Radiographers are healthcare professionals who screen, diagnose, monitor and treat patients using various forms of technology and such as xrays, angiography, fluoroscopy, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Besides being called radiographers, you may hear these professionals referred to sonographers, as diagnostic radiographers or therapeutic radiographers.
Radiographers use highly technical, often expensive, equipment and scanners to identify injuries, illnesses or diseases. They are also specialists in interpreting high-quality medical images. A radiographer will work with other health professionals in departments such as accident and emergency, oncology and outpatients. Diagnostic radiotherapists conduct clinical imaging; therapeutic radiographers treat patients who have diseases such as cancer with targeted radiotherapy treatments.
Typical work activities include:
- patient care
- scanning patients using different technologies and equipment
- administering radiotherapy treatment
- liaising with doctors, nurses and other medical staff.
Radiographers' roles include working with doctors who need to determine the extent of injuries when a patient is brought into an accident and emergency department. They also take follow-up images to monitor the effectiveness of treatments – for example to see if a broken bone has mended. In addition they conduct mammograms (breast screening), and use other technological imaging techniques to check for tumours or medical abnormalities. Sonographers may specialise in monitoring foetuses in pregnancy. Therapeutic radiographers mainly work with oncology teams treating patients with cancer tumours with targeted ionising radiation while leaving healthy tissue untouched. In addition to technical expertise, a radiographer needs good communication skills and the ability to develop rapport with patients and their families during courses of treatment.
Most radiographers in the UK work for the National Health Service (NHS), but a small proportion work in private hospitals and clinics, or teach in universities. Others work for the companies that develop, make and sell radiography equipment. A few are employed to work with professional athletes.
A newly qualified radiographer starts on a salary of around £22,000 a year, and the most experienced can earn as much as £68,000.
Radiographers employed by the NHS work around 37.5 hours a week, and increasingly they have to cover evenings, nights and weekend shifts as part of their duties. Once qualified, they are eligible to join the Society of Radiographers and are required to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. A qualified radiographer may choose to specialise in a specific area, such as mammography, or with a type of patient, such as children undergoing treatments.
Vacancies are advertised by the Society of Radiographers on its own website, through NHS trust sites or the central NHS jobsite. Other roles in radiography include radiography assistants and imaging support workers. Clinical radiologists are doctors who work with radiographers and staff from other specialisms.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for radiographers
- Good at communicating with people
- Enjoys working in a team
- Caring manner and calm approach and able to reassure nervous patients
- Enjoys working with technology and learning about new developments
- Attention to detail and accuracy.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of radiographers
- The National Health Service
- Scanning and radiography equipment manufacturers
- Private practices
- Sports organisations.
Qualifications and training required
Radiographers are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Before they can register with the council, they must hold a relevant degree, as 'radiographer' is a protected title that only qualified professionals may use. Degree courses last three or four years full-time, and there's a two-year accelerated option for postgraduates with a relevant first degree.
There are two main disciplines and studies vary according to which, diagnostic or therapeutic, you are planning to practise. Open days at hospitals may give you an idea of which you'd prefer. A degree course of three years (four in Scotland) results in a BSc. Typically, half the course or more is spent at supervised clinical placements, the other half covers subjects such as anatomy, digital imaging, oncology, radiation physics, research, and treatment. The year one modules may include working in healthcare, foundations of radiographic science, image acquisition and manipulation. Examples of year two modules include clinical imaging and technology, and trauma, orthopaedic and mobile imaging. In year three students may opt to study advances in diagnostic imaging, image interpretation, becoming a practitioner, or to undertake a research project or individually negotiated study.
An MSc two-year course in diagnostic therapy covers similar modules to the BSc, alongside a professional development programme and clinical placements. Other routes into the profession include studying for a postgraduate certificate (PgCert) or postgraduate diploma (PgDip) if you already hold a first degree 2:2 or above, or an equivalent professional qualification and have two years of experience as a qualified practitioner.
Applying for courses
Requirements for the BSc degree course usually include two or three A levels such as physics, chemistry or biology plus five GCSEs including maths, English and science, or Scottish equivalents. Other qualifications that may be approved are a BTEC, HND or HNC with science, relevant NVQs, or a relevant access course.
The MSc option is aimed at students who already have a healthcare or science degree at 2:1 or above. Other requirements, such as five GCSEs (or the Scottish equivalent) including maths and English and at least one pure science (biology, chemistry or physics) grade C or above may be required if you don't hold an A level or Scottish Higher in a pure science subject, or your first degree is not a pure science. Work experience at a radiography department may also be asked for.