnostic images to ensure that they are usable for diagnostic purposes
- Administering dye or other materials into a patient’s blood stream for diagnostic purposes
- Performing maintenance or minor emergency repairs on radiographic equipment
- Operating or overseeing the operation of radiologic or magnetic imaging equipment
- Taking CAT scans
- Performing mammograms
X ray techs work in hospitals, urgent care units, imaging clinics, and radiology practices. Whatever the location, doctors rely on the knowledge and expertise of radiologic technologists to capture good images so they can make the right diagnosis.
What Can I Earn as an X Ray Tech?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), X ray techs (excluding diagnostic medical sonographers and magnetic resonance imaging technologists) made a mean annual salary of $61,540 in 2018.
Salaries can vary quite a bit depending on the industry. For example, X ray techs in physician offices made a mean annual wage of $55,990 in 2018, while those who worked in the Federal Executive Branch made $66,790.
Where you live can also directly impact your potential income. The top paying states for this profession in 2018 were:
|State||Hourly Mean Wage||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||$37.49||$77,990|
What Is the Career Outlook for an X Ray Tech?
An aging United States population will create demand for the services provided by X ray techs, making the outlook for this career bright. In fact, the BLS predicts a 9% increase in jobs, a faster than average career growth, from 2018 to 2028.
The states with the highest employment levels for radiologic technologists in 2018 were:
|State||Number of X Ray Techs||Annual Mean Wage|
How to Become an X Ray Tech
If you’re interested in becoming an X ray tech, you’ll need to earn the right degree and credentials before you can start work. Here are the steps you’ll most likely follow to become an X ray technologist:
- Complete an associate degree program
- Obtain a professional credential (also called certification)
- Obtain a license
Associate Degree Programs
Before you can get the right certification to work as an X ray tech, you’ll need to earn either an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) or Associate of Science (AS) degree in radiologic technology from an accredited program. In order to be eligible for AART certification, which many states and employers require, you’ll need to earn a degree from a program that’s accredited by an AART-recognized agency. You can find a program’s accreditation status on the school’s website or by contacting their admission’s department.
To be eligible for an associate degree program in radiologic technology, you typically need to be a high school graduate (or have earned a GED). Some schools require students to complete general education and prerequisites before they can apply to the radiology tech program.
Associate degree programs typically take two to three years to complete. They’re offered at community colleges, technical/vocational schools, and four-year schools, both online and in person.
Once you’re accepted into a program, you can expect to take classes in:
- Radiographic procedures
- Radiographic positioning and protection
- Concepts in diagnostics
Most programs also have clinical requirements, such as a practicum, that involve hands-on participation to apply what you’ve learned.
Note that if you already have an associate degree in a subject area other than radiologic technology, you can enroll in a certificate in radiologic technology from an accredited program. These certificate programs provide the same training you would have completed in an associate degree program but skip the general education requirements you already met with your associate degree.
Online X Ray Tech Programs
X ray tech degree programs are available online, but most require at least some time on campus or at a clinical location. Since an important part of the education for this field requires hands-on experience and supervised practice, some programs may have a lab component that requires students to visit campus at least a couple of times throughout the course.
Other programs may require students to complete a practicum or clinical requirements at locations off campus that are approved by the school. Different programs offer varying levels of support when it comes to finding the right clinical location. Before you enroll in a program, make sure it will give you the level of support you’ll need in finding a location that works for you.
Like with an in-person program, it’s also important to make sure any program you’re considering is accredited. Graduating with a degree from a non-accredited program can mean you won’t be able to earn certification and won’t be able to work as an X ray tech. Check a program’s accreditation at the JRCERT or American Registry of Radiologic Technologist (ARRT) websites.
Choosing between an online and in-person program is an important decision. Consider the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed choice about which X ray tech school is right for you.
Here are a few of the common pros and cons of online Programs: Pros
- They’re convenient. Many programs allow you to take the online portions of the program at your convenience, which can be ideal for working students.
