Career n Radiologic Technology 

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Careers in Radiologic Technology

What Do Radiologic Technologists Do?

Registered radiologic technologists (R.T.s) are medical personnel who perform diagnostic imaging examinations and administer radiation therapy treatments. R.T.s practice in hospitals, clinics and physician’s offices, and in many clinical specialties, from prenatal care to orthopedics. They are educated in anatomy, patient positioning, examination techniques, equipment protocols, radiation safety and patient care. R.T.s may practice general radiography, or specialize in an imaging technique such as bone densitometry, cardiac or vascular interventional radiography, computed tomography, mammography, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine or sonography. Radiation therapists and medical dosimetrists are technologists who specialize in radiation therapy, which is the application of radiation to treat cancer and other diseases.

Registered radiologic technologists must earn an associate or more advanced degree from an accredited hospital-based program or academic institution, and pass a national certification examination. To remain registered, they must also earn 24 continuing education credits every two years. The largest certification agency, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists®, has more than 300,000 registrants. Wages of radiologic technologists are competitive with other health professionals who have similar educational backgrounds. Visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to see current trends in R.T. wages.

R.T. 101

R.T. 101 uses small sections of our other educational series to provide an overview of the field of medical imaging. The first module covers x-ray physics, radiation protection, and the basics of x-ray equipment. The second module discusses image production principles, the components of medical imaging and radiation therapy equipment, and common clinical exams and procedures.

Introduction to X-Ray Physics
Module 1
 18:48

This module describes how x-rays are produced, and the main physics interactions involved in the operation of x-ray equipment. The three principles of radiation protection are covered, as well as the units of measure used to determine radiation dose and the elements of the diagnostic imaging chain.


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Introduction to Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Modalities
Module 2
 39:42

This module summarizes the operating principles of medical imaging and radiation therapy equipment, and describes the components involved in their operation. Common clinical applications and imaging procedures in various modalities are also discussed.


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Radiologic Technologists on the Medical Imaging Team

Radiologic technologists who perform imaging examinations are responsible for accurately positioning patients and ensuring that a quality diagnostic image is produced. They work closely with radiologists, the physicians who interpret medical images to diagnose diseases and injuries. For the images to be interpreted correctly by the radiologist, the imaging examination must first be performed properly by an R.T.

Radiologic technologists often specialize in a particular diagnostic imaging area:

Radiographers

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Radiographers

Radiographers use radiation (x-rays) to produce 2-D, black-and-white images of the patient’s anatomy. These images are usually recorded digitally with modern equipment. Radiographs may be used to detect bone fractures, find foreign objects in the body, and demonstrate the relationship between bone and soft tissue. The most common type of radiography exam is chest radiography, which is commonly performed to evaluate the heart or lungs for pathologic conditions such as pneumonia.

Computed Tomography Technologists

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Computed Tomography Technologists

Computed Tomography Technologists use a rotating x-ray unit and sensor assembly to observe “slices” of anatomy within the body. During processing, the computer stacks and assembles the individual slices, creating a series of diagnostic images that physicians can cycle through. With CT scans, physicians can view the inside of organs layer by layer, a feat not possible with general radiography. Computed tomography images can be reconstructed to create a 3-D representation of the anatomy of interest.

Cardiac Interventional Technologists

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Cardiac Interventional Technologists

Cardiac Interventional Technologists use sophisticated imaging techniques to guide interventional tools into the heart. Using these techniques, many cardiac conditions can be treated internally, without open surgery. This form of treatment often requires patients to be sedated and is commonly referred to as micro-surgery. Interventional radiography is one of few medical imaging modalities that offers 4-D imaging, in which a 3-D image can be viewed, manipulated and used intraprocedurally in real time.

Vascular Interventional Technologists

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Vascular Interventional Technologists

Vascular Interventional Technologists use sophisticated imaging techniques to help guide catheters, vena cava filters, stents or other interventional tools through the veins and arteries of the body. Using these techniques, many diseases can be treated internally, without open surgery. This form of treatment often requires patients to be sedated and is commonly referred to as micro-surgery. Interventional radiography is one of few medical imaging modalities that offers 4-D imaging, in which a 3-D image can be viewed, manipulated and used intraprocedurally in real time.

Magnetic Resonance Technologists

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Magnetic Resonance Technologists

Magnetic Resonance Technologists are specially trained to operate MR equipment. During an MRI scan, atoms in the patient’s body are exposed to a strong magnetic field. A radiofrequency pulse is applied to the magnetic field, which knocks the atoms in the patient’s body out of alignment. When the pulse turns off, the atoms return to their original position and give off signals that are measured by the machine and processed to produce detailed images. MR images can be reconstructed to create a 3-D representation of the anatomy of interest.

