How to become a consultant radiographer (plus key skills)

Updated 6 March 2023

Consultant radiographers are high-level clinical practitioners in the field of radiography. By applying their extensive knowledge and the experience they've gained after years of development, they can enhance patient service delivery. If you wish to become a consultant radiographer, you benefit from learning what this role entails and how to enter the profession. In this article, we define this position and explain how to become a consultant radiographer in six steps.

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What is a consultant radiographer?

A consultant radiographer is a highly skilled, experienced and knowledgeable radiography practitioner who works with imaging machines to capture images of parts of a patient's body. These images can be a key tool in helping develop treatment plans. Radiographers may also use radiation to treat cancer and other tissue defects.

Consultant radiographers offer a vital, high-level service that can enhance patient services and strengthen professional healthcare leadership. They provide clinical leadership, using their specialist knowledge alongside general professional skills. This enables them to bring strategic direction, innovation and influence through their practice, education and research. Their work consists of the following four core domains:

Expert clinical practice

As this is a patient-focused role, consultants typically manage complex clinical caseloads. They, therefore, require advanced knowledge, skills and experience within radiography, displaying the highest level of professional autonomy. They usually provide an expert clinical service by conducting advanced assessments and applying clinical knowledge and decision-making.

Professional leadership and consultancy

Consultants are also leaders, so they often apply their clinical expertise to decision-making. By being entrepreneurial, they can look for ways to improve patient services. They may identify risks and opportunities and help translate strategic plans into actionable operational plans. Consultants usually lead and manage others, acting as role models for excellent practice and helping radiography teams navigate the complexities of interdisciplinary collaboration with other professionals.

Education, training and development

As experts in their field, consultant radiographers generally have at least a master's level of education. Given the demands of the role, they often pursue a doctoral level of study or equivalent activity to demonstrate independent academic learning. This isn't always a prerequisite for getting the job, but hiring managers typically look for candidates with a demonstrable commitment to lifelong learning.

Related: How to write an effective radiographer CV (with an example)

Practice and service development, research and evaluation

Research is a key part of health service activity. Consultants typically look to contribute to health research. They may try to enforce a research culture within the radiography profession by initiating, undertaking or facilitating high-quality research.

Related: How to become a radiographer (with relevant skills)

How to become a consultant radiographer

Here are six steps you can consider if you're interested in learning how to become a consultant radiographer:

1. Undertake university training

Consultant radiographers are highly skilled professionals. These positions are usually accessible only after developing your clinical expertise in the field. The first step in this career path is to enter the radiography profession. Becoming a radiographer typically requires earning a master's degree in radiography. If your ultimate aim is to reach the consultant level, you might consider gaining a specific degree in diagnostic radiography and potentially extending your studies to the PhD level.

Entry requirements for undergraduate programmes can vary between universities. Typically, universities look for candidates with 5 GCSEs (grades A*–C), including English, maths and science, and three A-levels, two of which in biology, chemistry or physics. University study may take three or four years full-time or up to six years part-time. An apprenticeship degree programme is another possible educational route to gain a radiography qualification.

Related: What is a degree apprenticeship? (Definition and benefits)

2. Enter the radiography profession

Upon completing your studies, you can begin your radiography career by registering with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC is a regulatory body for a number of health and care professions, including radiographers. The HCPC sets the standards for professional education, training and practice. This institution works to maintain high standards to protect the public and take action if any professional falls below these standards. Joining the HCPC allows you to appear on its list of approved radiography practitioners.

Once on the HCPC register, you can begin applying for radiography roles. As a newly qualified professional, consider starting as a radiographer practitioner. This job provides ample supervision and support as you carry out your professional duties early in your career. A logical progression is to then work as an advanced practitioner. This allows you to develop some of the skills necessary for consultancy. Advanced practitioners typically contribute more to developing service delivery, presenting ideas for improvement, liaising with other departments and potentially having managerial responsibilities.

Related: How to become a radiographer assistant (with skills info)

3. Develop clinical expertise

Continual development is a key part of a radiography career. As you gain seniority and more practical experience, your clinical knowledge grows organically. Working on more cases typically allows you to encounter more pathologies, improving your clinical expertise. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training courses can also help your professional growth.

During your radiography career, you're likely to have annual CPD check-ins. This is a chance to discuss your career aspirations and learn how to achieve them. For example, if you wish to specialise in certain imaging techniques, you can undertake a CPD course to develop these methods. You may also choose to specialise in a specific type of patient care, such as paediatric care or working with cancer patients. Joining the Society of Radiographers can also greatly help your professional development, offering you access to training courses, seminars and conferences.

4. Develop your managerial skill set

Clinical expertise is only one aspect of a consultant radiographer's work. They typically have a number of managerial responsibilities. This can include fulfilling governance tasks and leading audits. As you advance in your career, you may naturally develop your knowledge of hospital governance and audit procedures. You can also look for training resources to develop your managerial skills or seminars you can attend on governance topics. If your ultimate aim is to become a consultant, aim to be proactive in taking on managerial responsibilities early in your career.

Conducting training is often a key managerial responsibility in this role. As a consultant radiographer, you may facilitate the CPD of the radiographers working within your department. Being able to effectively use your clinical expertise as a resource for others can be beneficial. Consider undertaking a course in training. You may also wish to complete courses in subjects like counselling to help ensure you're an effective, supportive manager. Training programmes in subjects like conflict resolution can also provide you with the necessary qualifications for the managerial responsibilities of the role.

Related: How to become a clinical manager (with a step-by-step guide)

5. Gain consultant accreditation

Consider gaining a consultant practitioner accreditation from the College of Radiographers (CoR). This accreditation demonstrates to patients, peers and employers that you fully meet the CoR's requirements and practice in all of the four core domains it defines for radiographers at the consultant level. Accreditation is a mechanism the CoR uses to help ensure consistency in the profession in terms of the level of practice and alignment with the core domains, in conjunction with a framework that defines the consultant level of clinical practice.

The CoR accreditation system is voluntary. The accreditation isn't a statutory requirement, and a job title like Accredited Consultant Radiographer isn't a protected one. Some employers may look for candidates holding this accreditation. This document also gives you access to a range of professional resources. As an accredited consultant, you can engage with the Society and College of Radiographers' online discussion groups. This can help you access relevant information and resources and provide a valuable opportunity to network with other accredited consultant radiographers.

6. Look for consultant vacancies

Once you've decided that you're ready for the challenges of the role, you can begin looking for consultant radiographer job opportunities. These positions typically appear on job listings or websites of specific hospitals or trusts. The professional bodies you're a member of may also promote openings, and your professional network can be a good way to learn about employment opportunities. When applying for a position as a consultant radiographer, remember to craft a tailored CV.

An effective CV is a good way to make a positive impression on a recruiter. This document can help you showcase how you can add value to your new workplace, highlight your strengths and experience and demonstrate how you can effectively meet the challenges of the role. Research CV formats to ensure you choose the most suitable one. Remember to thoroughly review the job description and ensure your CV has examples showing you have all the desired traits and experience. Consider adapting your CV's language to match the job description's wording.

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