How to Become a Radiologic Technician

    The term “radiologic technician” was once used to describe entry-level radiologic professionals, but in modern practice, it is rarely used. As technology and practice standards have evolved, “radiologic technologist” has overtaken technician as the term of choice. However, there are still roles within radiologic technology that are analogous to what used to be called “technicians.” These roles are now more commonly referred to as limited scope x-ray machine operator or x-ray technician. Since those who are new to the field often begin researching careers with the “radiologic technician” terminology, we use it here, but it should be understood that the proper terminology in modern practice for this role is x-ray technician (often shortened to x-ray tech).

    The primary job of a technician is to properly administer x-rays, which includes following the many safety procedures required as well as guiding the patient comfortably through the procedure. In some states, they are permitted to perform closely-related tasks, such as fluoroscopy exams. It is also common for technicians to pursue further training and education in order to become radiologic technologists. On this page, you’ll learn more about careers, salary expectations, and the job outlook for radiologic technicians.

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    Key Takeaway: There is a significant difference between a radiologic technician and a radiologic technologist. Technologists can perform advanced imaging procedures and operate many types of medical imaging equipment. In contrast, technicians have a limited scope of practice that varies by location and is determined by each state’s department of health. If you are interested in becoming a technologist, see our page about how to become a radiologic technologist.

    Radiologic Technician/X-Ray Technician Job Description

    Radiologic (x-ray) technicians can be found working in hospitals, medical centers, neighborhood clinics, imaging centers, and private medical practices. They may also maintain imaging equipment, as well as help set up imaging equipment for use by radiologic technologists and other professionals. As with most medical professions, technicians must learn the medical terminology used in the areas of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and radiologic technology. Radiologic technicians are expected to have strong interpersonal skills to make patients feel comfortable with the various procedures being performed. They may only work under the direct supervision of a licensed professional such as a medical doctor (MD), radiologist assistant (RA), or other practitioner who is enabled to supervise x-ray operation under applicable state laws.

    Radiology/X-Ray Technician Requirements and Common Tasks

    Technicians are responsible for preparing the exam room and equipment to be used for examinations. They must be careful to verify that the x-rays ordered are appropriate to the diagnostic goals; for example, x-rays generally are not used to diagnose soft tissue injuries, so proceeding with an x-ray in this scenario could expose the patient to unnecessary radiation. They must explain the procedure to patients and position the patient appropriately to capture the desired image. This includes ensuring patient safety during the exam by providing radiation shielding to the parts of the body that are not being imaged and minimizing the amount of radiation exposure.

    After taking an image, an x-ray tech will verify that the image is satisfactory before stopping the imaging session. However, x-ray techs cannot provide diagnoses to patients. Instead, they will forward the image and any relevant clinical notes to the radiologist or other qualified practitioner managing the patient’s case. In addition to image management using hard copies as well as computerized records, they must manage significant amounts of paperwork relating to patient records as well as equipment use and maintenance. Most technicians work 40 hours per week or more. It is also common for them to be assigned work shifts or on-call duties during nights and weekends.

    How to Become a Radiologic/X-Ray Technician

    The process of becoming a radiologic technician varies from state to state. Not all states recognize technicians or limited scope x-ray operators; in states that do not have these categories of practice, there is typically licensure for radiologic technologists. In states where limited x-ray practice is recognized, the common route to get started in this career is to complete an x-ray certificate program from an accredited college or university. The typical process to become a radiologic technician is:

    1. Earn a high school diploma or GED.
    2. Earn a certificate in limited scope x-ray operation.
    3. Complete an internship in x-ray/medical assisting during your program.
    4. Pass any required state exams, such as the Limited Scope of Practice in Radiography offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
    5. Apply for a license to practice as a limited scope x-ray operator, if applicable in your state.
    6. Begin applying for open positions.

    Radiologic/X-Ray Technician Education and Job Training

    As noted above, not all states offer a limited scope x-ray license. In states that do recognize technicians, the minimum requirement is completing a formal certificate in x-ray technology completed at an accredited college of university. As of 2021, states that offered this category of licensure included:

    In addition, 11 states do not require radiologic technologists or technicians to be licensed: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC. However, though states vary in their requirements, the minimum requirement held by employers is completion of an accredited certificate program. As such, your first step towards this career will be finding and applying to an x-ray tech program.

    The basic requirement for admission to an x-ray training program is typically a high school diploma or GED. However, those who have at least a minimal background in college-level math, science, chemistry, biology, or physics will probably feel more comfortable with the medical courses required for this career. Certificate programs in x-ray technology can typically be completed in six months to one year, although it is possible to find shorter, full-time programs. If you complete your certificate at an accredited two-year community college or four-year college or university, the credits earned may also transfer towards an associate’s degree in radiologic technology, should you wish to pursue further career advancement in the field.

    Radiology/X-Ray Technician Salary and Job Outlook

    The average x-ray technician salary varies depending on the state and employer. Technicians earn less than radiologic technologists due to the less lengthy training requirements and their limited scope of practice. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t provide specific data for technicians, the average salary for health technologists and technicians, who operate at a similar level of education and licensure, was reported at $45,620 per year as of 2020.1 In comparison, the average radiologic technologist salary in 2020 was $61,900 annually.1

    Job growth for radiologic technicians is promising, partially due to a large number of aging baby boomers who will require healthcare and treatments. The career outlook for radiologic technologists, which includes technicians, is positive, with a projected growth rate of 9% for the profession through 2030.1 Read our radiologic technologist career page to learn more about further career options.

    Additional Resources

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How do you become an x-ray technician?

    To become an x-ray technician, you will typically need to complete a certificate in x-ray technology. Some states also require that techs become licensed; this license is commonly known as a limited scope x-ray license. Other states do not recognize x-ray techs and require that all medical imaging professionals have a license at the radiologic technologist level or above. Be sure to check with your state board of radiation safety for current requirements.

    How long does it take to become an x-ray tech?

    In states where x-ray tech is a recognized practice role, a post-high school or postsecondary certificate is the common requirement. These certificate programs can typically be completed in six months to a year, which usually includes at least one internship or clinical rotation. If your state requires licensure, you should also plan for one to three months for the testing and application process.

    What does a radiology tech (x-ray tech) do?

    Radiologic and x-ray techs perform basic x-ray imaging of patients, based on the direction and under the supervision of a qualified medical doctor (MD) or another licensed practitioner. This includes making patients comfortable, maintaining and operating x-ray equipment, and maintaining and cleaning x-ray imaging areas. X-ray techs must also keep meticulous records relating to patients’ charts as well as the equipment that they use.

    How much do x-ray techs make?

    An x-ray technician’s salary varies based on factors such as education, experience, geographic area, and the type of employer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), health technologists and technicians earn an average of $45,620 per year; this category is roughly analogous to the education and training of x-ray techs.1 Radiologic technologists, who have a greater scope of practice as well as more in-depth education and training, earn an average of $61,900 per year.1 X-ray techs who are interested in career advancement typically return to school to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in medical imaging and qualify for radiologic technologist positions.

    How do I know if a radiology technician school is accredited?

    There are numerous x-ray programs available at accredited schools. Many such certificate programs are hosted at community colleges, although there are four-year colleges and universities that offer x-ray tech certificates. Hospital-based programs are another option, although prospective techs should be careful to check how the financial aid and credit transfer options for these programs compare to traditional school-based programs.

    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Radiologic and MRI Technologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm