If you want to help people who are ill or injured and have a background in a health or science-related subject, diagnostic radiography could be the career for you

As a diagnostic radiographer you'll use x-ray and ultrasound machines, as well as other forms of imaging technology, to look inside a patient's body and find out what's causing their illness.

Working in a range of hospital departments, you'll acquire and interpret images to help diagnose illnesses and injuries. You may also contribute towards establishing treatment plans and be involved in intervention procedures, for example the removal of kidney stones.

Responsibilities

As a diagnostic radiographer, you'll need to:

  • assess patients and their clinical requirements to work out which radiographic techniques to use;
  • perform a range of radiographic examinations on patients to produce high-quality images;
  • produce reports so that the correct treatment can be given;
  • take responsibility for radiation safety in your work area, including checking equipment for malfunctions and errors;
  • manage referrals to ensure patients receive a radiation dose as low as reasonably possible;
  • supervise visiting staff and patients in radiation work areas;
  • help in more complex radiological examinations, working with doctors such as radiologists and surgeons;
  • provide support and reassurance to patients, taking into account their physical and psychological needs;
  • supervise radiography and imaging support assistants;
  • keep up to date with health and safety guidelines, including ionising radiation regulations, to protect yourself and others.

Salary

  • Jobs in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates consisting of nine pay bands. As a newly qualified radiographer your starting salary is likely to be £21,909 (Band 5), rising up the pay scale to £28,462.
  • As an experienced radiographer you can earn between £26,302 and £35,225 (Band 6).
  • Typical salaries for advanced radiographers are between £31,383 and £41,373 (Band 7), while at consultant level you can earn up to £68,484 (Band 8c).

Additional cost of living payments may be available to those working in London and the South of England. Non-NHS pay rates are usually competitively set and are often negotiated on an individual basis. On-call allowances and overtime payments are paid in addition to the basic salary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work a 37.5 hour week, which may include evenings, nights and weekends.

Part-time work and job sharing are possible, depending on departmental needs. Career breaks are possible but you must keep up with technical developments during your time out and may need to take further training or study before returning.

What to expect

  • Jobs are available in hospitals and private clinics throughout the UK. The ratio of diagnostic to therapeutic radiographers is around ten to one.
  • You can work in a range of hospital departments, including the operating theatre, accident and emergency, outpatients and on wards.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is uncommon. There are some opportunities for agency work.
  • The job can be physically strenuous as it involves moving and lifting both patients and equipment.
  • You'll need to feel comfortable working in a high-pressured environment.

Qualifications

To practise as a diagnostic radiographer you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to register, you must successfully complete an HCPC-approved radiography training programme at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. See the HCPC website for a list of approved courses.

Undergraduate degrees take three years full time (four years in Scotland) or up to six years part time to complete. Applications are made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

If you've already got a degree in a science or health-related subject, you can apply for an accelerated postgraduate diagnostic training programme. Courses usually last up to two years. Contact individual institutions for entry requirements.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate training consists of a mix of study and clinical placement, approximately 50% of each. Subjects covered include:

  • anatomy;
  • ethics;
  • management;
  • physiology;
  • physics;
  • the practice and science of imaging;
  • sociology.

All students are subject to a Disclosure and Barring Service check.

UK approved courses lead to professional qualification, eligibility to apply for registration with the HCPC and membership of the Society of Radiographers.

If you're working in radiography as an assistant practitioner, you may be able to take a foundation degree in health and social care or a DipHE in radiography or clinical imaging.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills;
  • a supportive and caring disposition;
  • self-motivation and the ability to work under pressure;
  • organisational and decision-making skills;
  • the ability to work as part of a team;
  • attention to detail;
  • confidence in using leading-edge technologies;
  • IT skills;
  • a high level of emotional intelligence to manage the emotional and distressing situations you may encounter.

Work experience

In order to be accepted on to a training programme, many universities will expect you to have visited an imaging or radiography department. Contact the imaging service manager at your local hospital and ask if you can spend time work shadowing a qualified diagnostic radiographer.

Previous work with the public, particularly in a health-related role, is also useful.

Employers

Approximately 90% of all radiographers in the UK are employed by the NHS. You'll work mainly in the radiology and imaging departments of hospitals, although it's possible to work in GP surgeries and clinics.

You may also work in private hospitals and clinics or research establishments, or within education, conducting research and training radiographers. Further opportunities also exist in veterinary practice, customs and excise, prisons and the armed forces.

You could also work as an application specialist for an equipment manufacturer, providing training and support for staff when new equipment is introduced in hospital departments, or as a sales representative.

There is scope to work overseas in hospitals, clinics and education or research establishments in countries such as Australia and Canada.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies. See:

Professional development

As a newly qualified diagnostic radiographer you'll have an initial induction followed by a period of preceptorship. During this time you'll get to know the policies and procedures of the workplace and have the opportunity to reflect on your practice under the clinical supervision of a senior colleague.

Once you've successfully completed preceptorship you must continue to keep up to date with the latest developments in treatment and care and associated technological advancements. You'll continue to have regular clinical supervision throughout your career.

In order to remain registered with the HCPC, you must carry out continuing professional development (CPD). The Society of Radiographers provides CPD support for its members, including courses, seminars, conferences and events, as well as a range of networking opportunities.

It's also possible to take a post-registration postgraduate qualification in areas such as advanced practice radiography or clinical reporting.

Career prospects

Career prospects for diagnostic radiographers are generally good and you can work your way through the NHS grading structure in both clinical and management roles.

With experience, it's possible to specialise in a particular area of diagnostic radiography such as:

  • breast screening/mammography;
  • computerised tomography (CT) scanning or sonography;
  • interventional radiography;
  • magnetic resonance imaging MRI;
  • medical ultrasound;
  • nuclear medicine;
  • trauma/accident and emergency.

Alternatively, you could choose to specialise with a particular group of patients, such as children or stroke patients.

As your career progresses, you may become an advanced and then consultant practitioner, taking on a higher level of clinical responsibility and management of patients. At consultant level you'll contribute to the strategic development of services and undertake education and research.

Imaging service managers are professional qualified managers and are responsible for the strategic delivery and planning, along with the day-to-day operational management, of radiotherapy services.

You can also be employed in management posts in the NHS, within education or in agencies or charities, looking at issues such as quality assurance or patient care, information and support services. Find out where your career in diagnostic radiography can lead to.