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What Does an X-Ray Technician Do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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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".

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon329244 — On Apr 08, 2013

I am doing a project in school about technology in the workplace. I am interested in this field because it deals with interesting work. The technology I want to know about is gas chromatographs. Can you tell me anything about them?

What type of equipment/tools do you use in your field?

What technology is used in your job?

What do you specialize in?

How many other people are using this technology in your work environment?

What type of training/degree do you need for using this technology?

What school did you attend? How did it help you understand this technology?

Is there an age limit for using the technology? What is the age limit?

How has this technology evolved over time?

How does this technology help you to succeed in your everyday activities as a Forensic?

On average how many times a day do you use this technology?

What is your favorite/least favorite part of the technology?

Did this technology inspire you to choose this field of work?

Thank you for your time. I appreciate your cooperation with my project.

By anon249858 — On Feb 23, 2012

@juno: It is completely illegal and unethical to operate any type of x-ray machine anywhere on this earth unless you are a trained professional medical radiation technologist. An unlicensed lay-person taking x-rays in the australian bush or anywhere is completely unsafe.

By anon249856 — On Feb 23, 2012

While there is no known "safe" dose of radiation and yes, radiation can cause cancer, exams using x-rays are very beneficial. It is a question of the benefit of the test outweighing the risk.

We try to keep exposure and the number of x-ray exams to a minimum of course, but if you're going to determine what is wrong with the patient then it's well worth it.

In Canada and I'm sure in most parts of the world, we try to keep x-ray exposure to the patient and to the technologist/radiologist to an absolute minimum. The walls, doors and windows in the diagnostic imaging departments are lined with lead and the tech can only push the exposure button from behind a protective barrier.

When absolutely necessary (but very, very seldom) we have to be in the room with the patient and get exposed. There are many ways to protect yourself in this situation - lead shielding, distance etc. It is a very safe and rewarding field. Oh yeah: we are technologists, not technicians.

By anon225999 — On Oct 29, 2011

@anon179067: If you are standing behind the lead shield while the ct/xray is taken, you should be fine.

However, if you are not, then you should always wear a lead shield, especially to protect your sensitive areas such as your ovaries. If you are standing directly beside the machine while the exposures are being taken and are not wearing lead this is in violation of many safety regulations.

However, generally if you are standing six meters or farther away from the machine when an X-ray is taken, the dose you receive will be insignificant as there will be almost no scatter at that point. (It's what many portable techs do to help limit the dose they receive).

If you are not being given any form of protection and are near the patient when the imaging is taking place, I would raise these concerns as repeated exposure to your thyroid/reproductive system isn't really a good thing.

By anon225935 — On Oct 29, 2011

@anon167185: If these were simple X-Rays being taken when you were poking your head out, there would have been no radiation present so there would have been zero exposure to you as they would not have had you poking your head out during the exposure.

If this was during a fluro procedure, then the distance between you and the machine would have made it so that your very brief exposure would still have been less than that of simply walking outside on a sunny day.

The partition is filled with lead and the glass has lead in it so if you are behind it there is virtually zero exposure (or not enough to even show up on an X-Ray film).

By anon179067 — On May 23, 2011

I am a 23 year old female and i am working in one diagnostic center where we take x-ray and c.t scans for dental purposes and i am not wearing any protection like a lead partition or lead jackets. what are the problems i may face in my future and what types of precautions do i need to take for this? please suggest.

By anon167185 — On Apr 11, 2011

I work as a medical interpreter, and today i had to help a radiologist in a clinic. i didn't wear the proper gear (lead vest and thyroid band) but they asked me to stay behind the partition where the control area is. still i had to poke my head in and out for the patient to hear. do you think i could have harmed my thyroid gland by exposure or is it my phobia?

By anon160907 — On Mar 17, 2011

what kind of new skills do x-ray techs have to stay up to date with. I'm writing a paper now and need all the help i can get. thank you very much.

By anon128479 — On Nov 19, 2010

I am an Irish qualified radiographer. I think that the above description simplifies my profession too much. In England, specifically trained radiographers are allowed to report on x rays.

To say that a technologist "may" be able to spot abnormalities on images is actually rather insulting. Any technologist worth their salt should be able to spot life threatening abnormalities. As for Irish and English qualified radiographers, our use of initiative is essential in order for us to train in other modalities such as CT.

For a number of reasons, American qualified x ray techs are not generally allowed to practice in Europe as our training is a lot more concise. I'm afraid that American training (as well as training in other parts of the world) merely allow techs to be able to push the button.

