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How to Become a Radiographer

Responsibilities, working hours, what to expect and qualifications needed

Career guides » How to Become a Radiographer

What does a radiographer do?

A radiographer is a registered healthcare professional who takes medical images of patients’ bodies to identify the causes of their illnesses, injuries and other issues. They will then collaborate with colleagues on diagnoses and treatment plans. It is important to note that radiographers are not doctors, like radiologists, but they are still qualified.

There are two main types of radiography, which are:

  • Diagnostic – using medical imagery for diagnosing injuries and illnesses.
  • Therapeutic – using radiotherapy and scans to help people with cancer.

 

Radiographers can work in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, hospices and universities. They can specialise in different areas of radiography, e.g. diagnostic and therapeutic. Depending on their role, radiographers can work with various forms of medical imaging, such as X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, ultrasound and fluoroscopy. Therefore, what radiographers do will depend on where they work and their specialisms.

A radiographer’s main aim is to take good quality medical images to identify patients’ problems so they can receive correct diagnoses and appropriate treatments. Some also have an essential role in helping patients with cancer by delivering radiotherapy and working with them at all stages of their cancer journeys. Overall, radiographers are fundamental in helping to diagnose and treat illnesses, diseases and injuries.

Radiographers will have many duties, including putting patients at ease, giving patients instructions, briefing patients on procedures, taking and interpreting medical images, screening for abnormalities, conducting minor surgeries, making diagnoses, collaborating on treatment plans, providing radiotherapy, assessing/monitoring patients, ensuring radiation safety, etc. The role will also have an element of administrative work, such as maintaining accurate patient records.

Radiographers can work with many colleagues, including senior radiographers, radiologists, assistant/junior radiographers, other doctors, medical physicists, engineers, technicians, surgeons, nurses, other healthcare professionals, specialists and clerical and support staff. They can also liaise with various external stakeholders, such as patients of all ages and backgrounds, relatives, friends, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the Care Quality Commission (CQC), local authorities, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, contractors, etc.

Radiographers often work for the NHS and in various hospital departments. However, some may work for private hospitals/clinics, charities, government departments, the Prison Service, the Armed Forces, veterinary practices, education providers, businesses, etc. Some may work as locums with specialist recruitment agencies.

Responsibilities

Radiographers’ responsibilities will depend on many factors, including their role, who they work for, where they work and the area in which they specialise.

Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Interpreting doctors’ instructions and deciding which method is best.
  • Informing patients of the procedures, putting them at ease and giving them instructions before, during and after scans.
  • Preparing patients for procedures.
  • Taking high-quality medical images using the most appropriate radiographic equipment, e.g. X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerised tomography (CT), ultrasound, angiography and fluoroscopy.
  • Moving radiographic equipment to get accurate images.
  • Interpreting medical images of patients’ bodies for diagnosis or treatment purposes.
  • Screening for any abnormalities.
  • Conducting minor surgical procedures, i.e. biopsies.
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals and specialists on treatment plans.
  • Providing radiotherapy treatments (therapeutic radiography).
  • Assessing and monitoring patients undergoing treatments.
  • Being responsible for radiation safety in their areas.
  • Keeping accurate patient records.

Working hours

Radiographers can expect to work 37-40 hours a week. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on their role.

Some radiographers may have to work unsociable hours on shifts, e.g. evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. There may be a requirement to be on-call for emergencies.

Most radiographers work full-time in permanent roles. However, flexible opportunities may be available, e.g. part-time or job share. Some may work on temporary jobs or contracts.

Travel may be necessary for radiographers, i.e. those who cover for others and for training, events or conferences. Overseas opportunities are uncommon, but there may be jobs with relocation.

What to expect

Being a radiographer is rewarding. Some patients experience pain from injuries, have unidentified growths and require radiotherapy for cancer. Therefore, radiographers help diagnose and treat patients’ illnesses and injuries. In some cases, their medical images can save lives, e.g. if they identify a cancerous growth in the early stages. They can go home after the working day knowing their job makes a difference in patients’ lives.

The role can be fascinating, especially if individuals are interested in science and enjoy working with people. They will learn about anatomy, technology, disease and injuries and use their knowledge and skills to identify root causes. The College of Radiographers (CoR) has a quiz to see if individuals have what it takes to become radiographers, which can be accessed here.

There are different areas of radiography to specialise in, a variety of settings/departments to work in and no shortage of jobs in this field. Therefore, individuals looking at a career as a radiographer are unlikely to face job insecurity. There are also opportunities to work across the UK and overseas with relocation jobs for some.

