How to Become an X-Ray Tech (AKA a Medical Radiation Technologist)

By Tess Campbell Modified on January 23, 2023
Tags : Academics | Careers | Health and Wellness | Tech

Explore what it takes to become an x-ray tech and find out if this is the career for you!

 How to Become a Medical Radiation Technologist

Are you passionate about helping those in need? Have you thought about a career in healthcare? If so, then you should consider becoming an x-ray technician — officially known as a medical radiation technologist (MRT). X-ray techs and MRTs work daily with x-ray radiation.

Have you ever had an x-ray, CT scan, MRI, or radiation therapy? If you’ve ever broken a bone, sprained an ankle, or hit your head, you’ve likely had one of these tests, which means you’ve met an x-ray technician. But what exactly is an x-ray tech and what do they do? Discover everything you need to know about x-ray techs and find out if this career is for you!

What is an x-ray tech?

X-ray techs, or medical radiation technologists, are healthcare professionals who specialize in taking images of the human body to screen, diagnose, and treat injuries and diseases as well as administer radiation therapy treatments. X-ray techs act as advisors to radiologists, radiation oncologists, and other healthcare providers, and educate and advocate for their patients. They are high-tech specialists who work in fast-paced environments that are constantly evolving and changing.

What do x-ray techs do?

According to the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT), there are four disciplines of medical radiation technology: radiologic technology, nuclear medicine, magnetic resonance imaging, and radiation therapy.

If you choose to specialize in one of these fields as an x-ray tech, then here’s what you can expect to do:

Radiologic technology — a radiologic technician takes images of a body part using x-ray equipment and specializes in procedures like general radiology (x-rays of chest, bones, etc.), mammography, and CT scans.

Nuclear medicine — a nuclear medicine technologist takes diagnostic images to identify diseases and how they impact the body. For example, nuclear medical technologists could find tumours in the body and diagnose hormonal disorders.

Magnetic resonance imaging — magnetic resonance imaging technologists take images using equipment that generates radio waves and a magnetic field like an MRI machine. These technologists use MRIs to view issues within organs such as the heart and brain.

Radiation therapy — a radiation therapist uses beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells and tumours while providing patients with information on side effects.

How to become an x-ray tech in three simple steps

You can become an x-ray tech by following these three simple steps:

Step one: Education / clinical placement

The first step to becoming an x-ray tech is to get a degree. You’ll need to take a program specifically related to medical radiation technology, but you can choose between a two-to-three-year college program, or a four-year bachelor’s degree at a university. For example, colleges like Fanshawe College and Cambrian College have three-year medical radiation technology programs.

However, bachelor programs may look different. You may have to complete a year of an undergraduate program before you can apply for a medical radiation technology program stream beginning in your second year, just like University of Toronto’s Bachelor of Science in Medical Radiation Sciences program. Check out CAMRT’s list of schools for medical radiation technology.

On top of your classes, you’ll also need to complete a clinical placement where you’ll gain hands-on experience and discover what a day in the life of an x-ray tech looks like.

To get a quick look at what your program could look like, check out Fanshawe’s MRT program video:

Step two: Examination

After you graduate from your program, you’ll be eligible to write the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists’ national certification exam. This certification is required in all provinces across Canada, except for Quebec. The exam is four hours long with 185 multiple choice questions. CAMRT offers guides on how to best prepare for the exam (PDF) that includes a practice exam, recommended textbooks, a manual on how to write a competency-based exam, and more. You’re allowed a maximum of four attempts within five years to successfully pass the exam.

Step three: Provincial licensing

Once you’ve passed the CAMRT exam, you’re able to register to be licensed by your provincial regulatory body. This is required to work as an x-ray tech in all Canadian provinces. To find out where you should register in each province, check out this list of provincial regulatory bodies.

What’s the difference between an x-ray tech and a radiologist?

In your search on how to become an x-ray tech, you’ve probably also heard of radiologists. But what exactly makes a radiologist different from an x-ray tech?

X-ray tech Radiologist
Education X-ray techs need to complete a program related to medical radiation technology. You can choose between a two-to-three year college degree, or a four-year bachelor’s degree. Radiologists must earn a bachelor’s degree in a related medical discipline, which typically takes four years. Then radiologists usually have to take the MCAT to apply to medical school where they will then complete another four years of education — two in the classroom and two alongside licensed doctors. Then, after passing the licensing exam, radiologists must complete their minimum of five years of residency before they can practice medicine independently.
Exams and licensing X-ray techs must successfully pass the CAMRT national certification exam as well as register with your province’s regulatory body.First, radiologists must take the MCAT for their application to medical school, and once they graduate medical school, they must pass the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination.
Job responsibilities X-ray techs take the diagnostic images necessary for radiologists to review. They work more closely with patients as they guide them on their course of treatment.The role of a radiologist is to read the imaging scans that the x-ray tech has taken, diagnose the patient, and recommend treatment. Radiologists supervise x-ray techs and work behind the scenes of a patient’s care.

What skills do you need to become an X-ray tech?

Since you’ll be working in a health-related field, you’ll need to excel in these skills:

  • Strong communication
  • Teamwork
  • Detail-oriented
  • Analytic
  • Organization

Career prospects

Careers in healthcare are rising in popularity, more so since Covid-19, and x-ray techs are no exception. There are currently more job openings available than there are people applying. So, if you’d like to get a better idea of what possibilities are out there for you, check out the Canadian Government’s Job Bank for x-ray tech openings. You may also be wondering how much does an x-ray tech make? Explore the low, average, and high salary expectations of an x-ray tech.

Now that you’ve got a better idea of what it takes to become an x-ray tech, will this be the career you choose?

Learn more about x-ray techs

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