By anon120610 — On Oct 21, 2010

i would also like to know what kind of machinery x-ray techs use in their line of work. I also have a research paper due in a week. please respond quickly. thanks. -hannalea

By anon114473 — On Sep 28, 2010

Please don't rely on this site for your information. So much of it is incorrect. I have been a registered Radiologic Technologist for five years working in the U.S. A "technician" does not refer to someone who has less experience than me. A "technician" is a repair person as stated previously and has nothing to do with medical imaging.

During most X Ray exams the tech is behind a protective barrier and is not exposed to radiation. There are very strict laws in the U.S. about the protective measures in place. The doors are lead lined, glass windows in the room are leaded, no leakage is allowed outside of the room, techs wear radiation detector badges, etc. If a tech is exposed to radiation, they wear protective clothing such as lead aprons and gloves and leaded glasses. An exposure report is issued monthly based on the badge reading and techs are not allowed to work if they reach a certain level of exposure in a year (extremely rare circumstance).

What really scares me is the thought of a person with a portable Xray machine in the Australian bush with no idea how to use it making exposures. That would never happen in the U.S. because of the strict laws and training required. There are no online classes for my profession. Hands-on demonstrations of competency are required for each exam, thank goodness.

As was stated earlier, it is very competitive to gain acceptance into a program and very challenging to make it through the program. Contact a community college or a university for more information.

By anon114376 — On Sep 28, 2010

Do you know of any online courses for an x-ray technologist and the related prerequisite courses?

can this be accomplished entirely online? We do not have any institution in Bermuda where this course of study can take place.

By capulong15 — On Sep 14, 2010

I have read that it gives you cancer. is that true, and what cancer it would be?

By anon109732 — On Sep 08, 2010

this all sounds good. the more i read the more interested i get, although i think i just read this gives you cancer? is that even true? I am writing a paper on what kind of career i be interested in studying, so i am looking and i just trying to figure out how many different types of radiology technologist are there? and which one is better?

By anon105186 — On Aug 19, 2010

I live near Cincinnati, Ohio. Does anyone know of an accredited school I can attend to take an x ray tech course? How long does it take? Also is it better to take this course online or on campus? I wanted to take it on campus.

By anon78568 — On Apr 19, 2010

what benefits do x ray techs have?

By anon77245 — On Apr 13, 2010

I'm writing a paper on the relevance of english 80 in the field of x-ray tech. could i please get some help.

By anon69555 — On Mar 08, 2010

I see the answers to all the questions being asked in this page right on this page. Open your eyes people and to the person who claims this job gives you cancer- please understand what you are talking about before posting rubbish. Thank you and have a nice day!

By anon65671 — On Feb 15, 2010

I'm writing a paper on X-ray techs.

If you had given this research more consideration, you could have done a "job shadow" which enables you to hang out with the technologist and get a first hand experience of what takes place daily in the radiology field, and from personal experience, I learned a great deal about this career that I had no idea took place.

I have to add they were very accommodating to me, and the whole experience was everything I hoped it would be! Props to the Radiology Dept at Providence Hospital in Portland, Oregon! You guys rock.

You will find that in requesting a job shadow, people are very willing to agree in that they are excited to share their knowledge in the field with people who are genuinely interested.

I wish you luck in writing your paper. Job shadowing would have been valuable research to include in your writing. --Leslie 67

By anon65378 — On Feb 12, 2010

You can get cancer from this job, man. What's the point of taking x-rays for someone and harming yourself? this america is weird.

By anon65340 — On Feb 12, 2010

How many years does it take to be a x ray tech? would you recommend it to a younger person? please help.

By anon63731 — On Feb 03, 2010

I'm in an x-ray program getting ready to take my boards. I am confused on, to be certified, registered, or licensed deal. If you take your exam and pass with a 75 or above and pay the exam fee, you are registered with the ARRT and that is your license as well? How much to renew? Or do you pay an extra fee to the state? I'm in KY. Help please.

By anon62264 — On Jan 25, 2010

can you go to a community college or a trade school for an x-ray technician and how many years do you have to go for?

By anon61411 — On Jan 20, 2010

There seems to be a lot of schooling to be a radiology tech. I just want to be able to take chest x-rays and plain films. Why not just be a medical assistant?

By anon60529 — On Jan 14, 2010

what is a good trade school for an x ray tech?

By anon59193 — On Jan 06, 2010

I am a radiology technologist and will try to shed some light into this subject. First of all, to clear up some confusion, the title of someone who takes x-rays is radiology technologist/x-ray technologist or radiology tech/x-ray tech to be short. A technician is someone who works on these machines if they break down.

