An x-ray technician — more accurately known as a radiologic technologist — is a trained health care worker, with specific skills in the area of manipulating x-ray and other medical imaging equipment to take "insider" pictures of the body so that diseases, conditions, or injury can be visualized and diagnosed. In this growing field, most x-ray techs train for a year or two prior to working in a variety of locations. Jobs in this field may take place in hospitals, doctor's offices, radiology clinics, dental offices, and convalescent homes. The field is not without risk, since long-term exposure to frequent x-rays is correlated to the development of certain cancers. Following safety protocols like blocking vulnerable body parts from radiation with lead sheets or walls while x-rays are taken minimizes this risk.
For their training, radiologic technologists must learn how to operate fixed and portable x-ray equipment, how to develop pictures, and how to position people so the best pictures can be taken. Some people go on to learn other aspects of the radiology profession and may be able to do sonograms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), and computerized axial tomography scans (CAT scans or CT scans). The field requires ability to work well with people, who may sometimes be uncooperative or unable through illness or injury, to stand, sit, or lie down in certain positions. The technician must exude a calm and helpful demeanor, especially to those who are worried and in pain.
The one thing an x-ray technician cannot do under virtually all circumstances is to discuss findings of an x-ray with a patient. This is the work of a radiologist, doctor, physician's assistant, or nurse practitioner. A skilled x-ray technician may be able to spot potential problems on x-ray images, but his or her role is not to interpret and discuss results with patients. Patients receiving x-rays should respect these health professionals by not asking them about results or treatment. Instead, ask the technician when a radiologist or doctor will read the films, and when they can expect to hear from a radiologist or doctor about the results.
Usually an x-ray technician is trained to spot problems that require emergency treatment and will notify a radiologist immediately if a serious problem exists. If the x-ray doesn't reveal immediate issues, a patient might wait several days before receiving results. X-rays that show problems become the first priority of the radiology lab or the technician.
Workers in this field can expect a variety of different working circumstances, sometimes must work under pressure, and sometimes endure stressful situations when people are seriously ill or in pain. It can help to not only train in your field but also to understand the goal of your job, to create pictures of problems, so that doctors or dentists can solve them. Though solving a problem is not always feasible, the x-ray technician plays a vital role in the diagnostic aspect of health care.
It is important to note that while the term x-ray tech is used to refer to an x-ray technician, it is also used to refer to an x-ray technologist. X-ray technologists generally have more education (typically at least an associate's degree) and training than an x-ray technician and may have supervisory responsibilities as well. Some people also refer to a person who fixes x-ray machines as an x-ray technician or an x-ray tech, but the correct title is an "x-ray repair technician".