Mammographers

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Mammographers

Mammographers produce diagnostic images of breast tissue using special x-ray equipment. Under the federal Mammography Quality Standards Act, mammographers must meet stringent educational and experience criteria in order to perform mammography procedures. Breast imaging is the latest diagnostic imaging technology to offer 3-D representations of the anatomy using the advancement called digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT).

Bone Densitometry Technologists

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Bone Densitometry Technologists

Bone Densitometry Technologists use a special type of x-ray equipment to measure bone mineral density at a specific anatomical site (usually the hip, spine or forearm) or to calculate total body bone mineral content. Results can be used by physicians to evaluate bone loss due to osteoporosis, track the rate of bone loss over a period of time, and to estimate the patient’s risk of fracture.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

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Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear Medicine Technologists administer trace amounts of radiopharmaceuticals to a patient, and use a special scanner to detect gamma rays emitted by the radiopharmaceuticals and create an image of the body part under examination. This study obtains functional information about organs, tissues and bone.

Sonographers

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Sonographers

Sonographers use sound waves to obtain images of organs and tissues in the body. During an ultrasound examination, the sonographer places a device called a transducer in contact with the patient’s body. The transducer emits high-frequency sound waves that pass through the body, sending back “echoes” as they bounce off organs and tissues. Specialized equipment then converts those echoes back into visual data. Sonograms can be performed in 2-D, 3-D and 4-D.

Radiologist Assistants

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Radiologist Assistants

Radiologist Assistants are experienced, registered radiographers who have obtained additional education and certification that qualifies them to serve as radiologist extenders. They work under the supervision of a radiologist to provide advanced patient care, perform imaging examinations, and provide preliminary image observations to the radiologist.

Radiologic Technologists on the Radiation Oncology Team

The medical team responsible for treating many types of cancers includes the patient’s primary care physician, a physician specialist known as a radiation oncologist, a medical physicist, a radiation therapist and a medical dosimetrist. The radiation therapist and the medical dosimetrist are members of the radiologic technology profession.

Medical Dosimetrists

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Medical Dosimetrists

Medical Dosimetrists determine how much radiation will be delivered to a tumor site. Under the supervision of a medical physicist, they calculate radiation dose distributions in accordance with the treatment plan developed by the radiation oncologist. Medical dosimetrists use their knowledge of physics, anatomy and radiobiology to design optimal treatments that apply an effective dose to the targeted area while sparing normal tissue that surrounds it.

Radiation Therapists

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Radiation Therapists

Radiation Therapists administer targeted doses of radiation to the patient’s body to treat cancer or other diseases. As the radiation strikes human tissue, it produces highly energized ions that shrink and destroy the nuclei of malignant tumor cells. Radiation therapists are highly skilled medical specialists educated in physics, radiation safety, patient anatomy and patient care. They typically see each of their patients three to five days a week throughout a four- to seven-week treatment plan. Computed tomography is commonly used in radiation therapy to simulate radiation treatments, and MRI is becoming a popular modality for treatment simulations as well.

What Physicians Do R.T.s Work With?

Radiologists are physicians who earn a four-year doctoral degree to become an M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy). They then complete an additional four-year residency in diagnostic radiology or radiation oncology. More than 90 percent of radiologists go on to become certified by the American Board of Radiology, indicating that they have passed a standardized national examination in radiology.

Diagnostic Radiologists

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Diagnostic Radiologists

Diagnostic radiologists specialize in the interpretation of medical images such as radiographs, MR scans, CT scans, nuclear medicine scans, mammograms and sonograms. They are specially trained to identify injury and disease throughout the many systems of the body. Radiologists may specialize in fields such as neuroradiology, angiography, cardiovascular-interventional radiology, pediatric radiology or nuclear medicine.

Radiation Oncologists

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Radiation Oncologists

Radiation oncologists are physicians who specialize in the treatment of cancer. They consult with patients and their primary care physicians to determine the best course of therapy and plan a treatment schedule. Then, they work with a medical dosimetrist to calculate how much radiation will be delivered. The radiation therapist is the medical professional who carries out the treatment plan by delivering targeted radiation to the tumor site.

Interventional Radiologists

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Interventional Radiologists

Interventional radiologists perform interventional treatments for a number of vascular and nonvascular medical conditions. Examples of these treatments include percutaneous transluminal angioplasty, thrombolysis, atherectomy, thrombectomy, coil and glue embolization, stent placement, tube placement, and ablation techniques. Interventional radiologists perform these procedures under fluoroscopic guidance.