Health Care Careers - Radiological technologist

Radiological technologists are trained to take images of the inside of the human body. Some radiological technologists work with radiation to take these images. When most people hear the term radiation, they think of a harmful substance. While exposure to radiation can cause illness, small doses of radiation given in controlled settings can be helpful to doctors and patients. Radiation is used to create images, called X rays, of the inside of the body. Radiation, however, does more than produce images; it is also used to treat cancer.

The different types of radiological technologists include radiographers, radiation therapy technologists, and sonographers. Sonographers are unique in that they don't work with radiation. Rather, they use sound waves to take pictures of the human body. All radiological technologists work closely with radiologists, doctors specializing in radiology, who give them strict instructions for each patient. It's also important for radiological technologists to protect themselves and their patients from overexposure to radiation. Lead gloves, aprons, and equipment that monitors levels of exposure help to protect against overexposure to radiation.

RADIOGRAPHER. When doctors need to see the inside of the body to diagnose a medical problem, they order X rays, or radiographs, of a specific body part. Radiographers are responsible for producing these X rays.

First, radiographers explain to the patient how the procedure will work. Patients must remove any jewelry from their bodies, as X rays cannot pass through jewelry. Radiographers then position patients so that the X rays can reach the right part of the body and only that part. Finally, a lead shield is placed over the exposed body part to protect patients from radiation.

Once patients are positioned and protected, radiographers then measure the thickness of the body part being X-rayed. This allows radiographers to

set the X-ray machine at the right levels to release the right amount of radiation. Once the machine takes the picture, radiographers then develop the film for the doctor.

RADIATION THERAPY TECHNOLOGIST. Patients who are diagnosed with cancer sometimes receive radiation therapy to treat the disease. This involves getting certain doses of radiation from a radiation therapy technologist, or radiation therapist. Radiation therapists are trained to use equipment that releases radiation. Their jobs require extreme accuracy when giving treatments to patients. Once they have positioned patients properly, radiation therapists give specific doses of radiation to the affected body part, while also protecting the rest of the body from exposure.

Radiation therapy can cause patients to lose hair, feel nauseated, or experience skin problems. Radiation therapists are trained to help patients deal with these difficult side effects. Radiation therapy can also be emotionally difficult as many patients are struggling with cancer, which can be a life-threatening diseases. Radiation therapists and their patients usually develop a strong bond due to the intense nature of the treatment, which can last from a few weeks to many months.

SONOGRAPHER. Sonographers also take pictures of the inside of the body, but they use a different method that involves high-frequency sound waves. The sound waves are directed into the body and create echoes. Special equipment turns these echoes into images. Sonographers and patients can watch the images on a screen while the process takes place. Then a doctor views the images directly from the screen or from photographs that are taken by the sonographer. A diagnosis can be made from seeing the sonograph. Sonographers must also be extremely accurate when taking images of patients so that the doctor can make a diagnosis from examining the image.

Many sonographers specialize in certain parts of the body. For example, a sonographer who specializes in the female reproductive system will take sonographs of a baby in the womb as it grows to make sure it is healthy. Other specialties include the brain, the heart, the liver and kidneys, and the eyes.

Training to Be a Radiological Technologist

People interested in work as a radiological technologist can get training in a few different ways. These include programs in hospitals, vocational schools, colleges and universities, and the Armed Forces.

Programs offer either a certificate (one-year program), an associate's degree (two-year program), or a bachelor's degree (four-year program). Most people work toward an associate's degree. Certificate programs are for people who already have a medical background but wish to change careers. All programs, which require a high school diploma to enter, involve both classroom work and clinical instruction. While becoming registered with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is not required by law, most people like to hire those who are registered. Once a student has graduated from a radiological technologist program, it's necessary to pass an examination to become registered.

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