The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the demand for radiologic technologists and x-ray technicians will grow by 17 percent through 2018, which is a rate much faster than other professions. Professionals in the field average salaries of $53,230, reports the BLS, making the new positions for x-ray technicians attractive, as well as plentiful. To enter the field, would-be x-ray technicians must receive the proper education and licensing and possess certain other skills.
The work of x-ray technicians requires post-secondary education from an institution accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. The most common form of educational programs for techs are associate's degree programs, according to the BLS. Medical training schools and community or junior colleges offer these associate's programs in x-ray technology, which typically require 21 to 24 months to complete. As of 2009, there were also 35 programs at traditional colleges and universities in the U.S. that granted bachelor's degrees. The average length of study for a bachelor's program is four years. Education programs for x-ray technicians combine classroom-based lessons in anatomy, chemistry and physics, with hands-on practice performing tests.
The federal government requires that radiologic technicians like x-ray techs receive a state-issued license prior to treating patients independently. The specific requirements necessary to obtain the license vary from state to state. In most cases, states request proof of education in x-ray technology, such as a copy of a diploma or an academic transcript. States usually require prospective techs to pass either a paper-based or computerized examination about radiologic safety and procedures. Some states impose continuing education requirements upon licensed techs who wish to maintain their status. To fulfill these requirements, techs take classroom-based or self-study courses on an annual or other regular basis and submit proof of completion to the state.
Successful x-ray technicians possess professionalism, empathy and the ability to put patients at ease and keep them comfortable during the testing process. Reading comprehension is integral to the work of techs, as they must interpret the written orders of physicians prior to testing. Manual dexterity, attentiveness to detail and basic mathematics skills are also necessary for performing tests. Because technicians perform maintenance and basic repairs upon x-ray equipment, problem-solving is an additional requirement. Techs may also need the ability to operate email, medical databases or scheduling software programs.
Adhering to safety regulations is an important requirement for technicians and involves keeping surfaces of the x-ray machinery clean, wearing gloves or other proper protection, and sterilizing instruments. Technicians also apply special shields to block radiation from reaching parts of the patients' bodies not being tested. X-ray technicians must also keep patient health information confidential and protect medical records from unauthorized viewing. Not only is maintaining confidentiality a principle of medical ethics, but also it is mandated by the U.S. federal government as a part of compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).