The salary for radiographers is competitive, especially for those with more experience. Most earn over £30,000 a year, and some up to £47,000 a year. Individuals working for the NHS will also receive benefits, e.g. generous annual leave, pension scheme and health service discounts.

Radiographers are unlikely to get bored in their jobs, as their work is varied. They will meet many patients with various medical issues during their working days. They can use complex radiography equipment and scan different bodily areas. One patient may need an X-ray on a presumed broken arm, and the next may require a CT brain scan.

Even though being a radiographer is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:

  • Responsibility – there is a lot of responsibility on radiographers. They must take accurate and clear medical images and interpret them correctly for patients to get the appropriate diagnoses and treatments. Mistakes can be costly, as they could miss injuries, illnesses and abnormalities or patients may be told they have a condition they don’t have. There is also a lot of responsibility when working with radiation.
  • Qualifications and registration – individuals wanting to be radiographers must attend university for a number of years to undertake undergraduate and/or postgraduate qualifications. It is costly to do degrees, but student loan options are available. After qualifying, individuals must also complete further training and register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to practise, as radiography is regulated.
  • Hazards – radiographers can face many risks in their profession, such as radiation exposure, hazardous substances, biological hazards, manual handling, work-related stress, violence at work, etc. Employers have a legal duty to ensure employees’ health, safety and welfare. However, individuals should be aware of the risks when considering this job.
  • Physical demands – the role can often be physically demanding, as radiographers may manually handle patients and heavy equipment. They also have to spend most of their working day on their feet, which can be tiring. On the positive side, the role can have physical fitness benefits. Radiographers usually wear a uniform and protective clothing, which can sometimes be hot and uncomfortable.
  • Mental and emotional demands – the role can be mentally demanding. Radiographers can work with various patients, and not all will be pleasant. Some may have mental health issues or become aggressive, putting individuals at risk of verbal abuse and physical attacks. The job can also be emotionally demanding, especially when meeting anxious and upset patients and treating those with cancer. It can be hard to look at scans indicating that a patient has a potentially life-limiting disease or illness.
  • High workload and erratic schedules – the role can be fast-paced and busy, and working schedules can often change quickly, which can be stressful. Most radiographers will work unsociable hours, and some will have long working days. There may also be situations where they are on-call for emergencies.

 

Every career choice has pros and cons, and individuals must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. Being a hotel manager can be physically and mentally demanding, high-pressured, challenging and stressful. However, there are many positives too, and those who become hotel managers enjoy seeing their staff happy and productive and seeing guests having a great experience. The generous salary and benefits help too!

When deciding whether to be a radiographer, individuals must consider the pros and cons and ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.

Personal qualities needed to be a radiographer

Some of the personal qualities a radiographer requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • A passion for helping people.
  • An interest in science and new technologies.
  • Safety conscious, i.e. working with radiation.
  • Knowledge of medicine, medical procedures, biology, technology, anatomy and physiology.
  • Knowledge of patient confidentiality, data protection and the GDPR.
  • Having respect, empowerment, empathy, trustworthiness, integrity and justice.
  • Having a caring attitude, compassion, sensitivity and understanding.
  • Having confidence, patience, tolerance, tact and a reassuring manner.
  • Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
  • Excellent observational skills.
  • Interpersonal skills.
  • Active listening skills.
  • Organisational and time management skills.
  • Decision-making skills.
  • Analytical skills.
  • People skills.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • Negotiation skills.
  • Logical thinking and reasoning skills.
  • Being thorough and having excellent attention to detail.
  • Being flexible and open to change.
  • The ability to interpret data.
  • The ability to concentrate for long periods.
  • The ability to accept criticism.
  • The ability to work both in a team and alone using own initiative.
  • The ability to communicate and interact with people of all ages.
  • The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • The ability to use IT equipment and software competently.

Qualifications and training

Qualifications

To become a radiographer, individuals need an undergraduate degree or a postgraduate qualification. They could also do an apprenticeship or apply directly and work towards the role.

Undergraduate degree

Individuals wanting to become radiographers must complete an HCPC-approved degree.

Some examples of courses are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):

  • BSc (Hons) Diagnostic Radiography.
  • BSc (Hons) Radiography (Diagnostic Imaging).
  • BSc (Hons) Radiography (Radiotherapy and Oncology).
  • BSc (Hons) Radiotherapy.

 

They should choose a degree in the area in which they want to specialise, e.g. diagnostic or therapeutic.

Undergraduate degrees typically take between three to four years full-time and up to six years part-time.

Individuals typically need:

  • Four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English, maths and science.
  • Three good A levels (at least one science subject), or equivalent, to get on to an undergraduate degree course.

 

The entry requirements and the number of UCAS points needed will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.

Some institutions may also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.

Postgraduate qualifications

If individuals already have a relevant degree or are health professionals, they could undertake an accelerated postgraduate qualification, which takes around two years to complete.

Individuals who have completed their undergraduate radiography degree can also choose to undertake postgraduate degrees.

The entry requirements for each institution will differ, so it is best to contact them directly. Further information on approved postgraduate programmes is here.

Apprenticeships

There is also an opportunity for individuals to apply for a Diagnostic or Therapeutic Radiographer Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship, which takes around 36 months to complete. During this time, individuals will undertake academic study and workplace learning.

Individuals typically need four or five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels or equivalent for a degree apprenticeship.

Opportunities are on Government Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, NHS apprenticeships and Indeed.

Armed Forces

The Armed Forces (the RAF, Royal Navy and Army) can also provide a route into a career in radiography. The entry requirements are on their websites.

Other routes

Individuals can also become radiographers by applying for a role as a radiography assistant and working their way up to an assistant practitioner. If they have their employer’s support, they may be able to undertake qualifications and training to become qualified radiographers.

Radiographer with Patient

Work experience

Individuals can undertake relevant paid or voluntary work experience to help them secure a place on courses and enter the role.

They could:

  • Become a radiation protection adviser or supervisor in the workplace to learn more about radiation safety.
  • Work or volunteer in a hospital, preferably in radiology departments.
  • Shadow an experienced radiographer to find out more about the role.
  • Work or volunteer with charities, e.g. hospices and cancer, where they conduct radiography or radiotherapy.
  • Work or volunteer in a person-centred/healthcare-related job, especially with patients.

 

Individuals can browse job websites to look for relevant roles that could help them get experience. There is also information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO, NHS Volunteering and Volunteering Matters.

Radiologist

Training courses

Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and keep their knowledge and skills current.

We have many approved courses that can be useful for individuals looking for a career as a radiographer, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • COVID-19 awareness.
  • Workplace first aid.
  • Infection control.
  • Equality and diversity.
  • Disability awareness.
  • Needles and sharps.
  • Acquired brain injuries.
  • Safeguarding.
  • Manual handling.
  • Hazardous substances.
  • Introduction to health and safety.
  • Assessing risk.
  • Violence at work.
  • Customer service in health and social care.
  • PPE in healthcare.
  • Workplace stress awareness.
  • Time management.

 

Professional bodies and associations, such as the Society of Radiographers (SoR), the College of Radiographers (CoF), the British Institute of Radiology (BIR), the British Association of MRI Radiographers (BAMRR), the British Society of Interventional Radiology (BSIR), the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become radiographers and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development. Continuing professional development (CPD) is mandatory to remain on accredited registers.

The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for, an individual’s specialisms and the CPD requirements for registration. As well as looking at professional body websites, it is also worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the courses required and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs are on NHS Jobs, NHSScotland Jobs, HealthJobsUK, BMJ Jobs, JobsMedical, SoR Jobs and other job sites, such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Indeed. Also, look at specialist recruitment agencies, such as Jennie Reeves Radiographers Agency and Maxxima.

More relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for radiographers. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement, and it keeps knowledge and skills up to date.

Registration

Individuals must also register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). They will need to hold a qualification from an HCPC-approved education programme and apply to get on the register.

The register will require registrants to adhere to HCPC standards. Also, registration will need renewing, i.e. annually, and there is a cost.

SoR membership

Once individuals have completed an approved degree or postgraduate qualification, they can apply for SoR membership as qualified radiographers. There are also options for students, apprentices and radiographic assistants. There is also an annual membership fee.

Criminal records checks

Radiographers must undergo a criminal record check, as they may work with children and vulnerable adults. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may deter prospective employers and affect registration. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.

The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:

 

Driving

Some radiographers will drive as part of their role, e.g. if working in various hospitals and other healthcare settings. Therefore, they should have a full clean driving licence.

Radiologist With Patient

Where do radiographers work?

Radiographers mainly work for the NHS in hospitals and can work in various areas, such as (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Radiology and imaging departments.
  • Outpatients clinics.
  • Accident and emergency wards.
  • Intensive care.
  • Neonatal units.
  • Operating theatres with mobile imaging.
  • Cancer treatment wards.
  • Oncology centres.
  • Catheter (Cat) labs.

 

They can also work for private healthcare providers, charities, the Prison Service, the Armed Forces, education providers, veterinarians, government organisations, equipment manufacturers and others in various settings, such as:

  • Private hospitals and clinics.
  • GP surgeries.
  • Research facilities.
  • Universities.
  • Prisons.
  • Air, sea and rail ports, i.e. customs and excise.
  • Veterinary practices.
  • Military bases.
  • Manufacturing sites.

 

They can also do locum work with an agency.

Most radiographer opportunities tend to be in cities and large towns. However, some jobs may be available in smaller towns and rural areas. There may even be overseas relocation jobs for some.

Radiographer Checking X-Ray

How much do radiographers earn?

If radiographers work for the NHS, their salary is subject to a band pay system (agenda for change pay rates).

For example (these are a guide only and are subject to change):

  • Newly qualified (band 5) – £28,407–£34,581.
  • More experienced (band 6) – £35,392–£42,618.
  • Advanced practitioner radiographers (band 7) – £43,742–£50,056.
  • Management roles (band 8a-8b) – £50,952–£68,525.
  • Consultants (band 8c-8d) – £70,417–£81,138.

 

The exact salaries for radiographers will depend on the role, location, specialisms, qualifications and years of experience. As individuals progress in their careers, there may be opportunities to enter more senior positions, and the band will increase.

Here are some further examples of average annual earnings:

  • £28,407 starter to £42,618 experienced (National Careers Service).
  • £29,579 (Payscale).
  • £35,690 (Glassdoor).
  • £37,658 (Talent.com).

 

There is potential for radiographers to earn more if they work in other settings, e.g. private practice. Experienced individuals may also earn higher salaries if they combine their roles with other areas, such as teaching or research.

As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this, but it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.

Radiographer Comforting Patient

Types of radiography to specialise in

Radiographers can specialise in different industries, such as healthcare, veterinary, government and charitable. They can also work in various settings, e.g. hospitals, prisons and clinics.

As mentioned, there are two types of radiographers, which are:

Diagnostic radiographers

  • They take medical images of the inside of patients’ bodies to determine and understand what is causing illnesses or injuries and help with diagnoses.
  • They use equipment that sometimes uses radiation to scan patients.
  • They work with patients and other healthcare professionals to develop appropriate treatment plans.
  • See NHS Health Careers for further information.

 

Therapeutic radiographers

  • They specialise in using highly specialised equipment to deliver radiotherapy (radiation doses) to patients with cancer and tissue defects.
  • They typically work in cancer wards and oncology departments.
  • They work with patients at all stages of their cancer journeys.
  • They are more involved with treatment plans than diagnostic radiographers.
  • See NHS Health Careers for further information.

 

Radiographers can also specialise in using specific equipment and methods, such as:

  • X-rays.
  • Bone density scanning (DEXA scanning).
  • Computerised tomography (CT) scanning or sonography.
  • Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).
  • Positron emission tomography (PET).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Fluoroscopy.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Nuclear medicine imaging.
  • Interventional radiography.
  • Linear accelerator.
  • Satellite imaging.

 

They may also work with specific patients in various areas, e.g.:

  • Children (paediatrics).
  • Those with cardiac (heart and circulatory) issues.
  • Breast screening/mammography.
  • Those with trauma, e.g. accidents and emergencies.
  • Those with sports injuries.
  • Those with musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders.
  • Those with bowel issues (colonoscopy).
  • Those with neurological diseases (Neuro-Angiography).

 

The different radiography roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Radiographers need extensive knowledge of biology, anatomy and healthcare and how to provide patient-centred care. They will also need to be safety conscious, as they will be responsible for radiation, and must be able to take accurate images and interpret them correctly. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for and the work a radiographer wants. Some may need specific qualifications and training for specialised areas.

If radiographers do not do their role effectively, it can put patients, themselves and others at risk of radiation over-exposure. It can also mean missed illnesses, diseases and injuries, and, in worse cases, it may even cost lives. Therefore, whatever the type of role, they must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not use equipment and treatments if they are not trained and competent.

Radiographer Preparing Patient

Professional bodies

Standards, technologies, research, treatments and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, radiographers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to remain legally compliant and carry out their roles effectively and safely. CPD gives radiographers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them stay registered with an accredited body and allows them to progress in their career.

Joining a professional body or association, covered earlier, can help prospective and current radiographers enhance their skills and overall career. These can offer different levels of membership, CPD, advice and support, access to industry contacts and networking events.

There is an opportunity for career progression, especially in the NHS. With more qualifications and experience, a radiographer can enter more senior roles, such as a radiography team leader, senior radiographer or consultant practitioner, or move into specialised jobs, such as diagnostic or therapeutic. They may specialise in working with specific types of patients or equipment and methods. As they gain more experience and progress, their pay band will increase.

Knowledge, skills and experience in radiography can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a radiographer may want to work in education, training or research. They may undertake further qualifications and move into counselling and palliative care. Further information on career development is on the College of Radiographers website.

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