- They offer greater flexibility. Being able to choose from different clinical locations may be important to some students.
- They’re often less expensive. Even if tuition costs are the same, you save money on commuting, parking, and living expenses.
- They can be isolating. Some students miss the social interactions with classmates and instructors that come with campus programs.
- They require good time management skills. If you benefit from a more rigid structure and strict deadlines, an online program may not be the best fit.
- They require your own equipment. An online program requires access to a computer and high-speed internet. This may not be an option for some students, especially if they live in a rural area.
Certification and Licensure
To practice as an X ray tech, you will need to become licensed in your state after you complete your education. License requirements vary by state, so be sure to check your state requirements before applying. Typically, you’ll need a minimum number of education hours. Some states also require experience in the field and a licensing exam. Learn more about state licensing here.
Some states — but not all — require professional certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) in order to get a license. Even if your state doesn’t require it, many employers require X ray techs to be AART-certified. Others give preference to candidates who hold AART certification.
If you want to earn certification, you have to meet AART requirements, including:
- An associate degree or higher from a program accredited by an AART-recognized accrediting agency
- Completion of an education program in radiologic technology (either as part of your associate degree or a certificate program)
- Completion of an ethics application to show you meet the AART standards of ethics
- A passing score on the certification exam
Experience, job performance, education, and professional credentials are all factors that contribute to career advancement. Learn more about how you can advance your X ray tech career.
Get a Specialty Certification
Specialty certification in different areas of radiologic technology can help you advance your career. Expertise in multiple areas makes you more valuable to your employer and to your medical team. ARRT offers the following credential options:
- Bone Densitometry (BD): Create images to reveal bone loss using specialized X ray equipment
- Breast Sonography (BS): Produce ultrasound images to aid in diagnosis
- Cardiac Interventional Radiography (CI): Work with fluoroscopic equipment to take images of the heart and blood vessels
- Computed Tomography (CT): Use sophisticated CT equipment to perform scans on all parts of the body in order to diagnose a variety of diseases and determine the extent of injuries
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MR): Operate magnetic resonance imaging equipment, which uses properties of atoms within a magnetic field to image anatomic and/or physiologic conditions of the body
- Mammography (M): Use specialized equipment to obtain images that help physicians detect breast cancer and other breast diseases
- Nuclear Medicine Technology (N): Use radiopharmaceutical agents to capture important diagnostic images
- Radiation Therapy (T): Administer therapeutic doses of radiation using special equipment that produces ionizing radiation
- Radiography (R): Capture images of patients’ internal organs, soft tissues, and bones using X ray equipment
- Registered Radiologist Assistant (R.R.A.): Provide advanced support to radiologists including assessing and managing patients and performing select clinical procedures
- Sonography (S): Operate special equipment that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of internal organs and tissues
- Vascular Interventional Radiography (VI): Using fluoroscopic equipment, assist with minimally invasive, image-guided vascular procedures for angioplasty, stenting, and more
- Vascular Sonography (VS): Use ultrasound machines to produce images of veins and arteries
Get a Bachelor’s Degree
While it’s not required to work as an X ray tech, having a B.S. degree in radiologic technology can make you more competitive and may increase your income. It can also open the door to more advanced career opportunities.
For example, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required to become a registered radiology assistant. RAs work under a radiologist and have increased responsibilities and skills.
If you already have an associate degree in radiologic technology from an accredited program, you may be able to apply your credits in radiology to a bachelor’s degree program. This way you’ll only need to complete the general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree.
Become a Radiologist
Radiologists are specialized medical doctors who use medical imaging procedures and tests to diagnose and treat diseases and injuries.
Becoming a radiologist requires all the knowledge and skills of a radiology technologist plus medical training to interpret images, make diagnoses, and create treatment plans.
In the U.S., it takes a minimum of 12 years after high school to become a radiologist. Here’s the path most students take:
- Undergraduate degree (4 years)
- Medical degree (4 years)
- Residency (4 years)
- Sub-specialization training (1 year)