“DO you have any metal on your person?” A typical question asked in the reception area just before a patient is taken in for an MRI scan. Remembering to ask this question is imperative; it ensures the patient’s safety. If forgotten, the magnetic nature of the equipment could result in a life or death situation.
Thus the personnel in the radiology department must function in a systematic manner. Radiologists and doctors diagnose by interpreting images such as X-rays, which have been created by the radiographer, using high-end equipment. Thus a radiographer has an important role to play in saving lives.
What is radiography?
This field took birth in 1895 when X-rays were discovered, the process evolved through the years to be used for diagnostic purposes. To provide the right treatment for a disease or ailment, it’s necessary to make the correct diagnosis. But it’s not always possible to diagnose a disease based on symptoms alone. Here radiography comes to the rescue.
Radiography is used to diagnose the problem by focusing on the internal parts of the anatomy using X-rays, sometimes referred to as ‘X-ray photography’. This field has had a huge impact on the medical field as well as in industrial applications.
This field is a highly technical one and the processes vary, depending on which part of the anatomy or tissue is being imaged. Radiographers are trained to use the equipment and adapt to new technology and procedures. Some important procedures include fluoroscopy, ultrasound or sonography, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and CT scan.
Dr. T.H.S. Bedi, Consultant Radiologist at New Delhi’s B.L. Kapoor Memorial Hospital, shared that radiographers are support staff or ‘technician nurses’ and that the contribution of radiographers is an important part of the parcel for effective treatment. “It’s a good job; you have fixed hours, a nice environment and you will be handling equipment worth crores,” he says. The demand for trained radiographers is constantly growing.
|Imaging technology used by diagnostic radiographer
|1 X-Ray: Look through tissues to examine bones, cavities and foreign objects
2 Fluoroscopy: Imaging the digestive system, providing real-time image
3 Computed Tomography: Provide cross-sectional views (slices) of the body
4 Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Build a 2-D or 3-D map of different tissue types within the body
5 Ultrasound: Check circulation, largely used in obsterics and gynaecology
6 Angiography: Used to investigate blood vessels
Diagnostic and therapeutic branches
A diagnostic radiographer is required to explain procedures to the patients, help prepare them for the tests, operate and maintain equipment and records. Their assistance is required by physicians in performing procedures such as myelograms (examinations to detect injuries, cysts or tumours in the spinal cord) and also by surgeons in the operating room, usually with portable X-ray or fluoroscopic machines.
Therapeutic radiography, also referred to as radiotherapy is used in treatment and diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, tumours and ulcers. Here radiation is used in controlled conditions as an exact amount of radiation would help shrink the tumour size. Their work is closely associated with doctors, nurses, physicists and others from oncology teams in treating patients with cancer. A radiotherapy radiographer’s role in caring for a cancer patient has a broad range, from the initial referral stage, giving pre-treatment information, planning process, treatment and follow-up, post-treatment.
Courses and eligibility
Vinod Anand Sarma, radiographer at a government hospital in Kanyakumari district had pursued his degree from Gandhigram Rural Institute. “This field comes under the umbrella of paramedical studies. Typically, aspirants must have a strong inclination towards science subjects like biology, physiology and anatomy,” says Sarma. Clinical exposure, hands-on experience with patients and equipment in the hospital setup, is a must during your course, which includes certificate and diploma programmes, graduate and postgraduate degrees (list of institutes in India and overseas).
i. Graduate level: You can pursue a course at the graduate level such as BSc in Radiography or BSc (Hons) in Medical Technology in Radiography. You mast have completed 10+2, with mathematics, physics and chemistry. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences offers BSc (Hons) degrees in Ophthalmic Techniques and Medical Technology. A degree course would offer you better chances for growth than a certificate or diploma course.
ii. Certificate/diploma courses: Some institutes conduct diploma courses in diagnostic radiography and radiotherapy. The duration of course varies between three months and two years, depending on the institute and programme of choice. The Apollo Institute of Hospital Management and Allied Sciences (AIMAS) offers diploma courses in Medical Records Technology, Intensive Care Technology and Operation Theatre in collaboration with Alagappa University. You must have completed Class 12 in science, to be eligible.
iii. Postgraduate level: Usually, people in this field complete a degree but it is not uncommon to pursue further education such as a Master’s degree and PhD. You must have a degree in radiography to be eligible. Subject requirements would vary depending on the specialisations and institute of choice. Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh offers an MSc in Medical Technology in Radiology (also other branches such as pathology, microbiology, pharmacology and physiology). You need to participate in continuous education programmes throughout your career to survive in this field.
