RADIOLOGY

A career in radiology puts you on the cutting edge of scientific progress. Professionals in this area work with the latest advances in medical care and are members of one of the fastest-growing professions in the country. Radiology is a field for visionaries. Technology continues to improve at a mind-boggling pace, creating new specialization areas, and enhancing and revealing more about the body and its functions.

Radiology is a multi-faceted healthcare field with many different diagnostic and treatment areas. Your first introduction to this technology probably was at the dentist’s office when an x-ray was taken to determine if you had cavities or at a hospital or clinic where you or someone you knew had an x-ray taken to see if any bones were broken after a fall or other accident.

Career opportunities are excellent in all areas of radiologic technology. Technologists may specialize in a specific imaging area such as computed tomography, mammography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, ultrasound, diagnostic radiology, sonography, and radiation therapy, all of which are explained in more detail in the following pages.

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PERSONALITY TRAITS & INTERESTS REQUIRED
WORK ENVIRONMENT
CAREER OUTLOOK
DIAGNOSTIC RADIOLOGIC TECHNOLOGY
MAMMOGRAPHY
INTERVENTIONAL RADIOLOGY
IMAGING TECHNOLOGY
COMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY (CT)
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI)
NUCLEAR MEDICINE
RADIATION THERAPY
SONOGRAPHY
ABDOMINAL ULTRASOUND
CARDIOLOGY
OBGYN/ABDOMINAL ULTRASOUND
VASCULAR TECHNOLOGY
   

PERSONALITY TRAITS & INTERESTS REQUIRED

Radiologic technologists are the medical personnel who perform imaging exams and administer radiation therapy treatments. They are educated in anatomy, physiology, patient positions examination techniques, equipment protocols, radiation safety protection, and basic patient care. They must remain sensitive to the physical and emotional needs of the patient and have good communication skills.

Radiology is a career path that, like nursing, is part art and part science. Strong problem-solving and interpersonal skills, the ability to function as a member of a team, and concern and compassion for patients are required. An affinity for and proficiency in the sciences, including computer and other advanced technologies, are critical as the educational program includes such subjects as anatomy, biology, physics, computer technology, and radiation safety.

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WORK ENVIRONMENT

Most radiologic technologists work in hospitals or imaging centers. Some are employed at physician offices and clinics, including diagnostic imaging centers. There is an increased opportunity for jobs in outpatient facilities due to technological advances that allow more procedures to be performed safely outside the hospital.


CAREER OUTLOOK

Career opportunities are excellent in all areas of radiologic technology. Like many other health professions, a personnel shortage exists in every specialty area in certain regions of the country. Demand in the services of radiologic technologist is expected to continue as the population ages, as the aging process usually brings about increased medical needs. The imbalance between supply and demand has brought about higher wages, better working conditions, and many scholarships for students who enroll in radiology educational programs.

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DIAGNOSTIC RADIOLOGIC TECHNOLOGY


RADIOLOGIC TECHNOLOGY:

Diagnostic radiologic technologists are responsible for a variety of radiographic, or x-ray, examinations that produce images that are used to reveal evidence of disease, injury, or other significant medical information. Some of these procedures are familiar to most everyone: chest x-rays for diagnosing respiratory problems or x-rays taken to determine if bones have been broken. Other procedures introduce contrast agents that must be swallowed or injected so images of internal organs can be reproduced.

Radiologic technologists work with radiologists – physicians who specialize in the practice of radiology, interpret all x-rays or images, and treat some medical conditions. Technologists communicate with patients in order to explain the proposed exam and to prepare them for the procedure. They position patients for the best quality image possible while maintaining patient safety. Other responsibilities include protecting patient confidentiality, keeping accurate patient records, and following proper radiation safety techniques.

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MAMMOGRAPHY:

Technologists specializing in mammography perform annual screening and diagnostic examinations of the breast to check for breast changes. These examinations, when performed routinely even on women without symptoms of disease, have proven to be an effective tool in detecting breast cancer early. Mammograms are credited for helping reduce deaths from breast cancer by as much as two-thirds in recent years. Abnormalities of the breast can be seen on mammograms up to two years before they can be felt and thereby detected in a clinical examination.

