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Medicine, Medical Sciences & Research careers

Diagnostic Radiography

What do diagnostic radiographers do?

Have you ever broken a bone? You probably have at some point in your life, especially if you’re into your extreme sports or you just like falling over a lot.

However, when you went for an X-ray and you were standing there in that particularly unflattering gown, did you spare a thought for the kind, friendly person that sets everything up and goes behind that little screen every time they take a photo of your skeleton?

That charming person was a diagnostic radiographer. These guys aren’t just people with extremely powerful cameras; their professions are purely hospital-based and they require a recognised qualification in order to practice. Essentially, they use a range of technical equipment to diagnose numerous medical conditions.  

Despite being commonly thought of as a ‘button pushing’ career, diagnostic radiography plays an important role throughout hospitals, from diagnosing broken bones in A&E, to scanning unborn babies using ultrasound.

What tools will I be using?

Diagnostic radiography is also used in operating theatres and mobile X-rays are taken in intensive care and special care baby units.

Moreover, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners use new technology to produce highly detailed images of specific body parts, which can then be reconstructed into 3D models.

CT is used for trauma patients and provides an immediate service for critical patients in diagnosing life-threatening injuries. As you can see, diagnostic radiography has a huge impact on the care and treatment of each patient.

It is the diagnostic radiographer’s role to produce these images safely and to the best possible quality. The majority of hospitals offer a 24-hour facility for radiography. This is mainly due to the high demand for the service.

In today’s world of technological advancement, many radiography departments have gone digital. This means that the images can now be viewed seconds after being taken. 

A diagnostic radiographer’s roles and responsibilities are immensely varied, but the job could be briefly summarised as: explaining proper imaging procedures to patients, positioning patients correctly and producing X-rays or other images for a doctor, so that they can make an accurate diagnosis and create a treatment plan for the patient.

What do I need to become a diagnostic radiographer?     

A diagnostic radiographer is required to have a detailed knowledge of anatomy, as well as being trained to safely administer the radiation used widely throughout their job. Patient contact and care is a huge part of the job and a crucial responsibility of diagnostic radiographers is to provide the necessary images of the highest quality, whilst maintaining patient safety and comfort. This can mean having to adapt techniques according to your patient’s condition.

This can be especially important in the accident and emergency department, when, for example, you might have to deal with a screaming three-year-old who has a broken arm! Diagnostic radiographers deal with the whole range of the population, from young children to older people. Consequently, no two days are ever the same!

It’s important for a diagnostic radiographer to be a team player, but you must also have the ability to work independently. You must be able to work alongside the many other professionals that you will encounter within the hospital, but then also be able to organise yourself on a  night shift and prioritise your workload. You may also be required to supervise junior staff and assist with the training of students.

Diagnostic radiographers can undertake further training to specialise in a specific modality, such as CT and MRI. In this eventuality, relevant postgraduate training is usually offered.

If what you’ve read so far has caught your attention, then check out the occupational profile of a diagnostic radiographer here!

Written by Claire Chapman
Diagnostic Radiographer @ University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust

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