Diagnostic radiographers use x-ray machines, ultrasound machines and other forms of imaging technology to examine patients.
They are responsible for acquiring the image and may interpret the images to diagnose illnesses and injuries. They can contribute towards establishing treatment plans and may also be involved in intervention procedures, for example the removal of kidney stones.
Diagnostic radiographers have a patient care role and work in a variety of hospital departments, including the operating theatre, accident and emergency and on wards. They therefore work closely with a wide range of patients and other healthcare professionals.
The amount of time and type of contact they have with patients depends on the specialist area they work in.
Some of the imaging technologies that a diagnostic radiographer uses will include:
- digital x-ray systems and computers - for looking through tissue to examine bones, organs, cavities and foreign objects;
- fluoroscopy - creates real-time images to show movement such as swallowing action after a stroke;
- angiography - takes x-rays of blood vessels to show blockages and then uses minimally invasive surgery to open up blockages;
- computerised tomography (CT) - creates images of cross-sections of the body using x-rays;
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - builds a 2D or 3D map of different tissue types within the body using magnetism;
- ultrasound - produces images using high frequency sound;
- radio nuclide imaging (nuclear medicine) - uses radioisotopes to show how the body and organs function.
Tasks often involve:
- assessing patients and their clinical requirements to determine appropriate radiographic techniques;
- performing a range of radiographic examinations on patients to produce high-quality images;
- observing and maintaining contact with patients during their waiting, examination and post-examination stay in the department;
- taking responsibility for radiation safety in your work area including checking equipment for malfunctions/errors, managing referrals to ensure patients receive a radiation dose as low as reasonably possible and safely supervising visiting staff and patients in radiation work areas;
- assisting in more complex radiological examinations working with doctors such as radiologists and surgeons;
- providing support and reassurance to patients, taking into account their physical and psychological needs;
- paying close attention to detail, such as annotating images correctly, to prevent errors and completing documentation quickly and accurately;
- supervising assistant practitioners, students and other staff, and delivering appropriate education and training;
- understanding and observing health and safety at work and welfare issues, including ionising radiation regulations, to protect yourself and others.
Jobs in the National Health Service (NHS) consist of nine pay bands and are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates.
- Salaries for newly qualified radiographers are at Band 5 and range from £21,478 to £27,901.
- Salaries for experienced radiographers (Band 6) range from £25,783 to £34,530.
- Salaries at lead or advanced practice grade (Band 7) range from £30,764 to £40,558.
- Service managers or consultant radiographers can earn up to £67,805 (Band 8c).
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are 37.5 hours a week and the service is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Shifts, weekends, bank holidays, nights and on-call working are required. Enhanced pay is offered for unsocial hours working as part of national terms and conditions in the NHS.
Part-time work and job share opportunities are available.
What to expect
- About 90% of radiographers are employed by the NHS. The ratio of diagnostic to therapeutic radiographers is around ten to one.
- It is possible to take a long break and then return to practice. Keeping up with changes and developments during a career break is recommended.
- Self-employment or freelance work is uncommon. There are some opportunities for agency work.
- Men are currently underrepresented in the profession.
- Diagnostic radiographers are required to wear the uniform provided.
- The job is physically demanding, involving manoeuvring patients and equipment. Radiographers carry a lot of responsibility and need to enjoy working in a high-pressured environment.
- Travel to other departments within the hospital is common. Travel to joint hospital sites is sometimes required, but travel abroad is rare.
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 a BSc (Hons) level diagnostic radiography degree or a postgraduate diploma/Masters approved by the HCPC. (See the HCPC website for a list of accredited courses.)
Entry criteria vary but course providers usually request five GCSEs, including English, maths and science at grade A to C, and three A-levels or equivalent, including a science. Check with individual institutions for exact requirements.
Applications for undergraduate courses are made via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
Courses take three years full time (four years in Scotland) to complete. Training consists of both study and clinical placement (about 50% of each). Key subjects covered usually include:
- digital imaging;
- disease processes;
- pathologies and relevant treatment;
- imaging techniques;
- radiation protection;
- research methods.
Placements involve time spent working in diagnostic radiography departments, gaining clinical experience. Most universities arrange placements in several hospitals, giving students the opportunity to gain experience of specialist disciplines.
