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Thinking of a career in Radiography? Read our guide to decide whether it really is the career for you.
19th January 2018
Written by A. O'Mahony
If you are applying for your first post in Radiography, whether you are newly qualified or in your final year of study, I would say you are in an excellent position already. There is plenty of work available at the moment in radiography!
I would advise anyone in the final year of their radiography course to start the job search early. Keep an eye on NHS jobs and set up alerts to receive notifications when there is a suitable job vacancy listed in your area.
Don’t forget about the private sector either. Whilst the hospitals and departments tend to be smaller, there are lots of opportunities for radiographers in private clinics and hospitals.
If you’re flexible about where you work, you shouldn’t have a problem gaining work, and if you want to secure a job in one particular location, I would advise being as pro-active as possible and arranging a meeting with the radiography services manager to arrange a tour of the department. If a position did arise, you have already taken the initiative, and hopefully they will remember you.
If you aren’t yet a radiographer but are considering a radiography career, the first thing that you need to do is complete your training. It is important to consider that there are two types of radiographer and they both have different roles, entry and training processes.
One is a diagnostic radiographer. They work in a variety of areas using X-ray and other types of imaging modalities such as CT, MRI, ultrasound, fluoroscopy and mammography producing images that can be used to diagnose a wide range of conditions and patient presentations.
The other type of radiographer is the therapeutic radiographer, often called a radiotherapist. They use radiation to treat cancer cells.
Both types of radiographer are very different and this article will advise on diagnostic radiography.
For applicants who are unsure about which type of radiography they would like to pursue, I would advise you to gain work experience in both areas as both jobs are very different. You can gain insight into each career, and which profession you’d like to pursue as a career.
How Do You Become A Radiographer?
In order to legally work and practice as a radiographer in the UK, you need to firstly successfully complete a degree programme that is recognised by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
The most typical route is completion of a three year undergraduate degree programme in a university course that has been approved by HCPC, and subsequent registration as a radiographer with the HCPC. This allows you to use the title ‘radiographer’ and to practice legally in the UK.
It is also possible, but less common, to do a pre-registration masters degree where applicants who hold a degree already can do a fast-track degree (usually two years). Ensure you check that you will be eligible for registration with the HCPC afterwards.
The three year degree programme is the typical route for most applicants, and during the training you will acquire the clinical and theoretical knowledge required to practice.
Make Radiography Your Career
When applying to a university, you definitely need to demonstrate understanding and knowledge of the profession and the role of the radiographer. Most universities require a minimum of one day placement in the year of application, and some will require up to one week.
If called to interview, it is very likely that you will be asked to talk about your experiences and work experience, and the role of the radiographer. I would say that you’ll be at a big disadvantage if you have not completed work experience.
I would advise anyone considering a radiography career to do their research and do work experience in a busy general hospital. By shadowing radiographers, you can ask anything that you are unsure about.
If you know anyone who works as a radiographer, ask them for advice on what they like and don’t like about their job, and how they decided on their career.
I found when I did my work experience, the staff were very helpful with any questions I had and I found it beneficial to speak to the newer graduates as they had recently been through the application and training, and they were very helpful in giving tips and advice.
In my experience, radiographers are more than happy to answer any questions or queries that you have.
You must demonstrate that you have the correct attributes to become a radiographer:
● Team player,
● Good communicator,
● Caring and compassionate,
● Ability to remain calm,
● Ability to work under pressure,
● Ability to work in difficult situations,
● Ability to think on your feet,
● Quick decision maker,
● Confident with technology and IT.
Many universities will assess your understanding of the role of the radiographer and the skills you need if you are called to interview, so definitely do your research on this.
Universities will individually stipulate what academic criteria they require for consideration to the course, but most require that you have completed at least one science subject, typically biology, and some prefer you to have physics.
For applicants for non UK qualifications, it might be necessary to contact the university directly and they will usually be able to give advice on the equivalent grades and subjects that they would like you to have when applying for the course. There may also be English language tests or requirements depending on where you are applying from.
Applicants will also have to write a personal statement for application in which they should detail why they would like to pursue the course. I would advise that they mention why they are interested in radiography, and why they think they would make a good radiographer, outlining the skills they have, and how they believe this would make them a suitable candidate for the course. You should talk about your work experience in this statement, and why the career interests you.
I completed a three year undergraduate degree. We entered placement very quickly after eight academic weeks, helping us to integrate the theory of what we had learnt, and gain the basics of radiography.
The course is intense compared to others as depending on the university, radiography students typically spend half their time on placement learning the skills that they are taught in the academic sessions.
Oftentimes, you are required to undertake practical exams and complete log books of record of numbers whilst on placement to demonstrate your practical learning. You also must manage the academic side of the course with essays and preparing for exams.
Be prepared to work hard! You are usually full-time on placement from 9am to 5pm, and sometimes you are required to undertake a number of ‘out-of-hours’ shifts to gain experience in the department during the evenings or weekends.
You are obviously not paid for placement, and when I was a student we had long placement blocks during the summer, only getting about four or five weeks university holidays which are very short compared to the long summer holidays students on other courses get of up to four months!
When I was a first year student, we had exams in May and then had placement through the summer until the start of August.
In my second year, after the exams in May, we had a fifteen week block ending in the middle of August. Placements are great for learning the practical skills of a radiographer and allow you to feel confident in applying knowledge of radiographic theory and technique.
