How to Become an X-Ray Tech

February 5, 2024

how to become an x-ray tech xray

Not many young adults and career seekers know the ins and outs of how to become an X-ray technician. Yet this career path is more straightforward than becoming a doctor or nurse. There are plenty of reasons to consider the profession. X-ray technicians play a crucial role in hospitals, clinics, and private practices in ensuring patient stability and recovery. And, as you’ll read below, training and licensing takes a relatively short time compared to other medical positions. We’ll explore how to become an x-ray tech in depth.

What is an X-ray Technician?

An X-ray tech uses specialized equipment to create images of a patient’s internal structures, like bones, organs and tissues. These images are no longer limited to X-ray machines. Rather, with additional training, X-ray techs can become MRI techs, for example, and assist doctors and healthcare professionals by making images with MRI machinery.

Let’s say you break your wrist. You’ll need to go to the hospital to assess the damage and get treated. After checking in, you’ll likely get taken to a special room. Here an X-ray tech will take images of the bone using an X-ray machine. They’ll also use specialized knowledge and techniques. Next, the X-ray tech will pass along the X-ray images to the doctor on call or to your primary physician. They may even consult with the doctor during the next step, image analysis.

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Throughout this scenario, the X-ray tech will also be performing subtler tasks. As one of the first points of contact, they’ll greet and familiarize the patient with the upcoming procedure. They may ask for more information about the pain and the incident which led to the injury. X-ray techs will prepare the patient for the exam and position them properly in regard to the machinery. After operating the equipment, they’ll need to assess the images in enough detail to assess their quality and accuracy. Finally, they’ll need to keep the equipment sanitized and safely rearranged before another patient arrives.

What Makes a Good X-ray Technician?

Above, I described the fundamental tasks an X-ray tech must be trained on to properly accomplish their job. Alongside these tasks are a number of soft skills an X-ray tech must refine to perform their work with excellence. First, an X-ray tech must be personable and enjoy working in the company of medical professionals and patients. An X-ray tech in the Emergency Department, for instance, will move constantly from room to room, patient to patient. They’ll bring a portable X-ray machine with them. This X-ray tech will likely interact with more patients in the ED than any doctor on call, covering the whole department on their shift.

Second, X-ray techs must work efficiently and flexibly—especially those in hospitals. For example, an X-Ray tech in the Intensive Care Unit may get called to shoot an X-ray during a critical procedure. They’ll need to arrive at the room quickly, shoot the X-ray, and show it to the doctors. In sensitive situations, they’ll need to communicate discreetly and wait around in case more images are needed.

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Third, while X-ray techs may often seem hidden behind their machines, they should not act robotically. They should communicate with compassion. Small children and elderly patients alike rely on medical imaging services. Some patients may feel afraid, while others may be incapable of describing their pain or discomfort. Maintaining a gentle, welcoming demeanor and good communication is paramount. This in turn creates a safe and successful environment.

Why Become an X-ray Technician?

So far we’ve seen that someone interested in medical imaging with people skills would make a great X-ray tech. Yet those of you who match this description might be wondering what the job can do for you. Before diving into how to become an X-ray technician, we’ll cover some pros and cons of the profession.

One reason to become an X-ray tech involves demand. Americans in a variety of professions have begun to worry about job security. This is primarily due to the current economy and the recent introduction of accessible AI. Yet the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment for “radiologic and MRI technologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2022 to 2032.” X-ray techs will remain indispensable, due to the human nature of their job, which technology cannot replace. Another reason we expect the demand for X-ray techs to remain high relates to the growing elderly population. As people age, their health declines. Bones, for example, become more brittle. X-rays help doctors perform operations common in older populations, such as hip replacements.

Other reasons to consider the profession involve a reliable salary and a relatively short training period. We’ll cover both of these topics in the sections below.

Do How Much Do X-ray Technicians Make?

The BLS also reports on X-ray techs’ salaries. It tells us that the median annual wage for radiologic and MRI technologists was $67,180 in 2022. This amounts to $32.30 per hour. Now this is a combined statistic. The BLS also gives separate statistics on those who work solely with X-ray imaging and those who work with MRI technology. The median annual wage for MRI techs was higher in 2022, at $80,090. Meanwhile, the median annual wage for X-ray techs was $65,140 that year.