A mammography technologist positions the patient at the x-ray machine, placing the breast between two plates which are then compressed, flattening the breast tissue to obtain as clear an image as possible. The technologist is responsible for checking the film to ensure that breast tissue is shown clearly enough that the physician can make a diagnostic interpretation. In 2002, the FDA approved the first digital mammography system for breast cancer screening and diagnosis. The technology offered a computerized tool to increase the accuracy of screening mammography especially in women with very dense breast tissue that is difficult to screen with conventional mammography. Digital mammography is especially beneficial for women under 50, premenopausal women, and women with dense breasts. Mammographers provide annual breast imaging, follow-up diagnostic breast imaging, and assist physicians with ductograms, aspirations and biopsies for further clinical diagnosis and interpretation.

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spacerINTERVENTIONAL RADIOLOGY:

Interventional radiologic technologists work closely with radiologists in evaluating and treating specific diseases, especially those associated with the circulatory system. Utilizing specialized equipment, they perform diagnostic examinations of the system and study the blood vessels of the body. They assist physicians in performing procedures to widen clogged arteries or blood vessels that have become narrower thus constricting normal blood flow.

The interventional radiology department is fast-paced and requires quick and sometimes independent thinking. Technologists choosing this specialty area must possess an advanced knowledge of human anatomy and be able to operate and maintain sophisticated x-ray, computer, film, and monitoring equipment.



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IMAGING TECHNOLOGY

spacerCOMPUTED TOMOGRAPHY (CT)

Like all other radiologic technologists, CT technologists work closely with radiologists to provide radiologic studies to assist with patient
diagnosis and treatment. Their approach in implementing these studies differs from other radiology specialty areas. CT technologists use advanced, computerized x-ray equipment to produce detailed, sectional images of internal body structures. These images divide the area under study somewhat like slices of a loaf of bread and allow for study of each individual section.

CT technologists administer contrast agents (dyes), position patients for the required diagnostic examinations, obtain medical
histories, communicate with patients, and evaluate contraindicating conditions.

 

CT2

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MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI):

One of the newer specialty areas of radiology, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), is a non-invasive way of getting very detailed images of any part of the body. MRI is a routine diagnostic procedure that employs stong electromagnets, radio frequency waves, and powerful computers to generate two and three dimensional images of the body’s organs, tissues, and bones. MR imaging does not use ionizing radiation (X-rays). MRI uses a large, tunnel-shaped magnet that creates a stong magnetic field around the patient. A radio frequency coil is placed over the body part that is to be imaged. The magnetic field, along with applied radio frequency waves, alters the alignment of hydrogen protons within the body. Computers reconstruct the images based on emitted signals from the protons.

Technologists specializing in this area must have an extensive knowledge of cross sectional anatomy, medical terminology, and computer skills as well as special training on the safety procedures for using MRI equipment and software systems.

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NUCLEAR MEDICINE:

Nuclear Medicine technologists are responsible for procedures that analyze both the anatomy and physiology of the human body. Procedures in this area detail how an examined organ or structure is functioning rather than just showing what it looks like or its structural condition. Typical procedures begin with radiopharmaceutical tracer mixtures containing harmless, minute amounts of radioactive materials that are swallowed by the patient or injected by the technologist. The tracer finds it way to the targeted area and, as the radioactive particles decay, emit protons. A radiation-sensitive camera photographs the distribution and concentration of the protons, creating images that can be displayed on a video screen. The camera takes multiple shots of the targeted area for a complete evaluation.

Nuclear medicine technologists also administer radioactive drugs in the treatment of certain cancers as well as analyze the interaction of blood and urine samples with radioactive materials to determine drug and hormone levels. Other responsibilities include maintaining inventory and control of radiopharmaceuticals, following safety regulations to limit radiation exposure, and dealing tactfully and sympathetically with patients.


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RADIATION THERAPY

Radiation therapy is a specialized branch of medicine that utilizes focused beams of radiation to very precisely defined areas of the body to fight diseases such as cancer. The ionizing radiation treatment goal is to destroy both malignant and non-malignant tumors, rendering them unable to multiply, while minimizing the harmful effects to healthy surrounding tissue. The ultimate goal is to eradicate the disease or, if this is not possible, to alleviate symptoms such as pain. The prescribed radiation dose is usually administered over several weeks to allow the patient’s normal tissues to repair damage areas. Radiation therapy may be a singular approach to fighting disease or it may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or surgery.

Radiation TherapyPatients needing the assistance of radiation therapists usually are very ill and required a gentle, caring touch as well as emotional support. Radiation therapists must have a high degree of compassion and sensitivity in addition to excellent technical skills.

