Ever noticed the workers in hospital gowns who escort patients for an X-Ray CT-scan or chemotherapy? They are the ones who operate the machines for patients and later interpret the results for doctors.

The word used to define them is radiographers. Radiographers, also known as radiologic technologists, are certified technicians who capture images of organs, bones, and tissues for patient diagnosis.

Radiographers are equipped with the technological skills to handle imaging equipment and the interpersonal skills necessary for patient care.

Educational and licensure requirements vary by state and profession, though completion of a certificate or two-year degree programme is commonly the path to follow to emerge as radiologic technologists. Since India’s healthcare sector is now on a growth trajectory, the career opportunities for such allied healthcare workers with expertise in diagnostic science have never been better. Services of diagnostic professionals can be essential for medical treatments and their demand is on the rise.

Nature of work

Radiologic technologists perform medical imaging exams and administer radiation therapy treatments. With the help of various imaging technologies, these professionals take pictures of a patient’s body for radiologists, who will then interpret the images.

Radiologic technologists often specialise in a particular examination technique, such as mammography or bone densitometry.

These professionals can also assist oncology teams in delivering radiation therapy to cancer patients. Radiology technicians work in hospitals, clinics, imaging centers, private physician offices or even mobile imaging service centers.

While hospitals remain the leading job providers, they also tend to be much busier than outpatient settings. A radiology technician typically works a standard 40-hour week, but some positions require on-call night or weekend work.

Career opportunity
A career in radiologic technology opens diverse scopes for a candidate to choose from. Radiologic technologists are needed in every healthcare setting. One can work in a large hospital, a suburban outpatient clinic or a rural physician’s office. One can specialise in dozens of clinical areas ranging from prenatal care to orthopedics. One can manage an entire radiology department, including its budget and personnel.

Teaching and inspiring new generations of radiologic technologists or performing research that leads to breakthroughs in diagnostic imaging or radiation therapy are also promising ways to flourish in the sector. With additional education, one can become a radiologist assistant, expanding one’s capabilities by serving as a radiologist extender.

The boundaries of one’s career in radiologic technology are determined only by one’s own abilities and interests.

Necessary skills and qualities
Good communication skills, focus on detail, and careful attention to procedure are essential to succeed as a radiology technician. Physical strength is needed to position patients, and at times, to lift them onto examination tables.

As with health care professionals in general, empathy, cultural sensitivity, and high ethical standards are necessary as well.

Course and eligibility
The curriculum for radiologic technology and related programmes includes coursework as well as a series of supervised clinical exercises where students learn how to position patients and perform procedures. A background check, immunisations, and a physical examination may be required prior to entering these programmes. Applicants can pursue certificate, diploma, as well as bachelor’s courses in the field of radiology. Duration of diploma is one year and two year, eligibility is +2 preferably with physics, chemistry and biology/math or equivalent in any stream from a recognised board or university.

Remuneration
A career in radiography can be very promising. In India, the average starting salary of a radiographer ranges between Rs.7, 000 to Rs10, 000 per month in government/private hospitals. However, earnings are more in private practice as compared to salaried jobs. A large aging population in need of imaging to diagnose and treat medical conditions should keep demand strong for radiologic technologists.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth of about nine per cent between 2014 and 2024 in this profession, and 17,200 new positions will be created. Opportunities are also there in gulf and Middle Eastern countries. In these countries radiographers get salaries between Rs30, 000 to Rs50, 000 per month. In UK, the average starting salary of a newly qualified radiographer is around £17,000 per year.

The writer is principal, Delhi Paramedical and Management Institute.