A radiology nurse, also referred to as a medical imaging nurse, is a nursing professional that cares for patients that must undergo diagnostic imaging procedures and radiation therapy. Common diagnostic imaging tests include x-rays, computed tomography scans (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs), and ultrasounds. Through the use of these imaging tests, medical professionals are able to see inside a patient's body, enabling them to easily diagnose illnesses and suspected injuries. Radiation therapy is also commonly used to treat certain illnesses, such as cancer. In order to provide proper care, radiology nurses not only focus on patient comfort, but ensure that accurate images are being taken to help diagnose these injuries and illnesses.
The first step towards any career in nursing is becoming a licensed registered nurse. While an Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) is the minimal requirement, many employers prefer applicants with a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN typically takes two years to complete, while a BSN takes around four years. Upon completing either program, one must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
What Are the Education Requirements for Radiology Nurses?
While RNs with either an ADN or BSN can work in the radiology field, those with a BSN will find it much easier to find work in the specialty. With that said, although radiology nurses are often hired at the registered nurse level, with advanced education and experience, nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists serve as mid-level providers within radiology departments. In order to practice advanced specialty in radiology, one must achieve a Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner, an Adult Nurse Practitioner, or a Clinical Nurse Specialist.
Are Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?
Additional certifications are offered for radiology nurses by the Association for Radiologic & Imaging Nurses. Upon completing 2,000 hours of experience in radiology and a minimum of at least 30 hours of additional education in radiology, the registered nurse will then be eligible to take the Certified Radiology Nurse exam.
The most common employer for radiology nurses are:
- Diagnostic imaging facilities
- Outpatient care facilities
A radiology nurse works as a member of a larger team of medical professionals, including physicians, specialists, other nurses, and radiology technicians. As radiology nurses work in conjunction with other healthcare professionals, being able to effectively communicate is essential. With the amount of collaboration between other medical professionals and a high turnover in patients, one must be easily adaptable. A radiology nurse is primarily responsible for the assessment, planning, and care of patients who undergo diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Due to great advancements in radiologic medical technology, a radiology nurse must have a high level of technical expertise and knowledge.
What Are the Roles and Duties of a Radiology Nurse?
The primary role of a radiology nurse is to care for patients in need of radiology procedures. Other duties include:
- Assessing patients prior to their procedures by studying patient medical histories and speaking with both patients and their physicians
- Helping patients better understand the procedures they need and serving as a liaison between the patient, nursing staff, and physician
- Explaining the procedures needed by answering any questions/concerns patients and family may have
- Responsible for instructing patients on what to do before a particular procedure
- Responsible for preparing the patient on the day of procedure
- Responsible for injecting special dyes/contrast mediums into patients
- Responsible for administering barium enemas/solutions prior to procedures
- Operating radiology machines and at times reading diagnostic images
- Reassessing patients after their procedure and providing care until they are ready to be discharged
As the field of radiology and diagnostic imaging is a rapidly advancing area of healthcare, the employment outlook remains high. Radiology plays a pivotal role in diagnosing, managing, and treating a variety of conditions and diseases, meaning that employment in hospitals and/or diagnostic image facilities are always in demand. The average salary for a radiology nurse is $62,107 annually, whereas a nurse practitioner in radiology earns $90,583 annually.
- Association for Radiologic & Imaging Nursing
- Journal of Radiology Nursing
- American College of Radiology
- Certification for Radiology Nursing
Radiology Nurse FAQs
Radiation nurses are exposed to many types of medical radiation in the course of their work. X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, bone scans, and fluoroscopy used during procedures are all inherent risks of the nursing profession. There are many regulatory agencies to ensure the safety of medical staff and minimize exposure.
The National Council of Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRPM) provides validated scientific information, analysis and recommendations for institutions to implement for radiation safety. For example, the NCRPM recommends staff working in areas with frequent exposure wear a dosimetric badge at waist or chest areas and under the lead apron. This thermoluminescent dosimeter badge is regularly scanned to measure the amount of radiation the wearer was exposed to during work hours.
The current U.S. annual occupational dose limit is 5,000 millirem (mrem). Radiation safety policies at accredited institutions implement an “As Low as Reasonably Achievable” (ALARA) to mitigate unnecessary risk. For example, institutions such as Kaiser Permanente set the maximum annual exposure rate at 1,000 mrem.
Given this expectation of ALARA, departments with nurses frequently exposed to radiation are expected to monitor the results of the dosimetry badge levels and report these levels to a Radiation Safety Committee. Most states also require nurses who work in the exposed areas such as Cath lab, Interventional Radiology, Operating Room, Nuclear Medicine and Radiology to complete radiation safety training each year.
The annual training for radiation nurses frequently exposed to radiation includes topics such as procedures for entering a room with active radiation, proper use of wearing a lead apron, when to use shielding, and the importance and process for wearing the dosimetry badge.