Radiology is a rapidly growing field, and the reasons are clear. Advances in technology make it possible to diagnose and treat illnesses and other conditions like never before. New techniques are being developed every day.
Minimally-invasive approaches guided by medical imaging provide patients with more treatment options, less pain, faster recovery, and shorter hospital stays. Radiology nurses play an important role in providing this cutting-edge care.
Whether you’re an experienced bedside nurse considering a career change or a recent graduate just starting in nursing, radiology nursing may be worth considering.
- What is a radiology nurse?
- What do radiology nurses do?
- Where do radiology nurses work?
- What are specific types of radiology nurses?
- How do you become a radiology nurse in 3 steps?
- What are the additional requirements of radiology nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for radiology nurses?
What is a radiology nurse?
Most nursing programs don’t offer a clinical rotation in radiology. So it’s not unusual to wonder, what is a radiology nurse?
A radiology nurse is a licensed nurse who is specially trained to care for patients before, during, and after diagnostic procedures and tests, such as:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Interventional radiology (IR)
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Nuclear medicine (NM)
The radiology nurse is a key member of the radiology team. This team consists of doctors (radiologists), nurses, radiology technologists, and medical physicists.
Qualities of a successful radiology nurse
Qualities helpful to radiology nurses include:
- Technological aptitude: ability to use and adapt to various types of radiologic equipment and navigate computer systems
- Strong composure: can remain calm under pressure
- High-energy: enjoys a dynamic role and can adapt quickly
Radiology nurses may deal with patients who are very anxious or nervous about their diagnosis or procedure. A good radiology nurse is empathetic and caring.
Nurses in radiology care for patients of all ages and conditions. Being able to relate to different age groups is a must.
Some patients are stable but can turn emergent very fast. Radiology nurses must be able to think and act quickly.
What do radiology nurses do?
Radiology nurses use the nursing process to assess, diagnose, plan, implement, and evaluate goals for optimal patient care and safety. Radiology nurses ensure patient comfort, help prevent falls, and administer medications such as contrast dye.
Radiology nurses also talk with their patients to provide supportive care and educate them on what to expect.
They guide the patient through the procedure and answer questions along the way. A list of some of the radiology nurse’s primary duties include:
- Access and maintain IV sites and implanted ports
- Monitor vital signs and cardiac rhythms
- Administer medications, including sedation
- Collect specimens during procedures
- Maintain airways, including artificial airways
- Insert Foley catheters
- Document patient care
- Scrub and circulate for OR procedures
- Provide post-op recovery care
The responsibilities of a radiology nurse vary depending on the setting. Larger settings can employ more nurses, and nurses may be more specialized. A single nurse may have to cover more roles in a smaller setting.
Diagnostic radiology nurses assess MRI, CT, and NM patients and can provide minimal sedation and cardiac stress agents. Procedural nurses assess, sedate, and recover patients for ultrasound (US) and CT procedures.
A day in the life of a radiology nurse
A day in life often starts with patient assessments in the radiology department. The nurse must assess incoming patients, lab values, and IV access. Inpatient nursing care requires radiology nurses to determine what infusions are delivered at each route and how to inject contrast dyes safely.
Nurses must ensure the pre-op labs are reviewed and watch for any medications that could affect the patient, such as anticoagulants, angiogenesis inhibitors, or antiglycemics.
As patients are brought to the radiology suite for tests or procedures, the radiology nurse must provide patient education, administer medications, and collaborate with other care team members.
Rare but serious events such as over-sedation, contrast reactions, or postoperative bleeding may occur. In these cases, the nurse must respond quickly with a positive attitude and high clinical competence.
During the day, radiology nurses perform point-of-care testing, including glucose, creatinine, INR, and HCG testing. Radiology nurses also provide telehealth and remote follow-up for patients.
Common conditions treated by radiology nurses
Radiology nurses care for patients who need testing or procedures to treat a wide range of illnesses or conditions, including:
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Feeding disorders
- Gynecologic disorders
- Liver and kidney disease
- Vascular disease
- Epilepsy or stroke
Nurses may care for pediatric, adult, or geriatric patients in radiology.
Where do radiology nurses work?
Radiology nurses work in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings. Doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals need radiology nurses. And there are other specialized areas where they can work, including academic and research centers, freestanding imaging centers, and mobile units.
Radiology nurses may also work in medical groups that treat a specific condition, such as oncology or neurology centers.
What are specific types of radiology nurses?
Radiology nursing is a specialty. But nurses in radiology can specialize even further. Here are a few roles:
- Pediatric radiology nurse – cares for children who require radiology imaging or treatment.
- Interventional radiology (IR) nurse – specializes in imaging requiring insertion of catheters or wires into the body.
- Emergency or trauma radiology nurse – cares for patients requiring emergency imaging (MRI, CT, sonogram) usually done in the ER.
- Ablation nurse – works with cardiologist and radiologist in cardiac ablation procedures.
