Guide to studying Diagnostic Radiography
Diagnostic radiographers use state of the art technology to diagnose patients and guide their recovery. See what it’s like to study the area, and if the career is for you.
- What jobs can you get with a degree in Diagnostic Radiography?
Diagnostic Radiography, also known as medical imaging, is the use of radiation to produce images to help diagnose and treat disease and injury.
Radiographers use some of the most advanced technologies to look inside a patient’s body. They uncover the root causes of an illness and then consult with other experts in a varied team on the best course of treatment.
In the past radiographers mainly used X-rays, but there are now many techniques such as:
- Computed tomography (CT scanning)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear medicine
You could become a diagnostic radiographer, a crucial job in many hospital departments. Most patients undergo diagnostic assessment before getting treatment, so you’ll play an important role in improving their health and wellbeing.
As a Diagnostic Radiography student, you'll get to experience all the different techniques used in imaging. You’ll develop the right skills for making the right decisions for patients and their recovery plans. When graduating, you’ll likely have a good idea of an area to specialise in.
Along with technical expertise, skills you’ll develop during a Diagnostic Radiography course include:
You’ll learn through evidence-based teaching, using industry-standard facilities and modern technology. Most courses include plenty of placement time, so you'll gain real-world experience working alongside NHS and other clinical professionals.
Most courses in the UK are approved by professional bodies such as the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) and the College of Radiographers. This means you’ll be qualified to register as a diagnostic radiographer after graduating. The techniques you’ll learn are used all over the world, giving you opportunities to work abroad.
The NHS Learning Support Fund is currently offering £5,000 per year to support undergraduate Diagnostic Radiography degree students in England and Wales. This is a grant, so you don’t have to pay it back.
To study for an undergraduate degree in Diagnostic Radiography, you’ll usually need three A Levels. At least two should be in Chemistry, Biology or Physics. You’ll also need five GCSEs with grades C and above. These should include Science, Maths and English.
Other equivalent qualifications include relevant BTEC, HND, HNC, NVQ, Highers and Access courses.
Each university has specific entry requirements, so make sure to check with the institution and course you’re interested in.
Tips for applying
Universities often look beyond academic qualifications. They want to admit students who have the potential to succeed at university and in a career. Try to show an interest in technology, patient safety and data interpretation, as well as skills in communication and teamwork.
Make sure to demonstrate good research into the subject area as well as awareness of the NHS values, such as compassion and empathy for others.
Relevant experience will boost your application. If you can, spend some time in a local radiography department. Or you could volunteer or work with local organisations such as:
- Hospitals or clinics
- Charities like St John Ambulance
- Care homes
- Daycare centres
- Youth organisations like scouts and guides
Course placements usually involve working with members of the public. You may have to complete a DBS disclosure check for criminal records.
Courses typically last two to four years if studied full time. Common options include:
- Diagnostic Radiography BSc
- Diagnostic Radiography and Imaging BSc
- Diagnostic Radiography MDRad.
You can expect a mixture of both theoretical and practical work. Teaching is often through a mix of lectures, practicals, scenarios, case-study learning and student-led activities. Course content is usually informed by the latest research and best practices in the field.
Degree apprenticeships in Diagnostic Radiography are sometimes available. These give you the option to gain a degree while working and earning. You have to apply through an employer for a degree apprenticeship and you won’t be eligible for student grants.
During the coronavirus pandemic, courses have had to adapt to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This just means the way they're delivered is slightly different. For instance, teaching groups may be smaller, and there may be more online learning.
Assessment methods include exams, assignments, group work, placement assessments, presentations, case studies, dissertations and clinical skills tests.
You can further your studies and specialise in a particular area, enter into research or pursue teaching. Postgraduate degree courses include:
- Diagnostic Imaging MSc
- Enhanced Diagnostic Imaging Practice MSc
- Diagnostic Imaging Reporting PgCert
After graduating, you can begin practising as a diagnostic radiographer. Throughout your career you’ll be able to advance into both clinical and management roles.
Areas you could specialise in include:
- Mammography (breast scanning)
- Accident and emergency
- CT scanning or sonography
- Medical ultrasound
- Terminal illness
You could also work in research, teaching or the development of new medical imaging products.
In the infographic below, the first table shows what graduates of Diagnostic Radiography have gone on to do in the months after their graduation.
The second table shows the average salaries of undergraduate Diagnostic Radiography students entering employment. The three skill levels – high, medium and low – reflect the UK's Standard Occupational Classification's major groups 1–3, 4–6 and 7–9 respectively.
Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes Survey 2017/18
You’ll usually need an undergraduate or master’s degree in Diagnostic Radiography. After graduating, you have to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and then begin practising.
What it's like to work as a diagnostic radiographer
You could be working with the NHS, at a private hospital or with a hospice. This could be in operating theatres, emergency departments, in wards and mobile units. Daily tasks could include:
- Performing a range of radiographic examinations
- Using complex technology
- Producing and interpreting images to diagnose and treat patients
- Helping with more complicated examinations such as surgery
- Working with colleagues such as doctors to develop treatment plans
- Making sure images, equipment and records are to a high standard
- Making sure staff and patients are safe from harmful radiation
- Supporting and reassuring patients
After qualifying, you’ll have Continuing Professional Development (CPD) check-ins, where you discuss your career and future goals. You can become a member of organisations such as the Society of Radiography where you can take courses, network and attend events.
A working week is typically 37.5 hours, and you may have to work evenings and weekends. Salaries for diagnostic radiographers are on the Agenda for Change system (the NHS staff grading and pay scale), usually on band 5. With the NHS, you have access to generous pension schemes, holiday allowances and health service discounts.
Is a diagnostic radiographer role right for you?
Working as a diagnostic radiographer can be challenging, but it's also a very rewarding role where you’ll get to use the latest technology to diagnose patients and help them to recover.