When considering career options in health care, one that may not come to mind immediately is Medical Radiation Technologist (MRT). They are specialized health care professionals who perform medical imaging and radiation therapy procedures in one of four distinct MRT disciplines:
- Radiological Technology
- Magnetic Resonance
- Nuclear Medicine
- Radiation Therapy
It’s important to understand the difference between Radiation Technology and Sonography (more commonly referred to as Ultrasound). Within their specialized areas of practice, MRTs apply prescribed forms of energy (ionizing radiation or electromagnetism) to patients for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. In contrast, sonography uses sound waves, not radiation, to create images.
Both MRTs and sonographers play an important role in today’s medical field. Their services can save lives by identifying life threatening conditions that might otherwise go unnoticed, and they work collaboratively with other members of the healthcare team to ensure patients receive compassionate, safe, and quality care.
A radiological technologist is sometimes referred to as an “X-ray technologist” because they produce images of the body using an X-ray beam. A technologist is different than a radiologist (a doctor that specializes in interpreting medical images). Not only do radiological technologists operate sophisticated medical imaging equipment, including fluoroscopy, digital radiography, computed tomography (CT), and mammography systems, they also understand anatomy and know how to safely position the body to produce high quality medical images.
Patients need X-rays for a wide range of reasons, from visualizing broken bones to monitoring the condition of lungs after a diagnosis of COVID-19. Together with other health care professionals and support staff, technologists and radiologists are part of the medical imaging team. Each have different but equally important roles and must work together to deliver optimal patient care.
Technologists are highly skilled at what they do, working quickly to minimize the amount of discomfort caused to the patient. In fact, they become so proficient at what they do, they make it appear effortless and as simple as “pushing a button.” However, it is not as simple as it looks. It takes a great deal of skill and expertise and the ability to multitask and adapt their approach in the moment to ensure the best possible experience for the patient.
To become a radiological technologist, you must successfully complete a relevant post-secondary program and then pass a national certification examination. In BC, your options include Diploma programs at Camosun College (Victoria), British Columbia Institute of Technology (Burnaby) or the College of New Caledonia (Prince George). Graduates of any one of these programs are eligible to write the national certification exam for radiologic technology, which is administered by the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT).
The Medical Radiography Program at Camosun College is highly interactive and hands on. There is no hiding in the back of a lecture hall. From day one, students participate in activities to build rapport with their peers and instructors and learn how to function in a team! At the Alex & Jo Campbell Centre for Health and Wellness, students practice on real X-ray equipment that is similar to what you will find in a modern imaging department at a hospital or clinic.
Students follow radiation safety standards and are not allowed to take X-rays of each other. Instead, they use patient simulators (called phantoms). With these phantoms, they can experiment, make mistakes, correct errors, practice adaptations and develop decision making and problem-solving skills, preparing them for an extensive clinical education component. Through a combination of online learning, face-to-face learning, and clinical education, graduates are prepared to enter the field as professionals.
Although MRTs perform millions of procedures each year in BC, and many patients require some type of imaging, medical radiation technology is not as well known compared to some other health professions. The Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT) is helping to bring more awareness to the vital role of MRTs and the significant impact they have on patient care.
Want to learn more about this rewarding career?
The MRT profession also includes magnetic resonance, nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy. To practice in any of these disciplines, you must also complete the relevant MRT educational program and pass a separate national certification examination. Find more information about the MRT profession, the certification process, and a list of accredited Canadian programs at camrt.ca.
Article submitted by Sarah Erdelyi, RTR
Program Leader, Medical Radiography Program