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What Does a Radiologic Technologist Do? An Inside Look at the Job

male looking at x-ray machine with female patient in background

You’re finally ready to leave your dead-end job in the dust in pursuit of a stable career that makes a difference. You’re naturally drawn to the healthcare field, and have recently become intrigued by the role of a radiologic technologist.

These often behind-the-scenes medical professionals aren’t always at the public’s top of mind when it comes to healthcare careers. While you’ve done enough digging to have piqued your interest in this career, you still have some pretty important questions to get to the bottom of: What does a radiologic technologist do? What skills do they need? How much do radiologic technicians make?

Before you set off down this exciting new career path, you need a little more information. And lucky for you, we have the answers to all of your questions and more. Read on for a closer look at the crucial role of a radiologic technologist.

What is a radiologic technologist, anyway?

If you’ve ever broken a bone or had an ultrasound, you were likely helped by a radiologic technologist. These medical specialists use x-rays, sound waves and other tools of diagnostic imagery to create images of internal organs, bones and tissues.

Sometimes referred to as radiographers, these professionals use several types of equipment to gather images that help physicians diagnose patient ailments and determine the best course of action for treatment. Most radiologic techs are experts in x-ray and computed tomography (CT) imaging. Some may choose to specialize in imaging techniques like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET).

In order to gain a better understanding of what a radiologic technologist does, it’s important to understand what they don’t do as well. Keep reading to debunk some common myths.

Common misconceptions about radiologic technologists

There are a lot of myths about this rewarding radiology career. You can safely ignore these common assumptions about radiologic technologists. They simply aren’t true!

  • All they do is take x-rays: Many people associate radiologic technologists with x-rays. While some may require additional training, these medical professionals actually have a wide range of specialties to choose from, including sonography, mammography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Radiologic technologists and technicians are the same: These commonly confused radiology careersactually come with different duties and responsibilities. Radiologic technicians are primarily concerned with prepping patients and performing imaging procedures. Radiologic technologists, on the other hand, have a broader scope of work and may take on assisting physicians as they perform procedures or administering therapeutic doses of radiation, among other duties. 
  • A radiologic technologist’s job ends after capturing the image they need: Though radiologic techs are responsible for taking x-rays or performing MRIs, their involvement doesn’t stop there. They ensure the quality of the images captured, maintain imaging equipment and assist physicians as they make their diagnosis.

Radiologic technologist job duties

Now that you know what radiologic technologists don’t do, it’s time to learn about their daily job duties and their role in the medical community. Radiologic technologists are skilled equipment operators who know exactly how to capture the images they need and how to shield patients from harmful radiation in the process.

As mentioned above, their job doesn’t end after the x-ray, CT scan or MRI is complete. Radiologic techs then put those images to work to help support physicians in determining a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Here are some of the daily job duties a radiologic technologist might encounter, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):1

  • Maintaining and operating imaging equipment
  • Preparing patients for imaging procedures
  • Following precise instructions about the areas needing imaging to obtain a quality image
  • Operating computerized equipment to capture images
  • Working with physicians to evaluate images and determine if more are needed

Radiologic technologists play an important role in patient care and in the healthcare community as a whole. “Whether producing an x-ray image to detect a broken bone or delivering radiation therapy to destroy a cancerous tumor, radiologic technologists provide the care that leads to diagnosis, treatment and cure,” according to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT).

Physicians rely on the imagery obtained through CT scans, MRIs, x-rays, mammograms, sonograms and other imaging technologies to accurately diagnose and treat their patients. None of this would be possible without the work of radiologic technologists.

Radiologic technologist work environment

You’re probably curious where radiologic technologists work. Nearly 60 percent are employed in hospitals, according to the BLS.1 But that’s not the only place their skills are needed. If you can’t picture yourself working in a bustling hospital, there are still plenty of options for starting your radiologic technologist career.

Physicians’ offices and clinics are also frequent employers of radiologic technologists. Other facilities that hire these specialists include nursing homes, outpatient care centers and stand-alone facilities that specialize in diagnostic imagery. Regardless of the setting, these professionals are always required to wear specialized equipment to protect them from harmful effects of radiation.

The BLS states that most radiologic techs work full time. Some who are employed in hospitals are required to work outside of traditional business hours, including nights, weekends and holidays shifts. Those working in a clinic setting can expect a more standard work schedule.

Important skills for radiologic technologists

It may sound intimidating to work with radiation and specialized imaging equipment, but radiologic techs need plenty of soft skills, too. With the right education and training, you can gain all the expertise you need to excel in this rewarding healthcare career.

We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 45,000 radiologic technologist job postings from the past year.2 This data helped us identify the top skills employers are seeking in candidates.

Top technical skills for radiologic techs2

  • Radiology
  • X-rays
  • Patient care
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Quality assurance and control
  • Life support
  • Mammography
  • Scheduling
  • Radiation protection
  • Patient preparation

Top transferable skills for radiologic techs2

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Computer literacy
  • Physical abilities
  • Organization
  • Relationship building
  • Research
  • Problem solving
  • Writing
  • Attention to detail

If you can relate to the transferable skills listed above, you might be naturally inclined to find success as a radiologic technologist. All that’s missing are the technical skills needed to perform the job duties, which can be acquired through a Radiologic Technology degree program.

Radiologic technologist salary and career outlook

If you’re excited about the prospect of pursuing this profession, you’re likely curious about some important career details. First off, how much do radiologic technologists make? And what is the job outlook for the field?

You’ll be happy to hear that the median annual salary for radiologic technologists in 2019 was $60,510, according to the BLS.1 This is higher than the national average for all occupations, which the BLS reports as $39,810.1 Earning potential can fluctuate depending on the type of facility in which you’re employed. Compensation tends to be highest for radiologic techs working in outpatient care centers.1

The next logical question is around job availability. The BLS reports that employment of radiologic technologists is projected to increase 11 percent through 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.1 This growth can be attributed to the aging Baby-Boom population requiring more diagnostic imaging procedures.

Interested in becoming a radiologic technologist?

Now you know what a radiologic technologist does and what it takes to become one. Does this description have you thinking this could be the career change you’ve been seeking?

If you can picture yourself in this position, learn more about the next steps needed to enter the field. You can find this info and more in our article, “How to Become a Radiologic Technologist: Examining Your Path.”

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed July, 2020] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 46,895 radiologic technologist job postings, Jul. 01, 2019 – Jun. 30, 2020).

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.

Callie Malvik

Callie is the Content Manager at Collegis Education, overseeing blog content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about creating quality resources that empower others to improve their lives through education.

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