The x ray tech school will advise against it. They will say it will be too difficult for you to find time for both work and study. But tell that to the bill collectors, right? So…
Can you work full time while going through an X Ray Tech school?
- Absolutely. Source: me, I did it…TWICE (x ray tech school and ultrasound tech school)
You will need time management skills and dedication. If you have started a family, you will need their support as well. Just keep telling yourself that it will only last for a few years. Then make your plan and stick to it.
Work Scenarios for X Ray Techs
Let’s face it. If you have to work in order to pay your bills WHILE you go to school, you are going to need a job that meets certain criteria. It is going to be near impossible to do this if you work a traditional 9 am – 5 pm job Monday through Friday. That is because every rad tech school I have come across is only available those same hours. There is no “online-only” option in this field. I have never heard of a “night class only” option either. There might be one out there but I haven’t come across it yet.
Now, if you are stuck in a job with these limitations then the best thing you can do is have a talk with your boss. Let them know your goals and intentions. See if they are willing to flex your hours around your school schedule. Maybe you can work from 12 pm – 8 pm instead of 9 am – 5 pm and still get the work done for your boss. Be creative with some ideas that work for both of you and you might get lucky. Otherwise, I suggest you find an alternative job… or jobs.
Healthcare is actually a good resource in this respect. Many jobs in healthcare allow for extended shifts, weekend shifts, and night shifts. Entry-level positions like Unit Coordinator, Transportation, Environmental Services are breeding grounds for people who are going to school for this very reason. Pick up a job in the hospital cafeteria and work from 3 pm to 11 pm and go to school during the day. Any shift combination that gives you time to attend classroom lectures will work. This is only short term, remember that.
Clinical Scenarios for X Ray Techs
There is more leeway in clinical rotation hours. Each rad tech student is going to need several hundred hours of clinical time to graduate. If I remember correctly, my program required 1600 hours but it’s been a while. But from my experience, schools allow evening and weekend shifts. They typically don’t care what hours you work as long as you get your hours completed on time. You can find this out ahead of time as well by speaking to the radiography school you plan on attending. You can also find out which of the local hospitals or clinics participate in your school’s clinical rotations. Call and ask them what they currently do with students.
The clinical sites are also happy to spread around the free labor… I mean, rad tech students. They can use help on swing shifts and weekends. I believe there was a rule in Arizona when I was in school that said students couldn’t be worked past midnight. But that still left plenty of opportunity for evening shifts and all-day weekend shifts. Most programs require you to log around 32 hours each week. That could be accomplished on a Saturday / Sunday rotation working 16-hour shifts. Then you have the whole week to focus on work, family, etc. Too bad you can’t get your school to lump all the classes into the same schedule, right?
A huge bonus is to be employed at the hospital where you will do your clinical rotation. This saves huge amounts of time because you won’t have to travel in between work and clinical rotations. Some hospitals even have scholarships for employees that pay for programs like radiography. You usually have to sign a contract to stay for a few years after graduation but it is totally worth it.
So Let’s Lay Out The Plan for Becoming an X Ray Tech
- Apply to the school of your choice. There’s no point in worrying about any of this if you don’t get it. There is a lot of competition out there for these programs. First step: get accepted. Then figure out the rest. You can always defer for one term if you get accepted and can’t figure out how to pay for it.
- Figure out how you are going to pay for the program. I have met a lot of people who have said to me “I would have gone to school for what you do but I had to work and pay bills.” First, don’t worry about how you are going to pay for it until you get accepted. Second, when you get accepted there are lots of different ways you can pay for it. See my Resources page for more information.
- Secure a job that will work with going to school. Research the school you intend on going to and find out exactly what their classroom schedule is like. You might find out that you get out at noon on Fridays or have half days on Mondays. Also, ask them what their expectation is for clinical rotations. Can you do weekend hours? Can you do 16-hour shifts?
- Buy a daytimer or planner. You will have to be very precise in planning out all of your hours. Map out what your first year will look like. Use color coding to identify when you will: work, go to school, eat, sleep, family time, study, etc. Don’t fail to plan or you will certainly be planning to fail. And if you are a big fan of digital planners (cell phones) just ask yourself what happens when your phone breaks or you lose all of your calendar data. Buy a physical planner.
- Be willing to sleep and shower at the hospital. I slept in my car dozens of times in between working a shift and doing a clinical rotation. If you are only going to get three hours of sleep, is it worth driving home and back? Not for me, I slept in my car and got an extra hour of snooze time. All hospitals have locker rooms and showers. Don’t be shy and take advantage of this to reduce your travel time.
What I Did That Worked Like a Charm…TWICE!
I talked about my story in a video here but I’ll summarize for the purpose of this post. I was working a regular job in the laboratory at the old Desert Samaritan Hospital in Mesa, Arizona. Phlebotomy was a great starter job but I wanted to advance and didn’t want to be a Medical Lab Tech. After deciding on a school for radiography, I followed the same plan that I posted above. I transferred to a job that worked two 16 hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday and that paid my bills. It was a job in the ICU as a Health Unit Coordinator. I got accepted to the local Xray program at Pima Medical Institute.
Over the course of the next 12 months, I worked all weekend and went to classes all week. I still had evenings during the week with my young family five nights a week. During the second 12 month rotation, the class was reduced to one day a week and we focused mostly on clinical hours. I switched hours at work to weekday hours and took a weekend shift for clinical hours. I still had the same balance of family time but it came with a huge bonus.
Things tend to be a little more relaxed at work on the weekends. I think it is because there is no management walking around making everyone feel like they have to look busy. It is because of this relaxed environment that my clinical instructor began to teach me how to do CT scans. Bonus! Clinical Instructors are working techs employed by the hospital but they are put in charge of the students.
My clinical instructor was a 62-year-old Vietnam vet and was the only one working the weekend shift at this hospital. He covered both general x-ray and CT scans so he was more than happy to start teaching me CT… so he didn’t have to do it! I will forever be grateful to Captain Shepard. His mentorship is exactly why I was able to get hired as a CT Tech right out of Xray school. Cha-ching!
As far as finances go, I did land a working scholarship about halfway through. I paid for half of my school with that and the other half I borrowed from dear ‘ol mom… with interest.
I’ll end this story with an old phrase: “If I can do it… so can you.” IF you want to get into x ray tech school, follow my plan and adapt to whatever your personal circumstances are. There are over 337,000 licensed x ray techs in the United States right now. That means they not only got accepted into the program, but they also completed it AND passed the national licensure board exams. You can too.
Good luck and send me an email any time if you have questions or need help. It would be my pleasure to help another person join the ranks of the radiologic technologist.
PS. I also worked while going through ultrasound school (two years) and getting my master’s degree so don’t stop at your associates in radiography!
If you are curious about the career of radiography, I have written some articles on various topics:
- How much does x-ray pay,
- 7 dangers of being a rad tech,
- Different ways to pay for radiography school,
- How to get accepted into a rad tech program,
- 5 reasons I chose a career in radiology.
- The licensing board for X Ray Techs (ARRT)
- The governing board for X Ray Techs (ASRT)
- The governing body for X Ray Tech School (JRCERT)
I hope you find this helpful. You are welcome to email me with any questions. Thanks for stopping by TheRadiologicTechnologist.com.
Ron – [email protected]