What does an Imaging Technologist do?

Sandra Koehler

A medical imaging technologist is a health care professional trained in the use of specific imaging equipment utilized to help diagnose patients. Imaging is various techniques and computer-based machines that take pictures of the inside of the body. These images assist physicians in diagnosing or identifying problems or illnesses inside the body.

A magnetic resonance imaging scanner.
A magnetic resonance imaging scanner.

There are several different types of medical imaging technologists. A radiography imaging technologist is trained in the use of x-rays and other radiation-based diagnostic tools such as CT’s, or computed tomography scans, and MRI’s, magnetic resonance scans. The technologist can also choose to specialize in just one area, such as a CT or an MRI imaging technologist.

An ultrasound uses sound waves.
An ultrasound uses sound waves.

A CT scan, also known as a CAT scan, is a specialized x-ray which can take images from different angles. It then joins the images together to provide an in-depth look at the internal structures. Unlike the traditional x-ray, this scan shows more detail and can capture images of not just bones, but the soft tissue and blood vessels as well.

Medical imaging often allows doctors to make a diagnosis without invasive testing.
Medical imaging often allows doctors to make a diagnosis without invasive testing.

An MRI, on the other hand, utilizes radiofrequency waves with a magnetic field. This scan can produce clear, detailed images of internal structures. Plus it is an invaluable tool in the diagnosis of illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.

The medical imaging technologist can also work in sonography. Also known as ultrasound, sonography is a diagnostic tool that utilizes high frequency sound waves. These sound waves bounce off of internal structures to capture an image.

More complex imaging techniques include nuclear medicine. A nuclear medicine imaging technologist uses radiopharmaceuticals, or radioactive medications, and specialized cameras and computers to capture images. Imaging technologists can also be trained in the use of fluoroscopies. A fluoroscope is a radiographic image taken after the ingestion of a contrast medium. This solution allows for specific structures inside the body to be highlighted for a detailed image to be captured.

Some imaging technologists specialize in a specific body part or illness. For example, a sonographer may choose to work in obstetrics and gynecology. A radiographer, on the other hand, may choose to work with cancer patients.

Imaging technologists require advance training on techniques and equipment. Training can vary from a one-year certificate program to a four-year degree program, depending on the level of expertise and credentialing required. Some imaging technologists opt for a Post-Baccalaureate degree. Most imaging technologists work within a hospital or clinic setting.

Imaging technologists use a variety of equipment to capture images of the inside of the human body.
Imaging technologists use a variety of equipment to capture images of the inside of the human body.

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Discussion Comments


@David09 - I don’t know that her fears are completely unfounded. I’ve heard that certain types of radiation exposure can increase your risks of developing cancer over a lifetime, much less compound a cancer condition that already exists.

The FDA has already warned against the use of too many X-ray exams over the life of a patient. I think they’re particularly concerned about women and children who tend to be more sensitive to ill effects from these treatments than men are.

I’m still on the fence on the topic myself. I get my bite wing X-ray at the dentist about once a year and that’s good enough for me. If I were ever in a condition that I had to go in for multiple X-rays for a condition on an annual basis, I might mull over my options a little more.


@janeAir - I have a friend who was a radiation imaging technologist for a hospital. She did it for awhile and the pay was good.

I was surprised that she quit, however, as the medical field is booming. When I asked why, she said she was concerned about all of the exposure to radiation. From what I understand, the radiation levels are minimal (I’m sure she’s heard that too) and the technologist should have nothing to worry about.

Still, if you’re exposed to it for eight hours a day, I can understand how it might be a concern. Some cancer patients won’t even go in for chemotherapy because they have heard that the radiation does more harm than the cancer.

I’m not that worried about radiation in medical technology myself, but it’s certainly something to think about if you’re going to do it full time.


@JessicaLynn - You're right, medical imaging is a growing field. I read an article awhile ago that most future growth will be in sonography. Most people think of sonography as medical imaging for pregnant women, but it's used for a lot more than that! Apparently more doctors are favoring ultrasounds these days because they don't use any radiation.

While x-rays are fairly safe, it would probably be safer just not to use radiation at all.


I was considering going into this field not too long ago. I still might do it at some point in the future, but I don't really have the means to go back to school right now.

I think going to school for medical imaging would be a really smart idea though. I did some research and this is a growing field, projected to grow more over the next ten years. Also, it seems like there are a lot of options as to where and what hours you could work.

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