There are a small number of accelerated two-year Masters/postgraduate diploma courses available for graduates with a relevant first degree in a science or healthcare-related subject. Contact institutions direct for full entry requirements and to apply for a course. Search for postgraduate courses in medical diagnostics.
For a full list of courses, both undergraduate and postgraduate see The Radiography Education and Training Directory of Courses.
For those without a degree, there are opportunities to work as an assistant practitioner and study towards a foundation degree in radiography or as a radiography assistant in a support role.
Applicants are subject to a Disclosure and Barring Service check. Health screening is also required.
Students on approved courses will usually have their tuition fees paid in full and may be eligible for financial support in the form of a bursary through NHS Student Bursaries. For other nations in the UK, see:
- Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
- NHS Wales Student Awards Services
- Student Finance NI (Northern Ireland)
Remember to check what funding is available at your chosen institution.
You will need to have:
- the ability to apply technical skills, together with a demonstrable knowledge of, and interest in, sciences, such as anatomy, physiology and biology;
- a supportive and caring disposition, alongside other values associated with a healthcare professional;
- self-motivation and the ability to work under pressure;
- effective interpersonal and communication skills;
- organisational and decision-making skills;
- adaptibility and good time management skills;
- ability to work as part of a team;
- confidence in dealing with stressful situations;
- attention to detail;
- confidence in using leading-edge technologies;
- IT skills;
- a high level of emotional intelligence to manage the emotional and distressing situations that may be encountered.
Previous work experience within a radiography department or work-shadowing of a qualified diagnostic radiographer is advisable. Most courses require you to have undertaken a visit to a diagnostic imaging department. Contact your local hospital to find out about possibilities.
The National Health Service (NHS) employs approximately 90% of diagnostic radiographers. They work mainly in the radiology and imaging departments of hospitals, although some work in GP surgeries and clinics.
Outside the NHS, there are opportunities in private healthcare and industry.
Other possible employment routes exist with manufacturers and distributors of medical imaging equipment as applications specialists (training people to use the specialist equipment) or as sales representatives.
It is possible to move into research posts in industry or to become a university lecturer.
Further opportunities also exist in veterinary practice, customs and excise, prisons and the armed forces.
There are opportunities to work abroad in a variety of countries, particularly Australia, New Zealand and Canada where approved UK diagnostic radiography courses are recognised.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Health Service Journal
- NHS Authorities and Trusts
- NHS Jobs
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- Society of Radiographers
- National and regional press.
Vacancies for newly qualified and experienced diagnostic radiographers are advertised by specialist recruitment agencies such as:
All practising diagnostic radiographers are required to register with the HCPC. Registration renewal takes place on a two-year cycle.
In order to stay registered, you must undertake and keep a record of continuing professional development (CPD). This enables you to maintain your professional standards of competence and to deliver high-quality services.
The professional body for radiographers, which approves a range of courses, seminars and conferences is the Society of Radiographers. Undertaking relevant training enhances future career prospects.
There are opportunities for diagnostic radiographers with some post-registration experience and/or qualifications to progress into specialist areas such as:
- barium swallows;
- cardiac work;
- computerised tomography (CT);
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI);
- nuclear medicine;
- specialist breast screening procedures;
It is also possible to train in 'reporting'. This involves interpreting the results of various imaging procedures. Opportunities are dependent on the size and specialist areas of individual hospitals.
The NHS operates a grading structure and diagnostic radiographers can work their way up in both clinical and managerial roles.
It is possible to move into more senior management posts or expert clinical roles such as advanced practice or consultant practitioner posts.
There is no automatic progression up the hierarchy; employees have to apply for new posts to advance, with an expectation that relevant experience and postgraduate qualifications are achieved.
Diagnostic radiographers may choose to specialise in a range of areas, including:
- breast screening/mammography;
- computerised tomography (CT);
- interventional radiography;
- magnetic resonance imaging MRI;
- medical ultrasound;
- nuclear medicine;
- trauma/accident and emergency.
New technologies such as hybrid MR or CT and nuclear medicine are evolving.
Some radiographers move into lecturing and research or quality assurance. Opportunities exist to develop a career abroad; UK radiography qualifications are recognised and respected worldwide.