Guide for How To Become an X-Ray Tech

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 18, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated February 18, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

Human pathology is as diverse as it is complex. When someone breaks a leg, becomes pregnant or is looking for answers to an ailment, X-ray technicians are a vital step on their journey. In this article, we explore what an X-ray technician does, the skills required and how to become an X-ray tech.

What does an X-ray tech do?

An X-ray technician is a medical professional that uses specialized equipment to take images of human anatomy used to diagnose illnesses. Other professional names of an X-ray technician are radiographer and radiologic technologist.

The typical duties of these professionals include:

  • Preparing examination rooms

  • Positioning patients for exams

  • Measuring bone and mineral density

  • Producing images of soft tissue

  • Using computers to document images

Related: X-Ray Technician Resume Examples and Templates

X-ray tech skills

Every work environment for X-ray technicians is different but there are key skills that will help you succeed in any setting. Here is a list of the most sought-after skills present in successful X-ray techs:

  • Medical and anatomical knowledge

  • Competence with medical technology

  • Open communication

  • Empathetic

  • Creative problem-solving

  • Ethical

  • Flexible

Medical and anatomical knowledge

Radiologists should have an exceptional working knowledge of the human body as well as the ailments that affect it. This knowledge is essential for accurately interpreting results and communicating the results to patients. Adopting a habit of continual learning will make the radiologist an invaluable asset to the rest of the staff and help treat ailments more efficiently. A keen eye is vital to identify if a situation is more severe than it appears.

Competence with medical technology

Understanding the medical equipment and procedures and how they affect the patient is essential to producing successful results. Technology is always changing and staying abreast of the changes will help treat patients' ailments faster and easier. You want to be comfortable enough with the equipment to be able to adjust patients and capture proper imagery.

Related: 5 Radiologic Technologist Interview Questions and Answers

Open communication

Written and verbal communication are an essential part of the job as an X-ray tech. You will need to accurately complete medical forms and patient history in a way that others reading the information can understand your findings. The results of your X-ray procedures will often be used by other medical professionals to make a proper diagnosis.

A medical clinic sees a variety of people from different cultures and professions daily. Proper communication will help each patient understand their medical information and trust that their best interests are considered.


Empathy is the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view. This is a key leadership skill and essential to your job as a medical professional. As an X-ray tech, you will see patients with minor injuries to patients concerned about much more serious illnesses.

An empathetic person takes the time to talk to each patient and explain the procedures as well as the results with patience and concern for their well-being.

Related: 12 Healthcare Jobs That Pay Well

Creative problem solving

Creative problem solving is a key skill for these professionals because every case they see will be different. Every certified individual receives education on how to properly perform their job. In the field, an X-ray tech will need to apply this knowledge to get the desired results in a myriad of situations.


Ethics are underlying moral principles that govern a person's behavior. In a medical setting, you will be handling patients' sensitive information. A high standard of ethics demonstrates to families they can trust you are safe and responsible and are functioning with their best interests at heart.


X-ray technicians perform various tasks that pivot from routine to life-saving. Flexibility is necessary to navigate these potentially high-stress situations. Techs with this skill can be more creative because they are open to modifying their approach to a procedure to get the most accurate imagery. Flexibility in communication style benefits the tech when working with the various personalities of colleagues and patients.

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a Resume

How to become an X-ray tech

X-rays use electromagnetic waves to produce imagines of the inside of the human body. X-ray technicians exist in hospital trauma units, physician's offices and outpatient centers. Most patients have X-rays done for broken bones but there are many other uses for X-rays.

To ensure the process is performed safely and accurately, radiographers receive extensive training, certifications and licensure.

Here are the steps to becoming an X-ray tech:

  1. Complete coursework.

  2. Obtain a certification.

  3. Get a state license.

  4. Specialize

1. Complete course work

Radiographers receive two to four years of education before entering the workforce. Students have a choice of earning an associate degree, a bachelor's degree or going through a certification program. An associate degree requires two years of course work. A bachelor's degree requires four years of course work and a certification program can take anywhere from two to three years to complete.

When choosing a degree path you want to verify that your program is accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. For each education path, prospective techs are required to undergo clinicals. During clinicals, techs gain hands-on experience in a medical environment with equipment, medical professionals and patients.

Examples of information you learn in X-ray school:

  • The effects of radiation on the body

  • Safety and emergency procedures

  • How radiographic equipment works

  • How to produce and read images

  • Human anatomy and bone landscapes

2. Obtain a certification

Certification is not a general requirement but most jobs prefer X-ray techs to obtain one. It validates your skills and informs employers of your educational background and professional standards. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is the certifying body employers look for.

Previously, an X-ray tech was only required to complete a one-year program but the ARRT now requires at least an associate degree to become certified.

Requirements for becoming a certified radiologist:

  • An associate degree or higher

  • Education relevant to the certification you are seeking

  • Passing a series of ethics questions

  • A passing score on the certification exam

Applicants have three years to take a certification exam after receiving their education.

3. Get a state license

Some states require that you become licensed to work as an X-ray tech. Further, some require that you are certified to become licensed.

There are only 11 states that don't require licensing:

  • Alaska

  • Alabama

  • Georgia

  • Idaho

  • Missouri

  • Michigan

  • New Hampshire

  • Nevada

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • South Dakota

4. Specialize

After obtaining your initial certification and gaining experience in the field, you may want to choose a specialization. Technicians with specialties can expect more diversity in job choices and higher salaries. You will need to receive additional education in each new field of certification before sitting for the exam.

Popular specializations for registered radiologists are:

  • Breast sonography

  • Mammography

  • Magnetic resonance imagining (MRI)

  • Sonography

Additional tips

Use these additional recommendations to improve your educational experience and career outlook:

Get experience in different areas while in school

During your clinical trials, get experience with every kind of equipment and procedure you can. This will give you a good idea of your preferred specialization and take you down an ideal career path. Being more well-rounded will also make you an ideal candidate for employers.

Try different patient volumes

The volume of patients at a trauma center and an outpatient center will vary in number and stress level. Some people may thrive in the high-energy setting of an emergency room while others prefer the steady pace of prenatal care. Experimenting with different places in your career will bring you closer to your ideal fit.

Build relationships

Communication is the key to building great relationships with your patients, colleagues and fellow students. Employers are looking for people that fit their culture are that are enjoyable to work with. Learning to build relationships will improve your experience in the job search and the workplace.

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