What Is a Radiographer?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 13, 2023
2 min read

Radiographers, also called radiologic technologists, are health care professionals who operate special scanning machines that make images for medical purposes. They use equipment like X-ray machines, CT scanners, and advanced technologies such as digital fluoroscopy.

Radiographers often pass their findings on to radiologists, who interpret the images to help make a diagnosis. This is called diagnostic radiology. Interventional radiology uses imaging during a medical procedure to guide and assist in treatment.

Besides a medical center’s radiology department, radiologic technologists can work in areas like surgery, the emergency room, cardiac care, intensive care, and patient rooms.

Radiographers may use tools and procedures such as:

  • CT scanners
  • Fluoroscopies
  • MRIs
  • PET scanners
  • Radiotherapy
  • Ultrasounds
  • X-rays

Radiographers' tasks include:

  • Helping oncologists with radiation treatment for cancer patients
  • Preparing patients for radiologic procedures
  • Maintaining imaging equipment
  • Ensuring that safety protocols are being followed
  • Helping surgeons, such as with imaging during complicated procedures

An associate degree in radiography or a bachelor's degree in medical radiography is required to become a medical radiographer. Associate programs typically take 2 years, while bachelor's programs take about 4 years. They teach things like:

  • Basic radiographic imaging
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Radiographic safety
  • Medical ethics
  • Lab skills
  • Communication skills
  • Patient positioning

Programs must be accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) to prepare radiography students for the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certification exam.

Diagnostic imaging often focuses on specific areas of treatment, such as mammography, computed tomography (CT), fluoroscopy, nuclear medicine, and bone densitometry. Radiographers can also specialize in:

  • Angiography (imaging of blood vessels and the heart)
  • Mobile radiography (using special machines for patients who are too sick to travel)
  • Trauma radiography (usually in an ER)
  • Working in operating rooms (to assist surgeons with special X-ray equipment)

You may need to see a radiographer for medical imaging if you:

  • Have a broken bone
  • Have a blocked artery or other vessel
  • Have a foreign object in your body
  • May have a tumor or cancer
  • Are pregnant
  • Tear a muscle

You’ll most likely see a radiologist — and a radiologic technologist — after a recommendation from another doctor, which may be your primary care doctor or a specialist like an orthopedist. 

You’ll often be sent to the lab right from your primary care doctor's office if they think you need imaging. There, you'll talk with a radiographer about the procedure and what to expect.

Your appointment may take just minutes, though more complex procedures can take 2 hours or more. You might have to avoid certain foods, medications, and drinks beforehand.

Always tell the radiology office if you’re pregnant, as X-rays and CT scans use low doses of radiation. But keep in mind that the risk of not having a test that you need could be higher than the risk from the radiation. Talk to your doctor about the risks and your concerns.