Tuesday, July 11, 2006

T is for Technologist

TECHNOLOGIST v. TECHNICIAN. What's the difference, you ask? In radiography circles, the difference is huge!

For many years the term X-ray Technician, or radiology technician, was used to describe the healthcare worker who was in charge of creating x-ray images of sick or hurt patients. They had little, or no, formal education, were trained on the job and were not licensed or credentialed in any way.

That has all changed. Although still misused by the lay-person, and even some people within the healthcare field, x-ray technician is no longer an accurate title for the personnel who are involved in creating medical images.

Currently, we are in a period of transition. Although the term technician is no longer used, a solid, universally-accepted title has not yet been estabished. I guess the most commonly used title in the US, and one endorsed by our major certifying organization the ARRT, is Radiologic Technologist. The title is right there in their name (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists). After taking a nationally recognized exam administered by the ARRT, a student becomes certified as a Technologist, is registered with the ARRT, and can later take another exam to be licensed in the state in which the tech works.

However, that's not to say other names are not used in everyday conversation. X-ray Technologist is still common, as is Rad Tech and RT. Radiographer is commonly used in Great Britain and is likely derived from our common use of the word photographer (a person who make pictures with light rather than x-ray radition). Imaging Tech is more general, including techs who work in CT, MR and ultrasound, and more accurate in that these modalities all produce images of the human body, but they do not all use x-ray radiation to do it.

Presently, radiology departments are employing a level of imaging worker that is similar to the antiquated X-ray Technician, called a Practical Technologist or X-ray Tech of limited scope. This position requires less education than an Radiologic Technologist and is much more limited in their scope of practice, as the name would imply. They are certified to image parts of the distal extremeties, the shoulder girdle, the chest, skull and spine. They are NOT able to image the GI tract, the pelvis, the reproductive tract, the urinary tract or work in Specials. Also, they can NOT use fluoroscopy, CT, MR or bone densitometry. And because of their limited capacity this position is being phased out in many of the hospitals around the United States.

Still a little confused? One way to look at it is comparing a Radiologic Technologist to a Technician is like comparing an RN with an LPN or a physician with a physician's assistant. While all positions in healthcare are important and worthy of respect (right down to the guy who mops the floors), there are often vast differences in education, experience and scope of practice between the different branches in the healthcare hierarchy.

Another way to look at it (and I can't take credit for this, since it's something my instructor told us) is that:

A Technician is TRAINED
A Technologist is EDUCATED


A Technician can push the button
and a Technologist knows why.

I hope this information has helped clear up the difference between a technician and a technologist. Keep in mind terminology and practices differ from region to region and between institutions, so this information may not be entirely accurate in all instances. But in a general way it should help you to realize that a difference exists between the two terms and it is important to use the correct one when referring to a Radiologic Technologist.


Theresa said...

When in the Xray facility and being taken care of, is there anyway to know (without asking) whether the person working with the patient is a Technician or a Technologist? If it is a technician, should a Technologist be sought out? In short, should one be concerned if there is no Technologist available? T.

Anonymous said...

I like the term used here in the UK: Radiographer

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. As a Nuclear Medicine Technologist, I know the frustration personally. We have the same problem in our modality. Did you see the article in Advance about sonography, I think it was last issue? Sounds like they have it worse than us!

One thing, though. The ARRT is for certification and registration, not for licensure. Licensure is left to the states.

Dustin said...

Hey D,

Thanks for the clarification on Cert v. Lic. I was just using license in a general way, but I guess i should try to be as accurate as possible. I will edit my post accordingly. How do you like Nuc Med? I hear its one of the more popular modalities and it pays quite handsomely. True?

Anyway, thanks for taking an interest in my blog. Hope the info was helpful to you and others who read it.


Dustin said...


I will leave a comment on your blog with some answers to your questions here.


Anonymous said...

Nuc Med has been great to me, although I wish I'd done xray first and crosstrained. I feel like I'm so far behind the rest of the department, and it would be nice to have that RT (R) when we get our PET/CT scanner in.