Radiologic technologists and diagnostic sonographers are more similar than different in some ways. Both work in the diagnostic field of health care and use imaging technology in their work. The technology differs, however, and other aspects of these occupations, such as licensing and certification requirements, can also differ from one state to another.
Taking Radioactive Pictures
Radiology is both a diagnostic and a treatment specialty, but most radiologic technologists work in the diagnostic area. Some assist during interventional radiology procedures as well. Machines such as MRIs, CAT and PET scanners and standard X-ray machines use radioactive technology that allows physicians to see inside the body. The radiologic technologist performs the actual studies and develops the films. MRI technologists typically start in radiology and, after they gain experience, begin to work in the MRI subspecialty.
Using the Waves
Although diagnostic sonography is also an imaging technique, it uses sound waves rather than X-rays to create pictures of the body’s organs and other structures. Diagnostic sonographers could use these techniques to visualize the abdominal cavity, structures in the breast, skeleton or the nervous system. Cardiac imaging, such as echocardiography, uses similar techniques, but is considered a different occupation. The diagnostic sonographer performs the studies, which are interpreted by physicians.
An associate degree in the field is the minimum educational requirement for a radiologic technologist, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although some workers in the field complete a certificate program or have a bachelor’s degree. Diagnostic sonographers have three choices for educational preparation: a postsecondary certificate, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. Certificate programs are likely to be an option for those already educated in a health field such as radiology, however. Most sonographers are certified, with certifications that correspond to their specialty area, such as breast ultrasound. Some employers require certification for these occupations. Most radiologic technologists and diagnostic sonographers work in hospitals or physicians’ offices.
A Few Differences
Each state regulates radiology practice, and some states require radiologic technologists to be licensed or certified. In some states, the licensing exam is separate, while, in others, certification and licensure are equivalent. Licensing is not required for diagnostic sonography. The projected job growth for radiologic technologists is good, at 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. The job outlook for diagnostic sonographers is excellent, with a projected growth rate of 46 percent in the same time frame. The average annual salary for radiologic technologists in 2013 was $56,760, while diagnostic sonographers earned an average annual salary of $67,170.
It's Your Call
These two occupations are very similar in terms of educational requirements, professional certification, work settings, patient contact and overall responsibilities. Both have subspecialties. The primary differences are in licensing requirements, potential job growth and salary. Diagnostic sonographers earn more and are likely to have more job opportunities than radiologic technicians. Your personal interests and characteristics are most likely to determine your choice of a career in radiologic technology or diagnostic sonography.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Radiologic and MRI Technologists
- Explore Health Careers: Radiologic Technologist
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography: So You Want to Be a Sonographer …
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013 29-2034 Radiologic Technologists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013 29-2032 Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
- Photo Credit monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
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