Radiologic technology is more than just a career with a long name. It's
a challenging career with a great deal of variety.
Alex Gontar is a professor of radiological technology at a health institute.
He says that radiologic technologists produce diagnostic-quality medical images.
But there's much more to it than that.
"We need to use the least amount of radiation possible on the patients
to produce the images and in the process provide optimum patient care by ensuring
the patient is as comfortable as possible -- and safe from harm.
"The task is further complicated by the sheer number of different diagnostic
procedures there are to know and the wide variety of equipment used to acquire
Gontar says radiologic technologists have to "use our knowledge of anatomy,
physiology, pathology and positioning to best demonstrate different body parts
under different conditions. Also required is an intimate understanding of
the equipment, and the amount and quality of radiation required.
"Patient-care skills are essential to know how to deal with patients with
different illnesses and injury."
Leacy O'Callaghan-O'Brien is the director of advocacy, communications and
events for a radiation technology association. She points out that advances
in technology have made a significant impact in this industry in the last
In addition to new technologies that give even us even clearer and more
precise images, there is also "increasing emphasis on research within the
profession, and a growing emphasis on inter-professionalism and collaboration
within the health-care team," she explains.
Myke Kudlas is the vice-president of education and research at the American
Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT). He says that RTs, as radiologic
technologists are often called, may specialize in a specific imaging technique.
"The radiologic technologists who specialize in radiation therapy, which
is the delivery of high doses of radiation to treat cancer and other diseases,
are radiation therapists and medical dosimetrists," he adds. Dosimetrists
calculate a patient's dose of radiation and work with physicians to create
a treatment plan.
Kudlas says that radiologic technologists are in a unique place in the
health-care world. They work with high-tech equipment, but they also work
very closely with patients.
"This high-tech/high-touch combination provides RTs with the opportunity
to help patients, but also use incredible technology," he says. "So, RTs must
master the human side of the profession in addition to learning about medical
imaging and radiation therapy equipment."
Gontar says it's that human touch that provides him with some of the most
satisfying parts of the job. But he says the satisfaction of having helped
someone is just the start.
"It's relying on your knowledge and skills to get a diagnostic image, often
under very difficult situations, such as a trauma patient in the E.R. [emergency
room], a surgical procedure in the O.R.[operating room], or an unconscious
patient in the I.C.U. [intensive care unit]. In those situations, you need
to be able to work as a member of a team with nurses, physicians and other
staff, in stressful situations -- and often with people you've not met before."
Like a lot of jobs in health care, being a radiologic technologist is a
lot of work and can be very stressful, but for Gontar, the sense of helping
another person makes it all worthwhile.
"The biggest sense of satisfaction I get is when a patient says 'thank
you' after a particularly difficult, lengthy procedure," he says.
In the U.S. right now, there isn't a huge demand for radiologic technologists,
says Kudlas. He says changes in the health-care industry and the economy are
two factors. While there was a large shortage not too long ago, he says that's
slowed down in the last five or six years.
"We don't know if another shortage of medical imaging technologists will
occur once the economy stabilizes and many health-care questions are answered,"
"ASRT has conducted a great deal of research in the past that shows the
demand for radiologic technologists increasing and decreasing. Right now we
are in a period of decreased demand, but these periods are generally followed
by a demand surge. Therefore, it depends on several factors."
Students of radiologic technology can also be certified in a large number
of subspecialties, which can help out in a tight job market. Here is an example
of a few of the subspecialties as posted on the American Society of Radiologic
- Radiographers use radiation (X-rays) to produce black-and-white images of a person's
insides. The images are captured on film, computer or videotape.
- Sonographers use sound waves to produce images of organs and tissues in the body. The
sound waves send back "echoes" as they bounce off internal organs and tissues.
- Nuclear medicine technologists administer trace amounts of radiopharmaceuticals (a source of radiation)
to a patient. The radiation lets the technologist see how certain organs,
tissues and bones are functioning.
- Radiation therapists administer targeted doses of radiation to the patient's body to treat
cancer or other diseases. As the radiation strikes human tissue, it produces
highly energized ions that gradually shrink and destroy the nucleus of cancerous
Gontar says earnings vary "depending on what kind of facility you work
in. After that it depends on what additional qualifications you attain, or
what type of work you prefer."
To get started in this line of work, there are college or
university programs that offer degrees in medical radiologic technology. Requirements
vary from state to state; many require certification, while some don't.