In the third year, we started rotating more into the modalities to gain experience in other areas of radiography. This was very interesting and allows you to start thinking which area you might like to specialise into.
The three years do fly by, so make the most of them and enjoy the clinical placements. They can be stressful but remember to use the support available to you from academic staff, tutors and clinical staff. All the students are in it together!
We normally had a weekly meeting whilst we were on clinical placement where all the students sat and met with the clinical tutor (this is a specific member of the clinical staff who has a dedicated role to look after the students in the department). Any issues were discussed and dealt with, and students were able to give feedback to the clinical tutor and the tutor relayed information to us as students which I found very helpful.
There is a wide variety of areas that you can specialise in as a radiographer and it is definitely growing with new imaging techniques developing all the time.
Most graduates when they take up their first job spend time in a general radiography job, so they work in a general X-ray department and depending on the role, undertake a wide variety of X-rays such as:
● X-rays in theatre during surgery (urology surgery and orthopaedic surgery) when they need X-ray guidance,
● Doing mobile radiography on the wards (doing an X-ray on a ward such as the intensive care ward when the patient is too sick to come down to the main X-ray department),
● Doing X-rays of patients that have been referred to the department from the emergency department, or from their GP, or from clinics such as fracture clinics,
● Doing dental X-rays,
● Participating in fluoroscopy cases such as barium studies,
● In some hospitals, undertaking CT head scans.
Normally, general radiographers work in a shift system working nights, evenings and weekends. It is very varied and interesting and no two days are ever the same.
You can also be trained to work with advanced digital imaging:
● MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) which uses magnets to produce images of the inside of the body,
● CT (Computed Tomography) which is a large scanner that takes images of the inside of the body in slices,
● Nuclear Medicine Imaging which involves administering radioactive material to patients and scanning them to diagnose a variety of conditions and ailments,
● Mammography (using X-rays to produce images of the breast),
● Ultrasound (using sound waves to produce diagnostic images),
● The cardiac cath lab,
● Interventional radiology (using X-ray guidance in a variety of procedures).
It is also possible to specialise in PACS (Picture Archive and Communication Storage System) and be responsible for imaging informatics.
Management is also an area you can specialise into, and research and academia are also areas that you can work in with time and experience.
You can do further study such as postgraduate certificates, diplomas, or a masters in an area you wish to specialise into.
The role of the radiographer is constantly changing as medical imaging is a dynamic and constantly progressing profession. It is important to constantly undertake professional development and learning to keep up with new techniques, skills and practices.
It is possible to extend your skill set to become an advanced or consultant practitioner.
Radiographers are undergoing role expansion and gaining new skills that would not have traditionally been radiographer roles. For example, radiographers can now undertake further study and undertake reports on many types of x-rays.
It is also possible to work part-time, or full-time, depending on your circumstances.
Locum work also exists in radiography.
It is definitely possible to travel as a radiographer. UK trained radiographers are highly regarded and you can travel and work dependent on registration in the country that you would like to work in.
UK trained radiographers can register and work in many different countries such as Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, and Canada. I know of a few radiographers who have travelled with their degree, so it is something that you can do if you wish.
Some countries do require you to gain post qualifying experience before they consider you. For example, people I know who have travelled and worked in the Middle East had to have at least two years experience before they would be considered for any work, and they had to sign up for a two year contract from the offset. But this will depend on the job you apply for, and your particular experience levels.
I know others who are working as MRI radiographers in Canada and they had to do an exam to prove they had equivalent knowledge to a Canadian trained radiographer. They successfully completed the exams and registration process, and are now working as a radiographer in Canada, which they love!
Bear in mind that depending on where you want to go, there is usually a registration process which may take some time and paperwork to complete, and may also cost some money.
My advice would be to do as much research as possible and start the registration process in plenty of time before you intend to go.
It is also possible for radiographers trained elsewhere in the world to come to the UK and work. I worked with a radiographer who had trained in Portugal and had to complete the registration process and also prove English language competency.
Newly qualified radiographers in the NHS usually start on the NHS band 5 pay scales which start at £22,128 and rise incrementally as you gain experience over time.
Band 6 radiographers for example, earn between £26,302 rising incrementally to £35,225, and then with advanced and consultant practice this can rise to band 7 and band 8 or more.
Radiography salaries in the private sector generally reflect NHS pay scales, but can differ depending on the role and the individual department.
Is Radiography A Good Career?
Radiographers work in X-ray departments where they work in teams and also within the wider healthcare team, but it is the variety and the patient contact that makes the job rewarding.
They’re an essential member of the wider healthcare team, and are needed 24/7.
It can be challenging at times, as you could be dealing with confused patients with dementia, or uncooperative patients, so you will need to be able to adapt your techniques and your communication skills to produce diagnostic high-quality images.
A radiography degree is also a passport to travel as it is a job that is in demand worldwide, and depending on qualifications and experience, you may have the opportunity to work in many different countries.
A newly qualified radiographer typically works in a general imaging department where a normal working day could involve imaging a wide range of trauma and GP imaging requests, or working in theatre imaging during operations as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team.
It could also involve undertaking images on the ward of very unwell patients who are too sick to come down to the X-ray department and have to have their examination portably, such as patients in the intensive care unit or premature babies in the neonatal unit.
Radiography is a particularly rewarding career, given the wide variety of clinical settings and diverse patient groups that you meet whilst working with cutting edge technology to produce diagnostic images.
No two days are ever the same!
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