For some perspective, let’s compare these salaries with those of other medical professionals. Medical assistants, tasked with administrative and clinical work, made on average $38,270 per year, or $18.40 per hour. Landing a job as a medical assistant takes less time than it does to become an X-ray tech. It involves some on-the-job training and occasionally certification. Registered nurses, on the other hand, were paid a median of $81,220 in 2022, or $39.05 per hour. While nurses are paid more on average than X-ray techs, their training tends to last a year or two longer.

How Long Does It Take to Become an X-ray Technician?

Many X-ray technician programs take two years to complete. However, high school students applying to vocational schools and community colleges may need to complete prerequisite courses first. This extends the time it takes to receive an associate degree in radiologic technology by a year or two. Students wishing to obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree can also go into the profession. Not all four-year colleges offer degrees related to medical imaging, especially small liberal arts colleges. Students who decide to go into this profession belatedly may need to transfer to a larger university. A bachelor’s degree has several significant advantages over an associate’s degree. Students with a bachelor’s degree can also pursue a career adjacent to X-Ray technicians. For example, they might consider becoming an ultrasound technician, or a sonographer.

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An education in medical imaging will teach future X-ray techs knowledge and skills they’ll need to use beyond the soft skills we’ve mentioned. Students will likely begin taking introductory science courses, like biology and chemistry. Next, they’ll need to learn anatomy and physiology, in order to know what bones to X-ray, and from which angles. They’ll also need a solid understanding of physics and radiation. They’ll take more specialized courses as well, on topics like patient safety. Some schools may offer practical training opportunities in nearby hospitals and clinics.

After completing a relevant degree, graduates need to pass a state exam in order to obtain a professional license. The time it takes to prepare and pass the exam varies, though you may expect it to take several months.

A Couple of Noteworthy X-ray Technician Schools

Now that we’re getting more into the “how” of how to become an X-ray technician, let’s look at some interesting X-ray technician schools. Students interested in obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree should test their chances at the University of Iowa. The Radiologic Technology track within the Radiation Sciences major is competitive for a reason. Admitted students find clinical internship opportunities at Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. Furthermore, graduates have a reported 100% job placement rate.

For a top two-year program, students should consider Collins Career Technical Center. To gain entrance to this Radiologic Technology program, students must first complete nine general education prerequisites. Enrolled students will have an opportunity to rotate between four of seven clinical sites. These clinical assignments are spread out between West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. As with Iowa’s graduates, Collins graduates have a reported 100% job placement rate.

These are just two of the many great radiotechnology programs around the country. For a more comprehensive look, check out our article on the 20 Best X-Ray Tech/Radiology Tech Schools in 2024.

How to Become an X-ray Technician After the Degree

The next step upon completing a relevant associate’s or bachelor’s degree involves licensing. The licensing requirements will vary depending on which state you live in—or which state you want to work in. Begin by contacting this state’s board of health. Once you’ve studied and passed your exam, you’ll want to make sure you’re up to date on license renewals.

X-Ray Technicians in Today’s Technological World

The career of an X-Ray tech has evolved over the last century. Back when my grandfather was the only local physician in his town, he performed this work alongside patient care. This meant hand-developing every single X-ray in tanks of solutions involving expensive chemicals like silver, while following a carefully-timed procedure. When automatic developers were invented, the process of producing X-rays became more standardized and foolproof. The results in turn became more dependable. Now, X-rays are digitalized. Patients can receive their images during their appointments. Immediately after, the X-ray tech can electronically send the results to a radiologist or consultant. Thus, the process has become quicker, cheaper, and more ecological.

Soon-to-be X-ray techs need not worry about being replaced by a robot any time soon. Rather, they can embrace technological advances, which will continue to make their work more accurate. Better technology will also continue to improve patient care and satisfaction. It’s an all-around exciting time to go into the field of radiologic technology.

How to Become an X-Ray Tech – Additional Resources

We hope you enjoyed reading about how to become an X-ray technician. Students considering a medical career may also find the following articles worthwhile: