The Job and What's Involved

There are two types of radiographer. Diagnostic radiographers use a range of sophisticated equipment to produce high quality images to diagnose an injury or disease. Therapeutic radiographers are part of a team that treats patients who have cancer.

Diagnostic radiographers deal with patients with a variety of injuries and illnesses. They assess patients' needs, both emotional and physical, before using techniques to create images. They are increasingly responsible for the analysis and interpretation of these images.

Techniques include:

  • X-rays - looking through tissue to examine bones, cavities and foreign objects.
  • Computed topography (CT) - providing cross-sectional views (or slices) of the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - building a 2D or 3D map of different tissue types within the body.
  • Ultrasound - using high frequency sound to produce images.
  • Fluoroscopy - producing live x-ray motion images of the digestive system.
  • Nuclear medicine (NM) - using radioactive tracers to examine how the body and organs function.
  • Angiography - investigating blood vessels.

Therapeutic radiographers deliver radiation treatment to patients who have cancer. There are different stages to their work:

  • When a patient's tumour has been located and its size assessed, the radiographer works closely with a medical physicist and doctor to plan the treatment.
  • Having explained the treatment to the patient and discussed possible side effects, the radiographer positions the patient and equipment for treatment.
  • Radiographers then use ionising radiation, such as high energy x-rays, to deliver accurate doses of radiation to the tumour.
  • They assess and monitor the patient throughout the course of treatment and follow-up.

Radiographers work closely with doctors and other hospital staff.

Most radiographers in the NHS work 35 hours a week. Diagnostic radiographers often work nights and weekends, as departments are staffed 24 hours a day. Therapeutic radiographers may work more regular hours. Part-time work and job sharing are possible.

Diagnostic radiographers work mainly in hospital radiology departments, accident and emergency, operating theatres and wards. Sometimes they use mobile equipment on wards or in operating theatres. Increasingly, radiographers also work in primary healthcare (particularly GP's surgeries) and occasionally at sports clubs, using ultrasound to assess injuries.

Therapeutic radiographers work mainly in specially equipped radiotherapy or oncology centres. They also work in outpatient departments and some undertake work in the community (e.g. working for the charity Macmillan Cancer Relief).

The work involves standing and bending and can be physically demanding.

Radiographers normally wear a uniform, and diagnostic radiographers wear protective clothing when carrying out certain procedures.

A newly qualified radiographer in the NHS earns from £18,698 a year. Radiographers working in and around London receive a cost of living supplement.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Radiographers are employed throughout the UK. Most work in the NHS in hospitals, clinics and radiotherapy or oncology centres. Others work in private hospitals and the Armed Forces. There are 23,388 registered radiographers, with diagnostic radiographers outnumbering therapeutic radiographers by around ten to one. Although their number has grown steadily, there is a shortage of radiographers in the UK, particularly in London and south-east England.

Vacancies for qualified radiographers are advertised in Therapy Weekly and Synergy News, and on the internet, including recruitment agencies' websites and

Education and Training

Becoming a radiographer requires a recognised first degree or postgraduate qualification and registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC).

It is important to note that diagnostic radiographers and therapeutic radiographers have different training and professional qualifications. Diagnostic radiographers must have a degree in diagnostic radiography, while therapeutic radiographers need a degree in radiotherapy. Applicants must be clear which type of radiography career they wish to pursue before applying for courses.

Entry to degree courses in diagnostic radiography and in radiotherapy is usually with at least two A levels/three or four H grades, plus five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). A range of A level subjects is acceptable, although a science subject is often required, while GSCE's/S grades often need to include English, maths and science.

Other qualifications may be accepted, either on their own or in combination with A levels/H grades. They include relevant AS levels, BTEC nationals and BTEC/SQA higher nationals, Scottish Group Awards (SGA) and the International Baccalaureate.

Entry to recognised postgraduate courses is with a degree, often at least an upper second, in a science or health-related subject.

Universities usually require applicants to have observed radiography in practice.

Exact entry requirements vary between courses, so candidates must check carefully.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most radiographers train by studying a full-time degree.

Twenty-six universities and colleges throughout the UK offer diagnostic radiography degrees. Fourteen offer radiotherapy degrees. Courses last three or four years and are listed on both the Society and College of Radiographers and HPC websites. Some universities and colleges offer part-time degrees. They usually last four to six years.

A few universities offer full-time postgraduate courses in diagnostic radiography or radiotherapy. Courses last two years and lead to a postgraduate diploma or Masters degree. Courses in both disciplines combine university-based study with clinical placements in local hospitals.

Once in work, radiographers may have the opportunity to take specialist part-time postgraduate courses. Radiographers must undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A radiographer should:

  • Be skilled at working with complex high-tech equipment.
  • Work accurately and with attention to detail.
  • Be able to reassure patients.
  • Be able to think quickly and make decisions independently.
  • Be able to build good relationships with patients, particularly in the case of therapeutic radiographers who may see patients over a period of several weeks.
  • Have excellent communication skills to explain procedures and treatments.
  • Work well in a team with other healthcare professionals.
  • Understand the emotional needs of patients who are very ill, some of whom may not recover.
  • Be physically fit and emotionally resilient.
  • Be well organised to keep accurate records.

Your Long Term Prospects

Radiographers can progress to senior radiographer, superintendent and consultant radiographer. It can be necessary to move between employers to progress. They may manage a department or move into general NHS management.

It is possible to specialise in a particular area of work. This could involve using particular techniques or equipment, or working with a particular group of patients. Radiographers can also move into research, teaching or quality assurance.

It is possible to work abroad, in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Holland, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Get Further Information

Health Professions Council (HPC), Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

The Society and College of Radiographers,
207 Providence Square, Mill Street,
London SE1 2EW
Tel: 020 7740 7200

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