Baker College Radiologic Technology students working with lab equipment
Radiologic imaging is often the first step in identifying, diagnosing, and treating many diseases. While it’s an increasingly common part of many medical procedures and regimens, students entering health science fields often hold misguided perceptions of radiologic technology that may keep them from entering the field. Below we clear up ten of these misconceptions and get to the root of what radiologic technology is all about.
1. We x-ray bones.
Unless our job is in an orthopedic office, most of our x-ray images are of organs in the chest and abdomen.
2. We are doctors or nurses.
Doctors who work in radiology are called radiologists. They dictate reports of findings based on the images that radiologic technologists produce. Some radiology departments don’t employ any nurses because we do most of the patient care while patients are in our department.
3. We merely push a button to take the picture.
While our job is similar to that of a photographer, we are not able to see what we are taking a picture of before actually doing it. This requires a great deal of educated guesswork based on a thorough knowledge of anatomy and the science of x-ray interactions, and in the case of MRI, the interactions of radio waves and magnetic fields with human tissues.
4. We interpret the images.
Interpreting an image for a patient can potentially be a diagnosis. That is part of the practice of medicine and is legally prohibited unless you are a doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner.
5. We never help in the interpretation process.
It is not uncommon for us to alert an ER doctor or radiologist of things that we notice. For instance, if you had a collapsed lung, would you want us to simply wait up to a half hour for a report to come back from the radiologist? No, we usually pick up on those types of things and will show the image to the ER doctor immediately. A doctor always makes the final call, but we are always prioritizing situations.
6. We have less education than nurses or other allied health professionals.
Radiologic technologists complete anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 hours of clinical experience in addition to their other courses. This is more hands-on training than most other entry-level healthcare programs at any degree level. Our education is based heavily on competency, and we need this much time to demonstrate proficiency in over 50 different imaging procedures.
7. We don’t have to deal with blood.
If there is a trauma situation of any kind, we will be involved, either in the emergency room, surgery, or both. Those of us who do CT scans or MRIs will also start IVs. Oh...and some of us do x-rays during autopsies...
8. Everyone working as a radiologic technologist is qualified.
Despite what you may think, many of the people who take x-rays in chiropractor offices or other doctor’s offices only have on-the-job training. There are good reasons why hospitals only hire certified radiologic technologists!
9. We just find stuff that is wrong but never fix anything.
Some of us work in an advanced specialty called ‘interventional radiology’ where we help the radiologist unclog blood vessels, stop internal bleeding, make repairs to bones in the spine and insert tubes to relieve pressure on organs.
10. There are people in radiology that know how to do everything in the department.
There are many specialties in radiology that require advanced education and training. They include mammography, MRI, CT, interventional radiology, bone densitometry, and radiologist assistant. Other specialties with educational programs that have a completely different pathway from that of x-ray technologists include ultrasound, radiation therapy and nuclear medicine. In fact, even the doctors who work in the department don’t know how to actually perform most of these procedures. One person could not possibly learn how to do everything that we do.
Radiologic technologists are skilled equipment operators and image analysts that perform a key role in patient health care. We have skills in communication, quality and assurance control, computer skills and organizational skills. If this sounds like the right career for you, visit our Radiologic Technology Program page and get started on this rewarding career path.
Cameron Vander Stel is director of the radiography program at Baker College in Muskegon. He has been a radiologic technologist for 25 years and holds certification in radiography (x-ray), plus advanced certification in computed tomography (CT). His academic degrees include a BS from Western Michigan University and an MBA from Baker College. In addition to teaching, Cameron provides radiological services on weekends for an emergency department located south of Grand Rapids. He has been teaching x-ray science courses for the Muskegon campus since its program began in 2003.