What Is Radiology Nursing? The Ultimate Guide
Whether you are a newly graduated nurse deciding on a career path or an experienced nurse looking for a change, this ultimate guide to radiology nursing will cover everything you need to know about this specialty to help you decide if it is the right career move for you.
Read on to learn about the job description of a radiology nurse, including educational requirements, certifications, salary, and more!
What Does Radiology Mean in Medical Terms?
The definition of radiology is “a branch of medicine that uses imaging technology to diagnose and treat disease.” This branch of medicine is, in turn, subdivided into diagnostic radiology and interventional radiology.
Diagnostic radiologists use imaging technology to see structures inside a patient’s body. The most common radiology exams include the following:
- Computed tomography (CT) or computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
- Nuclear medicine, including bone scans, thyroid scans, and thallium cardiac stress tests
- Plain x-rays, including chest x-rays
- Positron emission tomography, also known as PET imaging, PET scan, or PET-CT (when combined with CT)
These diagnostic exams can help radiologists in the following ways:
- Diagnose the cause of symptoms
- Monitor a patient's response to treatment
- Screen patients for different illnesses, such as heart disease, breast cancer, or colon cancer
Interventional radiologists use imaging technology to help guide procedures. The imaging helps physicians insert catheters, wires, and other small instruments and tools into a patient’s body, allowing for smaller incisions. Thanks to these technological advances, patients rarely have to stay in the hospital after these procedures, and most people only need moderate sedation.
Interventional radiology procedures include the following:
- Needle biopsies of different organs
- Breast biopsies, guided either by stereotactic or ultrasound techniques
- Feeding tube placement
- Venous access catheter placement
- Cancer treatments, including tumor embolization
- Tumor ablation with cryoablation, radiofrequency ablation, or microwave ablation
- Angiography or angioplasty and stent placement
- Embolization to control bleeding, including uterine artery embolization
- Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty
These physicians may use imaging technology to treat the following conditions:
- Cancers or tumors
- Blockages in the arteries and veins
- Fibroids in the uterus
- Back pain
- Liver problems
- Kidney problems
What Does IR Stand For?
The abbreviation IR stands for interventional radiology. Once a subspecialty of diagnostic radiology, IR is now an independent therapeutic and diagnostic specialty comprising a wide range of invasive diagnostic imaging and minimally invasive image-guided therapeutic procedures.
What Is a Radiology Unit in a Hospital?
A radiology unit or department provides diagnostic and therapeutic imaging procedures. These units are staffed by radiologists, radiology nurses, and radiology technicians. Although most procedures are scheduled during regular daytime hours, these units must be open around the clock with staff on-call throughout the night. Additionally, these units provide services for and care to patients of all ages.
In addition to hospital radiology units, diagnostic and interventional radiology procedures are performed in outpatient care facilities, physician’s practices, and other settings specializing in diagnostic imaging and radiation.
What Is the Role of a Radiology Nurse?
Radiology nurses use the same nursing skills in radiology as in other specialties. In other words, radiology nurses help patients with their personal needs, monitor vital signs, administer medications, and start or check intravenous (IV) fluids. In addition to these typical nursing duties, radiology nurses administer IV sedation or analgesia during special procedures and closely monitor patients with cardiac/pulse oximeters.
This role requires a high level of knowledge, experience, and independence since radiology departments provide services to a wide range of patients with different healthcare needs, about whom nurses often don’t have much information. Radiology nurses may be called on to care for patients in emergency situations, patients transported from intensive care units (ICUs), pediatric patients, and other patients requiring sedation.
As with many nursing roles, teaching is an essential duty of radiology nurses. Radiology nurses instruct patients, family members, students, technologists, and other nurses about patient care.
Finally, since radiology nursing is relatively new, radiology nurses may be asked to help write patient care policies, design flowsheets or patient instruction sheets, and develop protocols or care plans.
What Does an Interventional Radiology Nurse Do?
