Most x-ray technician schools are actually called radiologic technician schools because the technology you learn about is not limited to x-rays. Imaging procedures include a wide range of technologies and equipment, all of which are used to take pictures of internal body systems (bones, organs, soft tissues, etc.) to diagnose problems and lead to effective treatments.
If you’ve ever broken a bone, you’ve probably had an x-ray. These machines are used to examine bones, cavities, and foreign objects. People who accidentally swallow something they aren’t supposed to or otherwise get something stuck inside them will need the help of an x-ray. When you analyze the images you will look for both obvious abnormalities and minor details. For example, a major break in the femur bone will be fairly obvious, while a hairline crack in a smaller bone will be harder to spot.
Ultrasound machines use high frequency sound to great images of internal organs. They are frequently used in obstetrics to monitor the fetus throughout pregnancy. They are also used in general gynecology to create images of the female reproductive organs. They can also be used to image the abdomen and the cardiac, musculoskeletal, and vascular systems. If you choose to specialize in ultrasound you might work in a hospital or you might work in a physician’s office, such as the office of an OB/GYN or a cardiologist.
Fluoroscopies use live motion x-rays with constant radiation to image different internal systems, most commonly the digestive system. You might use this technology for routine procedures or in emergency situations and could work in a hospital, doctor’s office, or diagnostic imaging center.
Computed Tomography (CT)
CT scans produce cross sectional views, called slices, of the body. You can perform a CT scan of any part of the body and the images will show both bones and soft tissues. The images are considered a “step above” x-rays by providing more detailed images that can sometimes be turned into 3-D visuals. CT scans are often used in emergency situations, such as after someone has been in a car accident, to determine the extent of trauma.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI machines take scans to build 2-D or 3-D images of different parts of the body. Similar to CT scans, any part of the body can be captured with the machine. They create very detailed images by taking hundreds of pictures that can be viewed in a fast slide show, almost like a video. They are especially useful for taking pictures of complex structures, like the brain. Some patients get nervous or claustrophobic in the small cylinder they must lie in while getting the scan, especially because MRIs are very noisy and can frighten some people. A good MRI technician will have to know how to adequately prepare patients for the experience and keep them calm and still while
undergoing the procedure.
Nuclear medicine uses radioactive tracers, administered to the patient by the technologist, to examine how the body and organs function. Sometimes radioisotopes can be administered to treat certain serious illnesses, such as cancer. Technologists who specialize in nuclear medicine will have to pay extra attention to safety procedures to ensure that both employees and patients are not harmed by radioactive exposure.