|Imaging technology used by diagnostic radiographers
|1 Projection radiography: Creating images through exposure of object to X-rays or other forms of electromagnetic radiation and capturing the resultant remnant beam or ‘shadow’ as latent image. Bone and some organs like lungs
2 Dental radiography: The process involves a small radiation dose with high penetration in order to view teeth, which are dense in nature. Tooth and gums
3 Mammography: Involves X-ray examination of breasts and other soft tissues. Soft tissues
4 Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry: Bone densitometry or DEXA is used for osteoporosis tests. Bones, calculated as T-score
In the UK, professionals in the field of radiography are called diagnostic radiographers. In the US, you will commonly hear the term radiologic technologist. In India, you are referred to in accordance to the equipment you handle, a CT technician or MRI technician are examples for degree holders. In addition, technicians have assistants such as those who have done a certificate or diploma in the field.
Typically, the radiology department is the busiest department in the hospital, after emergency and OPD. Freshers with a degree can expect to earn between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 15,000, in a good hospital. It would be less if it’s a smaller setup. But a good radiographer can expect Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 60,000 within a year of two of practice. You need to prove your expertise throughout to keep rising in the profession. If you have completed a certificate course/diploma, you could start as an assistant or aide to the radiographer/ radiologist, at a lower salary ranging from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 6,000, largely depending on the setup you join. A postgraduate would obviously earn in the higher bracket, Rs. 20,000 plus can be expected with no work experience. With work experience, the salary would obviously be higher.
Many opt to get into research and teaching. Almost all medical colleges in India offer some certificate/diploma/degree related to the field of radiography. Lecturers are required and are paid as per the government norms; usually you can expect Rs. 25,000 + other allowances. Research is also a crucial aspect, big industries and companies require the expertise of radiographers to conduct their work. The salaries would vary depending on the company, your area of expertise and work experience.
How you can grow
“Radiographers are in demand, both in India and globally. Health care services and facilities are forever growing, especially in our country,” stressed Sarma. A large number of radiographers are required in private nursing homes, hospitals, diagnostic centres and, of course, the ever growing super specialty hospitals such as Apollo, Max and Sitaram Bhartia in metro cities. The broad areas that a radiographer’s world comprises are medicine, research and teaching. In addition, the fields of nuclear medicine and photography can also be explored, these avenues are open to X-ray technicians and radiographers. The work spaces that radiographers occupy include diagnostic imaging department, intensive care unit, operating theatre and as a team with doctors and other hospital staff.
Radiographers can undertake most investigations but generally specialise in one particular area. Thus, creating a niche space to prove their worth and expertise, and also personal career growth plan. Diagnostic radiography is a continually changing profession, and long-term career prospects include management, research, clinical work and teaching. With fixed working hours, it’s a great job for all, irrespective of gender.
Tele-radiology, a new concept
“Tele-radiology is not an uncommon feature today,” Dr. Bedi says. This concept comprises a radiographer sharing images with health care professionals who are not present physically to view the images that have been created. They could be in the same city or anywhere across the world. A certain knowledge base and understanding of medicine is required, and a radiographer possesses these requisites. As this aspect of the field becomes more common and in demand in the future, the role of radiographers will gain more significance.
Exposure to radiation is a given, but the amount of radiation is closely monitored. There are machines that measure the radiation levels present in enclosed areas. Along with patient’s safety, the health of radiographers based on their exposure levels is closely watched. “Most private hospitals are very particular about the frequency of check-ups of their staff that are at risk of over exposure to radiation,” says a radiographic technician.
Qualities to succeed
Sarma sums up, “Team work and patience are a must in this service-oriented field. Often your patient may be in very poor health, but you must be able to stay sensitive yet detached from the situation, in order to do your job, right. You must also be able to relate to people of every age group.” For instance, an elderly person or someone with a heart condition would need extra care during a CT scan. They could feel claustrophobic during the procedure. Be sensitive to the fears of the patient, and help boost their willpower and confidence.
Getting the technical edge
Keeping abreast of new technology and processes is also vital. You must be adaptable, and upgrade your skills, constantly. And you must also be very observant, have a sharp memory and be very accurate, as the diagnosis will be based on the information provided by you. Remember, as a radiographer, you will be part of that process that helps to save human lives!
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