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Medical Assistants Who Take X-Rays


With the ever increasing need for medical assistants and advancements in medicine come ever increasing expectations and responsibilities on the work place. The days where medical offices hired medical assistants to handle basic patient coordination, clinical and administrative tasks are quickly coming to an end. Many primary care and HMO group practices, dentists and orthopedic offices now have the ability and need to perform radiological exams right on the premises to obtain radiological images that pin-point medical issues. Whenever permitted by law they seek medical assistants who can handle this task.

States have unique rules for MRI, mammography and ultrasound, but not all US states require medical assistants who take x-rays to have a limited x-ray equipment operating license. Some vocational training institutions are heeding the call and offer medical assistant training programs that include a limited scope x-ray diploma and associated continuing education courses, one is Glacier Valley Medical Education. Glacier also published a list of state authorities having jurisdiction over radiologic imaging and licensing, which can also answer certain questions about medical assistants who are expected to take limited x-ray images, licensing requirements and other regulations that might apply.

MRI, Ultrasound and Mammography

Operating MRI, mammography and ultrasound equipment does not fall within a medical assistant's scope of
practice. These are highly technical tasks, which require specific training, licenses and degrees. Continuing
education courses may also be required to maintain these licenses and are accepted only if they pertain
specifically to mammography or to the breast. If a mammographer is working in a facility that uses digital
mammography, 6 of the 15 credit hours must be specific to digital imaging of the breast. All mammographers
must perform a minimum of 200 mammograms within each 2 year period. You can read about the regulations
pertaining to continuing education courses, among these are Texas, California, Iowa and Florida here.

The effect of x-ray radiation is cumulative; a number of minor doses over a number of years is equivalent to a
large dose at one time. X rays can damage, even destroy living cells and must be used with precision and
extreme care. If an untrained operator uses the equipment wrong they can cause severe burns, cancer,
leukemia, and cataracts. They can speed aging, reduce immunity to disease, and bring about disastrous
changes in the reproductive cells. Lead screens, sheets of lead-impregnated rubber, and leaded glass are
used to shield patients and technicians from undesired radiation.

Where Special X-Ray Training is Needed

Some states do not have specific licensing requirements for medical assistants or require formal training in
radiologic services, therefore, great caution is advised. The responsibility, in those states, ultimately lies on the
employer's shoulders (superior respondeat doctrine) , if doctors ask a medical assistant under their employ to
take radiological images of their patients. Despite of lacking state mandates for licensing, larger facilities with
accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) often do not
hire applicants without ARRT certification, however, one should not confuse limited-use operators certification
with state licensing and registration by the state.
With a limited x-ray license, the medical assistant knows how to safely operate radiological devices, create x-ray images of the chest and limbs, and compliance with all regulations that protect the patients and themselves. Course work typically involves basic clinical care procedures, medical terminology, anatomic landmarks and directional terms, radiological science and anatomy and physiology. This way, the doctor has a higher degree of certainty that the patients and the medical assistant are protected and safe.

Limited-use operators can perform chest, ribs, abdomen, podiatry, skull/sinuses, extremities and/or spine services only. Limited-use operators must complete a course on the subject and have a passing grade in the subject. This is the preferred route for medical assistants with limited x-ray duties to go. States without ARRT licensing requirement or formal training requirements in radiologic services:

Please Note: the information contained on this page is provided for information purposes only and should not be considered legal advice, nor is it a substitute or interpretation of regulations established by authorities having jurisdiction over practicing doctors, nurses and their medical assistants in your state. Please contact your State Board of Medical Examiners directly for specific advice, official business, or consult with your attorney. We cannot provide this information to you.