Interventional radiology nursing refers to patient care throughout the entire interventional radiology process, including the initial assessment, the plan of care, administering medication, checking lab results, and reviewing the patient’s medical history. An interventional radiology nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who provides nursing care and assists radiologists in interventional radiology procedures.
The following is a list of typical responsibilities of an interventional radiology nurse:
- Conducting comprehensive assessments of patients’ physical and psychosocial status through observation, physical examination, laboratory or other test results, and patients’ responses to interventions
- Documenting ongoing assessments
- Identifying patient needs
- Implementing the plan of care based on these needs
- Assisting the radiologist during angiographic and interventional procedures by preparing and maintaining sterile supply trays and other equipment, practicing sterile technique, and passing instruments and supplies, such as guide wires and catheters, to the radiologist
- Educating patients on post-procedure care
A diagnostic radiology nurse performs similar duties to an interventional radiology nurse. However, the procedures that each type of nurse assists with may vary. Furthermore, a lot depends on the specific facility; in some radiology departments, one nurse may assist with both diagnostic and interventional procedures, whereas in other departments, these roles may be carried out by different nurses.
Radiology Nurse vs. Radiology Technician
The fundamental difference between a radiology nurse and a radiology technician is that the first has completed a nursing program, whereas the latter has completed a radiology technology program. Both professionals can choose to complete associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctorate degrees in their respective fields.
Therefore, career advancement is possible in both fields, and both professionals can increase their salaries by pursuing higher education and specialized certifications. Furthermore, demand is high for both types of healthcare professionals.
So, which career path is the best? Ultimately, this is a very personal decision; it depends on your particular preferences and personality profile. Do you enjoy social interaction and caring for others? Then, nursing is probably the best option for you. On the other hand, if you prefer shorter interactions with patients and a greater focus on problem solving, you might want to pursue a career as a radiology technician.
For more on the topic of radiology nurse vs. radiology technician, visit The Radiologic Technologist’s YouTube channel.
How to Become a Radiology Nurse and How Long Does It Take
If you decide to pursue the nursing route to work in radiology, you will have to start by becoming a registered nurse (RN). To become a registered nurse, you can complete either a two-year associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). Although a shorter ADN program may seem like the best choice, you must bear in mind that BSNs are more competitive and may even be required by some employers. After completing either of these nursing programs, graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become licensed RNs.
Many employers also require at least one year of nursing experience to be considered for a radiology nursing position, in addition to the following life support certifications:
- Basic Life Support (BLS)
- Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
In addition to these basic requirements, a nurse interested in or already working in radiology can choose to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree in nursing to become a radiology nurse practitioner (NP). Finally, either as RNs or NPs, nurses can obtain specialized certifications in radiology.
Radiology Nurse Certification
The Radiologic Nursing Certification Board (RNCB) offers the Certified Radiology Nurse (CRN®) credential for registered nurses with a minimum of 2,000 hours in radiology nursing within the past three years. Additionally, applicants must have obtained thirty contact hours of continuing education applicable to nursing care of radiology patients within the previous two years.
How Much Does a Radiology Nurse Make?
How much a radiology nurse can earn depends largely on their level of education and type of licensure. For example, RNs earn $82,750 on average, whereas nurse practitioners earn $118,040. That said, these average salaries also vary significantly from one type of facility to another—not to mention from one state to another.
The following are the average salaries of RNs in settings that employ radiology nurses:
- Outpatient care centers: $93,070
- Hospitals: $84,800 – $85,020
- Offices of physicians: $73,860
In addition, the following are average NP salaries in radiology work settings:
- Outpatient care centers: $129,190
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $122,960
- Offices of physicians: $114,870
- Offices of other health practitioners: $108,890
What Is Radiology Nursing Like?
Since each healthcare facility is different, there isn’t a single job description of radiology nursing that could represent all radiology nursing jobs. Therefore, let’s see radiology nursing descriptions from nurses working at two different types of facilities—an outpatient facility and a hospital:
“IR nurse here! We may do things a little unorthodox since we're an outpatient facility, but the majority of cases we do per day involve angioplasty in some shape or form. Since we deal mostly with dialysis patients, most of the IV access is done via the AV shunts by the physicians, so all medications are injected through that…I actually have to set up the fluoroscopy machines prior to each case, but if you'll be working in a hospital you'll have a rad tech in there who will do that. Procedures are usually done by an interventionalist (MD with a background in radiology who is certified to perform interventional procedures) and assisted by a surgical tech…if you're okay being exposed to some level of radiation 5x/week (with lead on, of course), then go for it. Hours are long but the pay is good.” – Reddit user CaffieneQD
“IR nursing is great!...It’s a mixture if inpatient, elective, emergency procedures and it encompasses a lot of specialities…You’re essentially an imaging department nurse. Depending on the hospital it may only be ultrasound + flouroscopy. But you may be involved in CT procedure and MRI as well…You will be involved in pre assessment, procedures, this includes; circulating, scrubbing, sedation, and then post procedure recovery, GA recovery.” – Reddit user iCollect50ps
Is Radiology Nursing Hard?
All nursing specialties have their own challenges. Hospice nurses regularly witness patient deaths; nurses in long-term care facilities deal with understaffing and high patient-to-nurse ratios. In the case of radiology nursing, as these radiology nurses on Reddit shared, a common challenge is frequent call-time and being expected to stay working late:
“Cons (in my specific unit): lots of call-time, expected to stay late to finish out cases even if you aren't scheduled to.” – Reddit user RetroRN
“I work in a cath lab that does IR along with our hearts. We also take IR call, so your 7-3 job ends up being a 7 to whenever you finish job and maybe later on that night for an emergency case, and back the next day. The plus side is you can chose if you want overtime, the down side is sometimes you are forced into it.” – Reddit user Vana21
Why Choose Radiology Nursing
Just as all nursing specialties have challenges, each specialty has aspects that make it special and that win over the nurses who work in that area. The following are reasons why radiology nurses have chosen to stay in radiology:
“My favorite parts of IR include:
- Team environment: a tech, an MD, and me, usually working very well together.
- One patient at a time.
- Stroke cases!…
- The sheer variety of work we do...” – Reddit user Naudilent
“I've been a IR nurse for almost 7 years (with a critical care background) and I recommend the position to any Nurse!...One thing I enjoy is that it's fast paced and constant changing technology is interesting and keeps you on your toes!” – Reddit user SomethingJessi741
What Makes a Good Radiology Nurse: Tips for New Nurses
Besides completing nursing school, no aspect of preparation is more important than experience. Simply put, the longer you work as a nurse, the better you’ll be. As a new nurse, you should strive to be as observant as possible to learn from more experienced nurses and other healthcare professionals. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions! No one expects a new nurse to know everything. That said, here’s an example of area-specific nursing knowledge that a radiology nurse shared on Reddit:
“Being able to identify cardiac irregularities and allergic reactions to contrast medium are key. Being able to identify over sedation is also key, as sedation is usually conscious sedation and you're the one monitoring the patient's status during the procedure…” – Reddit user CaffieneQD
This same nurse shared some other words of wisdom that may be useful for new nurses considering radiology:
“At my facility now I clock roughly 50hrs/week. I'd only ever go back into IR part time, knowing this. Or work in an IR department with dedicated scheduling each day.”
Considering this nurse’s experience and comments by other nurses regarding the challenges of working late and mandatory call time, aspiring radiology nurses should ask themselves if this demand on their schedules will fit their idea of work-life balance.
Final Thoughts on Radiology Nursing
By now, you probably have a pretty good idea of whether radiology nursing is the right specialty for you. One thing you should bear in mind is that there isn’t a single specialty that is better than the rest. Each specialty has its particular pros and cons. Ultimately, the best nursing specialty for you will be the one that fits your personality as a nurse. Do you enjoy truly getting to know your patients and spending time with them? Consider home health nursing! Do you prefer caring for patients without much interaction? You should consider working in a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU)! The perfect specialty for you is out there, so don’t give up until you find it. Explore other nursing specialties here!