Celebrating Rad Tech Week

By Lisa Welz

Ask the average person who Madame Curie is, and you may get a wide variety of strange answers, from a brothel owner to a pastry chef. Ask a radiological technician, also known as a rad tech, and you’ll get the right answer every time—Madame Marie Curie was a physicist who pioneered research on radioactivity, was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and brought x-ray machines to battlefield hospitals for the first time in World War I.

National Radiologic Technology Week, commonly known as Rad Tech Week, kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 8, according to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT). They began the weeklong celebration in 1979 to recognize the vital role rad techs play in patient care through safe medical imaging and radiation therapy.

Celebrated at this time to coincide with the day that German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen discovered the x-ray in 1895, the week pays tribute to healthcare professionals who have the opportunity to work with some of the most innovative equipment in the medical field as they work to identify pathologies, administer treatment, and positively impact patient health.

According to ASRT, x-rays were first used by physicians in 1896 and in 1903 were first used in the form of radiation to treat cancer. One year later, Thomas Edison’s assistant, C.M. Dally died of radiation exposure and is called a “martyr to science.” Then, in 1913, William Coolidge invented the heated cathode x-ray tube, one of his many contributions in the x-ray field.

The American Institute of Physics, on their website, wrote, “X-rays could save soldiers’ lives, Curie realized, by helping doctors see bullets, shrapnel, and broken bones. She convinced the government to empower her to set up France’s first military radiology centers. Newly named Director of the Red Cross Radiology Service, she wheedled money and cars out of wealthy acquaintances. She convinced automobile body shops to transform the cars into vans, and begged manufacturers to do their part for their country by donating equipment. By late October 1914, the first of 20 radiology vehicles she would equip was ready.”

ASRT’s infographic, “Discovering the Inside Story,” outlined a number of interesting historical facts, noting: in 1927, 37 percent of all rad techs are nuns; in 1941 the military trained thousands of servicemen as radiographers; by 1964, radiation therapy became a specialized field; and in 1971, the first CT scan was performed.

On the statistical side, they say there are 330,346 working rad techs in the U.S., with the most—24,000—working in Texas, followed closely by California and Florida at 23,000 apiece. Those techs performed 159.7 million x-ray procedures in 2013, with 76 million being CT procedures, 33.8 million MR procedures, 14.5 million nuclear medicine scans, and 965,000 radiation therapy treatments were initiated.

When it comes to the equipment, there is an average of 3.4 x-ray units per facility, 1.8 CT scanners, and 2.3 radiation therapy treatment units. The average x-ray room walls have lead lining that is 1/16 of an inch thick, 4.5 times thinner than the iPhone 6. The lead walls stop radiation from escaping the room.

While a patient who is in pain or fearful of the outcome of tests may not be aware of the intense training each radiological technician receives, they benefit from it each and every day as those professionals follow the golden rule of ALARA—As Low As Reasonably Achievable—the practice to make every reasonable effort to minimize patient and personal radiation exposure by adjusting time, distance and shielding during a procedure.

So let’s honor and celebrate the rad techs who are such an important part of our departments and in all of healthcare.

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