Radiology Nursing: Exploring Its Role in Diagnosis and Treatment
When considering becoming a nurse, you picture yourself wearing scrubs and caring for patients—and maybe that’s where your vision for your nursing career ends. Knowing that you’d like to become a nurse is one thing, but it’s also nice to have a clearer picture of the nursing specialties you may potentially pursue as you advance in your career.
Radiology nursing might not be one of the first nursing specialties most people think of, but it certainly sounds intriguing. But what do radiology nurses do all day? What types of equipment do they work with? And what’s this “interventional radiology nurse” job title you’ve seen around?
We know the prospect of becoming a radiology nurse can leave you with more questions than answers. Don’t worry! We’re here to bring you an inside look at the radiology nursing specialty.
Are there different types of radiology nurses?
Before you learn more about the daily job duties of radiology nurses, you need a basic overview of the radiology field and the different types of radiology available.
This area of medicine focuses on imaging procedures that help doctors see inside a patient’s body. X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds all fall under the umbrella of radiology. This specialty also includes radiation therapy, which is commonly used to treat cancer.
All radiology nursing involves radiation or imaging technology, but these imaging procedures can be used for different purposes. Radiology nursing falls into three main categories: diagnostic, interventional and therapeutic.
Diagnostic radiology nurse
The nurses who work in diagnostic radiology are part of a team that is helping to determine exactly what is causing a patient’s symptoms (or screening for early detection of certain illnesses before symptoms begin). Once imaging scans have provided that information, patients will move onto the care of their physician or a specialist for treatment.
Interventional radiology nurse
“Interventional radiology uses imaging to provide some form of treatment, such as a biopsy, injection or aspiration,” says Laura Horton, clinical specialist sonographer and owner of Hound101. Some treatments require imaging procedures to allow the medical team to see what’s happening to a patient internally. Certain surgeries, catheter placement, draining fluid and placing feeding tubes are all possible because of interventional radiology.1
Therapeutic radiology nurse
Therapeutic radiology is the term for radiation that is used to treat cancer or other diseases. Each patient is given a specific plan for how much radiation to use to best treat their illness. Because therapeutic radiology can be especially difficult for patients, these radiology nurses typically have a calming, empathetic demeanor.2
What radiology nurses do
Though these types of radiology are different, all radiology nurses share similar job duties. As you might expect, radiology nurses care for patients while they are in the radiology department, whether it’s for the X-ray of a potentially broken bone, preparation for an interventional radiology procedure or receiving cancer radiation therapy.
Radiology nurses don’t actually run the diagnostic equipment (that job falls to radiologic technologists), but they are very involved in preparing and caring for patients who are awaiting or recovering from imaging procedures.
Administering medication, monitoring patient vital signs, ensuring patient safety and placing IV lines are all common parts of the job in this nursing specialty. They also keep patients informed about what to expect during their imaging procedure, and they often act as a liaison between patients and other members of the radiology team. Depending on the specific area of radiology a nurse works in, there may be additional job duties.
For example, radiology nurses who work with patients awaiting a CT exam will have to administer contrast dye, which can cause adverse reactions. “The radiology nurse is trained to cannulate the patient via IV, inject the contrast media, observe the patient after the procedure and administer any care required in the event of a reaction,” Horton says.
Where do radiology nurses work?
Radiology nurses work in a wide variety of medical settings, from physicians’ offices and urgent care centers to hospitals, oncology clinics and stand-alone imaging facilities. The type of setting a radiology nurse chooses to work in can impact the demands of the job.
For example, radiology nurses can typically expect to work standard nine-to-five hours in a clinic setting, while those in hospitals or urgent cares may need to work overnights, weekends and holidays.
The radiology department can also be a fast-paced environment at times, leading to higher stress levels for nurses, according to Horton. However, she adds that the enjoyable variety of work more than makes up for those busy times!
How to become a radiology nurse
Radiology nurses need a high level of technical skill and training to properly do their jobs. The first step is to enroll in a nursing program. Though you can become a licensed registered nurse (RN) with either an Associate’s degree (ADN) or Bachelor’s degree (BSN), those with an ADN may have a tough time entering the radiology field without a higher degree under their belt.
Once you’ve earned your Nursing degree, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse. You can begin working as a radiology nurse at this point, but you may also want to consider certification to boost your resume and prove your skill and knowledge of the specialty. The certification exam is conducted by the Association for Radiologic and Imaging Nursing and can be maintained through ongoing continuing education.
Advancement opportunities are everywhere once you begin working in the field. Radiology nurses may choose to move up the ranks by obtaining their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or becoming a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist.
Envision your career as a radiology nurse
Now that you’ve seen your career possibilities as a radiology nurse, you realize this could be the right nursing specialty for you after all. The first step to qualify for this medical career is to become an RN.
Earning your RN designation isn’t as daunting as it sounds! Get started by reading “How to Become a Registered Nurse: Your 4-Step Guide.”
1American Medical Association, Interventional Radiology-Integrated, What Is a Radiologist? https://www.ama-assn.org/specialty/radiology-interventional-and-diagnostic-specialty-description [accessed February, 2020]
2Johns Hopkins Medicine, Health – Therapeutic Radiology Overview https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/therapeutic-radiology-overview [accessed February, 2020]