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.
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.
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.