Editor's Note: This article has been updated for more recent advancements within the radiologic technician field. This article was originally published in February 2014.
Radiologic technicians (also called X-ray techs) prepare patients and equipment for imaging procedures, maintain patient records and help doctors examine the resulting images. If you are planning to become a radiologic technician, you may be concerned about exposure to radiation in the profession. Radiation is not an issue with technologies, such as MRI and ultrasound, which use magnetic fields and sound waves, instead of radiation, to generate images. X-ray and CT scans do pose radiation risks to both health care workers and patients. Many safety standards have been established for radiation protection for both of these groups. Here are some of the protective tips for safe radiation practice that you will learn in your education. During the coursework, you will also learn how to best protect the patient during imaging procedures.
X-ray rooms have barrier walls and windows that keep exposure inside the room. During these imaging procedures, radiologic technicians leave the room, or stand behind a protective shield, such as a curtain, that is designed to keep out radiation. In most circumstances, you will only be close to the equipment before the procedure (to set up the room and prepare the patient) and afterwards. There are a few exceptions, however, such as interventional radiology, during which radiologists and technicians may be present in the room to treat the patient using X-rays and other imaging techniques as guidance. Technicians also wear shielding devices, such as lead aprons, gloves, goggles and masks for radiation protection whenever necessary.
The government has established standards for exposure limits. Technicians wear badges that measure their exposure to radiation, and detailed records keep track of this in order to prevent it from exceeding the recommended lifetime limits. X-ray technicians observe the principle ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable). This principle states that radiation levels should always be as low as possible for a specific procedure. Simply keeping the levels under the recommended limits is not enough.
Female technicians should inform their employer if they think they are pregnant to avoid any risk to the baby. There is no consensus on whether a pregnant woman can continue working in radiation areas, but it depends on the circumstances. Some workers are exposed to very low levels and do not have to change their work responsibilities, but a pregnant employee should discuss the risks with her employer as soon as possible.