What is a Radiology Technician?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A radiology technician is an allied health professional who uses X-ray machines to generate images of patients that can be used in diagnosis and treatment of disease. These medical professionals should not be confused with radiology technologists, people who use radiation in treatment and diagnosis and are authorized to perform more complex procedures. For either career, training at a technical school is required. Technician programs usually last around 18 months, while technologists may need to attend a four-year program.

X-ray machines provide 2D prints.
X-ray machines provide 2D prints.

When an X-ray of a patient is needed, the radiology technician can prepare the patient for the procedure, explain how the test will be performed, set up the equipment, and take the X-ray images. This requires adjusting the settings on the equipment, using shielding to protect the patient from excess radiation, and developing the film after the images are taken. The finished X-ray films can be sent to the patient's doctor for examination, or reviewed by a radiologist, a doctor who has received specific training in interpreting medical imaging studies.

X-ray technicians, often called radiology technicians, use equipment such as X-ray machines to take images of bones or other internal parts of a patient's body.
X-ray technicians, often called radiology technicians, use equipment such as X-ray machines to take images of bones or other internal parts of a patient's body.

The radiology technician works under the supervision of doctors who provide precise directions about the images they need. In addition to taking X-rays, a radiology technician may also keep records, including a library of patient films that can be examined as needed. Technicians can be responsible for maintaining the X-ray facility, supervising use of the X-ray machine, and monitoring personnel for X-ray exposure with the assistance of radiation badges worn during procedures.

In some regions, the term “radiology technician” refers not to a medical care provider, but to a person who repairs and maintains radiology equipment. In this case, the technician is not involved in patient care, and is called in when equipment needs attention. It is important to maintain radiology equipment properly to reduce the risk of excessive radiation exposure and ensure that it is functioning correctly. Technical schools offer training to people who are interested in servicing medical equipment and people can also learn on the job under the tutelage of an experienced technician.

By contrast, a technologist can perform additional medical imaging studies like magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography. In addition, technologists can be involved in the administration of radioactive agents for diagnosis, in the form of tracers used for imaging studies, and treatment, for cancer patients who require radiation therapy. Technologists are more highly trained and tend to receive higher salaries because of their larger skill set.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@SZapper - It sounds like getting into radiology school is quite the process! I don't know if I could make it through all those science classes myself.

Your friend might consider going to some additional schooling to become a technologist. That is, maybe after working in the field for a few years. I know going to a lot of school can really burn people out.

But going for training as a technologist seems like it could be a good career path for a radiology technician. It doesn't seem like there's much upward mobility for them otherwise.


One of my good friends is in school to be a radiology technician right now. Let me tell you, their schooling is no joke!

The actual radiology program may take only two years, but in most places you have to take prerequisite courses before you apply for the program. Prerequisites usually include classes like anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and developmental psychology. Also, you have to get some general education classes out of the way too.

So anyway, it took my friend three semesters to do the prerequisites. Then, you have to apply for the program. The application process isn't just paperwork though-a lot of places require an interview!

Then after the arduous application process, you go to two years of radiology school. My friend is in the middle of her second semester, and she's up to her ears in schoolwork. She attends school for the full day, Monday through Friday and has tons of homework.

I know she's going to be able to get a good job when she's done though. I think it will all be worth it. But just keep all this in mind if you're considering school for radiology!


It sounds like an awesome job! Every radiology technician I have ever had contact with was very nice and helpful. I think they are happy and easy to get along with because they are paid well.

Often, they have to deal with people who are screaming in pain because of broken bones and don’t know it yet. The X-ray table is the first place many people have to go, because the doctor needs to know if anything is broken before he can treat the person properly.

They maintain their composure and don’t yell at patients, no matter how disagreeable they may be. They realize that pain makes people irritable and mean at times, and they are professionals when dealing with them.


I had to have X-rays on my leg after a car wreck. Shortly after the emergency technicians wheeled me into the ER, I was on the X-ray table talking to a radiology technician.

He explained to me exactly how I needed to position my body for the X-ray to work properly. I had to hold my leg a certain way, and I needed to shift my weight to support it. I also had to keep my arms and hands out of the way so I didn’t block his view of my leg.

He could see that I was in a lot of pain, so he was very soft-spoken and patient with me. The whole process was over very quickly.


My niece took radiology technician classes right out of high school. Within less than 2 years she was working at the hospital and had a very good paying job.

I know this position pays quite well, but the way she explained it to me was that there weren't that many available positions, so it was quite competitive.

She is very sharp and an excellent student so had no troubles at all. We also live in a big city where there are several large hospitals so it was not hard for her to get a job.

When many of her classmates were just finishing up their 2 years of general studies, she already had a place of her own and was working at a good job.

She liked the balance of having some personal contact with people but not constantly all day long. For her, it has been a really good fit and she likes working in a hospital environment.


My daughter was seriously considering becoming a radiology technician. For someone who is interested in working in the medical field, but doesn't want to put in years of schooling, this is a good option to think about.

She was halfway through her medical lab technician schooling when she started thinking about becoming a radiologic technician.

I think she would have pursued it if she had not been halfway through her other courses. One of the things that was very appealing to her was that a radiology technician salary was quite a bit more than a medical lab technician with the same amount of schooling.


@Kat919 - No, they're different. The radiology technician works with just the x-ray machine, I think. Radiology technician programs and programs for ultrasound techs are separate, but they would both work in the radiology department.

Sounds like kind of a tough job for the ultrasound tech, not being allowed to tell you anything! When I was pregnant, I had a level II ultrasound at 20 weeks. The tech wasn't allowed to *really* tell us anything, but she was allowed to show us what she was seeing on the screen (like the four chambers of the heart). And she also got to tell us the sex.

For people thinking about doing either one, I guess it would come down to salary (don't know if it's very different) and personality. If you are someone whose face would show it whenever you saw a deformity on an ultrasound, then that's not the job for you.


Are radiology technicians the ones that do ultrasounds, or does that require something beyond the radiology technician training?

During my pregnancy I had a scare and went to the ER. The person who did my ultrasound was not allowed to tell me anything about what she was seeing on the screen or even to let me look at the screen! The radiologist, whom I never laid eyes on, reviewed it and then conveyed the results to the ER physician assistant. Of course, I still got a bill - kind of a big one - from the radiologist!

Seems like kind of a lonely job with no patient contact at all!

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