- Oncology radiology nurse – cares for patients with cancer and blood disorder diagnoses requiring PET scans and specialized therapies.
Expert advice from nurses like you
How do you become a radiology nurse in 3 steps?
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
To become a radiology nurse, you must be a registered nurse. Registered nurses must earn a college degree and pass the NCLEX exam.
Earn a BSN degree
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN degree, is a four-year degree in nursing. BSN programs prepare students with the knowledge and skills required to pass the board exam and earn a nursing license.
Some facilities will hire nurses with a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN degree. However, more hospitals and hospital networks are seeking Magnet status, which requires that RNs enroll in an ADN-to-BSN program within five years or be enrolled in a BSN program to meet magnet standards. For those who have their RN license and wish to obtain their BSN, there is an RN-to-BSN program.
After completing an ADN or BSN college degree program, a graduate becomes a Graduate Nurse (GN). Next, you must pass the nursing board exam.
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
The National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, is the board exam all nurses must pass to become officially licensed as a nurse. After a student passes the NCLEX, they can apply for a nursing license in their state.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
With an active nursing license, a nurse can start gaining the experience they will need as a radiology nurse. Because of the demand for radiology nurses, some facilities will hire and train new grads. Others require 1–2 years of experience as an RN before hire.
The more experience a nurse has, the more prepared they will be for a role in radiology nursing!
Helpful skills and experience
Radiology is a great field for nurses with experience in ER, ICU, and PACU. These settings require the same skills and competencies needed for radiology, including starting and maintaining lines, handling emergencies, and adapting quickly.
Changing specialty to a radiology nurse
If you’re thinking about switching to a new unit, radiology can be a new challenge with a nice change of pace. Here are a few considerations for changing specialties to become a radiology nurse.
Except for inpatient units, radiology nursing is primarily ambulatory care. This means patients are seen for encounters rather than long stays. Weekends, holidays, and after-hours are generally only staffed as on-call. There are fewer nurses in the radiology setting, but the nurses have greater independence.
If you’re transitioning from a setting like med-surg, you’re used to higher nurse-to-patient ratios and possible burnout. A move to radiology would mean less time spent multitasking and more time for each patient. Radiology would require a new focus on caring for one patient at a time, with more time spent educating and explaining procedures.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
The final step to becoming a radiology nurse is to get certified!
Required: Radiology nurses must be CPR-certified through the American Heart Association. Employer requirements may include ACLS, PALS, and BLS.
Optional: Nurses who want to get certified in radiology nursing can take an exam and earn credentials to show their expertise. The Radiologic Nursing Certification Board awards the Certified Radiology Nurse (CRN) credential. CRN candidates must have 2,000 hours of clinical experience and 30 hours of continuing education in radiology nursing. Eligible nurses must also pass a 175-question exam on radiology nursing care. Certification is good for four years.
What are the additional requirements of radiology nurses?
To be hired as a radiology nurse, there are a few more requirements for some employers.
Many organizations require new nurses to complete a radiology orientation program or preceptorship. Orientation programs may last about 12 weeks.
Continuing education courses help nurses stay current on nursing practice standards and evidence-based interventions. The number of credits or hours required annually will vary by employer and state board. But CRNs must earn 60 hours every four years to recertify.
What are the salary and career outlooks for radiology nurses?
Radiology nurses are in demand. Employment is projected to grow 9% between 2020 and 2030.
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In addition to job security, good salary, and industry growth, radiology nurses are some of the most satisfied nurses in the field.
Radiology nurses can maintain a healthy work/life balance because they typically work 8–12-hour shifts, with no weekends or holidays. They also have autonomy in their jobs, and many enjoy working with a smaller, close-knit team.
Radiology nurses tend to stay in their specialty for many years. There is also the ability to advance their careers.
There are many reasons to consider a career in radiology nursing. It’s an exciting field that offers plenty of opportunities for growth and advancement. Nurses can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing or achieve a Doctor of Nursing Practice to advance their careers even further.
These degrees can lead to jobs as clinical specialists or radiology nurse practitioners.
Another benefit is that you’ll always be learning new things—and expanding your horizons—because radiology nursing is such a dynamic field. The point is, you’ll never be bored at this job!
Here are a few more radiology nursing resources:
- Association for Radiologic and Imaging Nursing
- Association for Vascular Access (AVA)
- American College of Radiology
- Journal of Radiology Nursing
- Radiological Society of North America
- Radiologic Nursing Certification Board
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- “Coffee, Chaos, and Competence: Day in the Life of a Radiology Nurse”. sciencedirect.com. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- “Healthcare Certification”. heart.org. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- “Nursing Process–Stat Pearls”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- “Radiologic Nursing Certification Board”. certifiedradiologynurse.org. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- “The Radiology Team”. urmc.rochester.edu. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- “The Role of the Radiology Nurse”. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash