Do You Wanna Be An X-Ray Tech? Better Read This First.

Article by Curtis Carpenter via radRounds Radiology Network

Wanna be an RT? Think it’s a quick 2 year degree? Simple…Right? I’ll let you in on a little secret…It’s not as easy as it sounds.

As a Clinical Instructor for a local university, I can’t tell you how many times I see a prospective student come into my place of employment with that silly smirk on his or her face thinking, “This will be a fast way for me to make some easy money!” Ummmm…Not so fast. I ask every single prospective student the same thing, “Why do you want to be an x-ray tech?” Their answer usually consists of, “It looks cool”, or “I want to be in the medical field”, or “I want a clean, inside job”, or, my favorite one so far, “I know a guy who knows a guy that says I can make $(Insert ridiculous figure here) a year by doing this.” With all these hilarious answers, I’ll give you this. Here are realistic expectations of what to expect from a bonafide Radiology Technology program. I hope every person that wants to enter the field gets a sneak peak at this.

A typical Radiologic Technology program offers you an Associates Degree and is typically a 2 year program. However, for most programs, prerequisites are required to be taken prior to application to said program. I personally attended college for three part time years before I even applied to my program. Once your prerequisites are acquired, you may then apply to the program.

When I applied, I had a 3.4 GPA and I scored over 90% on my Health Occupations Basic Education Test (the standard testing procedure at the time), I had over 5 years experience in the field of Radiology as a report filer, secretary, scheduler, PACS Administrator, and even as an X-Ray Tech (I acquired a state license allowing me to perform basic radiologic procedures a year prior to applying). The program I attended only accepted 18 applicants and 2 alternates and I was lucky enough to be one of the two alternates, (for the record, the other alternate and myself both slid into the program and graduated, while only 12 others did so).

I don’t mention this to brag, gloat, or toot my own horn. I mention this because I want to make a point…this program isn’t a cake walk. Once you are finally accepted into a program you will be expected to work, for free, performing clinicals at a hospital or free standing clinic, anywhere from 24 to 40 hours a week, while attending classes full time as well. While attending clinic and school, you are inundated with homework, projects, lab work, and research assignments.

While at your clinical site, expect to be treated like a slave. You clean everything, stock all the linen, do all the examinations, and are held accountable for each and every breath you take. You have to put up with a lot of sick people, and the patients as well. Every x-ray technologist you meet has a preconceived notion that you were born yesterday and that you can’t figure out a chest x-ray from a KUB, and sometimes they’re right. You are repeatedly asked to go get “sterile oxygen”, or my personal favorite, “Go to Medical Supplies and grab me a dozen filopian tubes”…All this occurs while you are trying to learn how to do your job.

Intertwined into your clinical hours are your classroom hours. Unlike most medical professions, you are responsible for not only Anatomy & Physiology, Chemistry, and Patient Care, but you must also retain Physics, Radiographic Procedures, Advanced Anatomy, Pathology, and every radiology theory ever conjured up by any guy that thought he was smarter than the guy before him. You are tested on all of these subjects which are ironically disproven in your clinical setting. Therefore you must retain two sets of information, things you learned in class (for test purposes) and things you learned in clinic (for practical purposes).

While you are dealing with the book world vs. real world debate, you have to study for your national registry. This is a 240 question, 3 hour test that covers every single thing you’ve ever laid eyes on in the past two years. If you score a 74% or less, you’ve essentially wasted your time attending x-ray school. Pack your bags. Go Home. Do Not Collect $200. If you’ve selected the right program, this is the test that you have prepared for since you walked in the door on day one and you pass with flying colors (I scored a 94%). You still end up studying for countless hours hoping to catch that one question that you know you don’t know. I literally had a study book in my vehicle, taking that last second peek before I walked into the testing center.

Once you graduate and pass your registry, you get to join the workforce and really learn how to take an x-ray. Here’s a perfect quote that I heard from a technologist while I was in x-ray school, “You’ll learn more in your first year out of school than you did in your two years in it.”

How true that is.

Now…Do you want to be an X-Ray Tech?

Curtis Carpenter is the founder and President of Reliable Radiography, based in Vero Beach, Florida.

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