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Radiographer

There are two types of radiography - diagnostic and therapeutic. Both need considerable knowledge of technology, anatomy, physiology and pathology to carry out their work. Many also undertake further training to become a sonographer.

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The NHS employs 90% of all radiographers, with other opportunities in private clinics and industry. There are about 26,000 registered radiographers in the UK. The ratio of diagnostic to therapeutic radiographers is around ten to one.

Working as a diagnostic radiographer

Diagnostic radiographers work mainly within the radiology and imaging depatments of hospitals but may also work in surgeries/clinics.

Radiology departments within hospitals normally include a number of sections encompassing a wide range of different imaging modalities e.g. ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine and, of course, x-rays. Diagnostic radiographers are able to undertake most investigations but may later specialise in one particular area.

Diagnostic radiographers use a range of imaging technology:

  • X-ray - looks through tissues to examine bones, cavities and foreign objects
  • Fluoroscopy - images the digestive system providing a real-time image.
  • CT (Computed Tomography) - which provides cross-sectional views (slices) of the body
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - builds a 2D or 3D map of the different tissue types within the body
  • Ultrasound - well known for its use in obstetrics and gynaecology. Also used to check circulation and examine the heart
  • Angiography - used to investigate blood vessels.

A variety of settings

Diagnostic radiographers provide a service for most departments within the hospital including, accident and emergency, outpatients, operating theatres and wards. Close liaison and collaboration with a wide range of other health care professionals is therefore vital.

X-rays and ultrasound are just two of the imaging techniques used by diagnostic radiographers to look at injuries or disease, or monitor changes inside the body. While most diagnostic radiographers carry out a range of procedures, they may specialise in techniques such as computerised tomography scanning, or magnetic resonance imaging which uses magnetic field and radio frequency waves to produce cross-sectional images of the body.

Diagnostic radiography is a fast-moving and continually changing profession, and long-term career prospects include:

  • management
  • research
  • clinical work 
  • teaching.

Working as a therapeutic radiographer

Therapeutic radiographers are increasingly known as radiotherapy radiographers. They work closely with doctors and nurses and other members of the oncology team to treat patients with cancer.

They deliver doses of X-rays and other ionising radiation to patients, most of whom are suffering from various forms of cancer. The aim of the treatment is to deliver an accurate dose of radiation to the tumour/cancer whilst minimising the dose received by the surrounding tissues. They establish where the area to be treated is located and work out the exact dosage required with doctors and medical physicists.

Radiotherapy radiographers may be involved in the care of the cancer patient from the initial referral clinic stage, where pre-treatment information is given, through the planning process, treatment and eventually post-treatment review (follow-up) stages.

Sonography/ultrasonography

Ultrasound is used in various settings in a hospital, including abdominal scanning and breast ultrasound. Ultrasound imaging is the use of high frequency sound in excess of human hearing to produce images of structures of the human body that may be observed on a screen. These images may subsequently be transferred to photographic film, paper, video or a CD forming part of the patients' record of their examination.

There are no direct entry routes into ultrasound. Most sonographers train as a radiographer then undertake an approved post-registration course, offered by higher education institutions. The courses are a minimum of one academic year and prepare sonographers clinically and academically for practice. Normally a pre-requisite for acceptance is access to a clinical department with supervised practice for students.

Other NHS staff may also train in sonography, including some healthcare science staff working in vascular technology and cardiac physiology.

Entry requirements and training

Information on entry requirements and training

Career prospects

Information about developing your career in radiography

Radiography assistants, assistant practitioners and imaging support workers

There are opportunities to work in assistant and other support roles within the radiography team as assistant practitionersradiography assistants and imaging support workers.

How to apply for job vacancies

Once you have completed a pre-registration programme in radiography and have registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, you will normally be in a position to apply for jobs.

Job vacancies for radiographers and radiography assistants/assistant practitioners and imaging support workers are advertised in a range of places. Most NHS organisations will advertise their vacancies on the NHS Jobs. Some will also advertise in trade journals and on their websites.

For a list of NHS organisations, visit the NHS Choices.

Returning to radiography

Information on returning to radiography after a break.

Further information

College of Radiographers
207 Providence Square
Mill Street
London
SE1 2EW

Tel: 020 7740 7200
Email: info@sor.org
Website: http://www.sor.org/

If you are thinking about a career as a radiographer, the Society of Radiographers has developed a website with useful careers information.