TYPICAL RESPONSIBILITIES:
Radiation therapists are key members of the cancer treatment team. Responsibilities include:

                  • Explaining the procedures to patients and answering questions about the treatment process
                  • Positioning the patient and equipment correctly for delivery of the treatment
                  • Administering radiation treatments and monitoring the patient during the process and through the recovery period
                  • Following proper radiation handling and protection techniques


TREATMENT PLANNING RESPONSIBILITIES:
Radiation therapists are an integral part of treatment planning for patients. They work with radiation oncologists (physicians specializing in cancer treatment), dosimetrists (radiation therapists with additional, special training in the dosimetry process including the calculation of proper dosage needed for treatment and ensuring accuracy of dose delivery), and radiation therapy physicists (physicists with Masters of PhD degrees and special training in the quality control and radiation safety of all aspects of the radiation therapy process). Treatment planning includes conducting a “simulation” of the prescribed treatment using a CT scanner and specialized computer software to create a three-dimensional virtual patient that allows the radiation oncologist, physicist, and dosimetrists to outline the exact treatment areas and critical body structures near the treatment area. The simulation process includes alignment of the patient and construction of immobilizing devices for accurate reproducibility of the patient position during the actual treatment procedure. After the completion of the simulation procedure, the dosimetrists perform simulated treatments on the virtual patient using specialized treatment planning software.

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SONOGRAPHY (ULTRASOUND)

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, also known as ultrasound technologists, use high frequency sound waves (sonar) to obtain diagnostic information and images of a patient’s internal body structure. The sound waves are transmitted into the patient’s body where they are bounced off of various anatomical targets by a small hand-held device called a transducer. The “bounce-back” or reflected sound waves are translated into images which are displayed on a monitor. These images are critical for the physician in making diagnostic interpretations.

Sonographers utilize advanced state of the art equipment. They are trained to select and set up the appropriate ultrasound equipment, determine the proper settings, choose the appropriate transducer, and follow systematic, pre-determined examination protocols specific to the area of concern. Sonographers review and record additions to patient histories, explain procedures to patients, help patients assume correct physical positions, and help ease any patient anxiety. During the procedures, sonographers observe the display screen and make any necessary adjustments to ensure clear, crisp images. Images and measurements are stored digitally for presentation to physicians for interpretation.

Ultrasound is a paramount tool in providing safe, expedient, cost-effective, and high quality diagnostic imaging. The clinical reliance of ultrasound results for patient management is well established. The diversity of ultrasound specialization has been remarkable and includes such areas as those explained below as well as neurosonography (the brain and nervous system) and ophthalmologic sonography (the eyes).

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ABDOMINAL ULTRASOUND:

Abdominal ultrasound sonographers concentrate on procedures to help diagnose diseases of the bile ducts, gall bladder, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and spleen. They also are able to scan parts of the heart, although this organ is usually the focus of echocardiographers.


CARDIOLOGY:

Cardiac Sonographers use ultrasound technology to examine the heart.  An Echocardiogram looks at the heart’s chambers, valves and blood vessels. This noninvasive method of testing is very useful in diagnosing abnormalities of the heart valves, enlargement of the heart and how well the heart functions.  Cardiac Sonographers also assist physicians in performing Stress Echoes, which see how well the heart pumps when the patient is active and the workload on the heart is increased. They also assist with Transesophageal echoes, procedures during which the patient is given medication to help them relax and the ultrasound probe is passed down the throat. This procedure allows the physician to obtain a close-up view of the heart and to determine if there is a clot or any other abnormalities. 

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OBGYN/ABDOMINAL ULTRASOUND:

Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in the study of the female reproductive system. Because sonography does not use radiation, it is considered to be a safe imaging technique for pregnant women. One of the most familiar uses of sonography is the examination of the fetus of a pregnant woman to track the growth and well being of the fetus. Ultrasound technology utilized during a women's pregnancy can range from providing routine ultrasound exams to scanning a pregnancy with complications which requires a highly advanced Sonographer with specialty training and certification to perform prenatal screenings for certain birth defects.

VASCULAR TECHNOLOGY:

Vascular Sonographers use ultrasound technology to obtain images of the arteries and veins. They assist the physician in diagnosing disorders of the circulatory system. Vascular Sonographers use ultrasound to look for blood clots (DVT) and to assess vascular blood flow, blood pressure and changes in the amount of circulation to legs and arms. They also are able to evaluate pulses and listen to the sounds of the arteries for abnormalities. If a physician suspects a stroke, Vascular Sonographers are able to perform non-invasive testing to look for a decrease in blood flow to the brain and the carotid arteries of the neck.

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