To be one, your best bet is to contact your local community college to see if they offer a radiology program. Most of them are pretty competitive and usually require you to take prerequisite classes and then apply into the program.

Once you are officially in the program, you are going to take classes on different aspects of the job; which include patient care, patient positioning and the physics aspect of the field. These classes usually last around two years or more and include externship at hospital or clinical setting where you are a student and working with an actual radiology technologist.

Once you are done with the classes, you are awarded an associate degree but it does not end there. You have to take a national board exam (ARRT) to be a certified radiology tech and have to pass it with a 75 and you have three chances to pass it. If you do not pass you are required to repeat the two years of school again to be eligible for another exam.

The job is pretty rewarding in that you are a vital part of the health care. I would advice you to check your local job market to see how competitive it is because the jobs are hard to come by these days due to over flooding of the market with techs.

But you do have options to move up with more education. You can train and specialize in MRI or CT after x-ray school which will make you more valuable to institutions. Hope this clears up the confusion!

By anon59156 — On Jan 06, 2010

does this career harm a person's health? i heard that being an xray tech. can harm your health.

By anon54512 — On Nov 30, 2009

i'm writing a paper due in two days. please help.

what types of daily tasks does an x-ray technologist do?

would you say the work environment is typically casual or formal? in what ways?

what are some of the most rewarding parts of working in this field?

what types of education and experiential background are important?

what are some of the frustrations?

how would you rate job security in this field?

are there good opportunities for promotion and advancement?

how does one go about finding employment in this field?

thank you

By Leslie67 — On Sep 19, 2009

I am a student at a community college for the last year, doing pre requisites just to be able to apply to the radiology program. It is a journey to even get that far and then the Radiology program -- *if* you are accepted the first time you apply takes 2 years. A volunteer program such as patient care is strongly suggested to support your application to the program as well. It is a scientific career and is not something that will be done quickly or halfway. But at the end of your goal it will be well worth the ride!

By anon45630 — On Sep 18, 2009

i would love to become an x-ray tech. please give me more info on online training. thanks!

By anon44937 — On Sep 11, 2009

how many subjects are in x-ray technician?

By anon44764 — On Sep 10, 2009

I am interested in learning a new trade. I was wondering if there are online classes available and how long it takes to get certified as an x-ray technician. Also if there is grant money available. thank you. --Bonnie

By anon42927 — On Aug 24, 2009

how much do they get paid weekly?

By anon35985 — On Jul 09, 2009

does an x-ray tech personnel have the right to jot down some notes on the x-ray forms after the examination is done?

By Juno — On Jan 22, 2009

I'm writing my first Mills & Boon Medical and have a doctor visiting a patient in the Australian bush who needs a chest X-ray. Can anyone give me a basic idea on how to operate a portable X-ray machine? Would the patient have to lie down, sit up or stand? Would the doctor wear protective clothing? Could he give a prognosis immediately after taking the X-ray? Thank you.

By ebeneezer500 — On Dec 31, 2008

How does the X-ray Technician compare to the X-ray Technologist or radiologist Technician?

By Lala08 — On Nov 30, 2008

How long do you have to go to school to become a x-ray technician? Where did you get the training necessary for your job? How much money does an x-ray technician earn? Does this career affect your personal life?

Describe your average daily routine. What types of tasks are you expected to complete as part of your job? What do you dislike, if anything, about being an X-Ray Technologist?

By hotmomma — On Nov 30, 2008

I'm thinking about furthering my career into x-ray tech and I wanted to know if it would be a good job for an 18 year old girl to go into? I am also writing a research paper and was wondering if you could give me a few pointers about how everything works? What is the machine called that they use? What Kind of benefits and pay scale do they have? If im pregnant while being in this job will it be okay for me to be taking x-rays? Anything else you would like to tell me I would like to know anything that could be helpful! Thank you so Much!!!

By anon21151 — On Nov 11, 2008

how many subjects are in x-ray technician?

By anon18331 — On Sep 19, 2008

if someone has been trained as an x-ray tech and is registered by the american registry of radiologic technologists (arrt), they are generally referred to as technologiest. "technician" implies someone that has not been through a full program or taken their national registry boards, which are very similar to those of rn's.

By anon11433 — On Apr 16, 2008

what kind of machinery does an xray tech use and how does it work. what are the machines called???

Im writing a research paper due in three days. please help. thank you

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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