If you’re interested in a career in allied health—not as a nurse, doctor, or pharmacist, but as another health care professional who supports efforts to care for patients—you might be interested to learn the differences in radiologic technology vs sonography.
Both professions provide crucial imaging services to help doctors diagnose and treat conditions, but both have a distinct career path.
Take a Peek Inside
Gallstones. Broken bones. Developing babies. Often in health care, things happen inside the body that can’t be seen from the outside. This is where radiologic technologists and sonographers come. They help doctors see whether or not the patient’s abdominal pain is serious, whether a mother’s baby is growing or positioned properly for the upcoming birth, and whether or not that ankle broke when it cracked. Both professionals create these images of patients’ internal realities but they do so using different tools and technology to do so.
Radiologic technologists work with X-ray machines and computed tomography (CT) scan equipment to create pictures of musculoskeletal structures. Their work enables doctors to confirm that a bone is indeed broken. They can also identify tumors, blood clots, and other issues using CT scans.
Sonographers, or diagnostic medical sonographers as they’re often called, administer ultrasound scans to produce sonograms. Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to create images of internal matter (similar to how bats use sound to perceive and navigate their surroundings). The resulting images, called sonograms, show doctors and patients what’s going on inside their bodies. Sonograms are often used during pregnancy to monitor fetal development and positioning. They can also be used to examine internal organs, blood vessels, the heart, and to detect gallstones and various diseases impacting the heart and organs.
Radiologic Technology vs. Sonography: Specialties, Salaries, and Employment Prospects
Depending on your interest in working in health care, you might be more interested in sonography or radiology. Both fields have different specialties, average salaries, and estimated job growth. Here’s an overview:
The field of sonography specializes in abdominal, breast, cardiac, musculoskeletal, pediatric, obstetric and gynecologic, and vascular sonography.
Radiologic Technology Specialties
The main specialty for radiologic technology listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is mammography. Radiologic technologists in this specialty provide low radiation x-rays of the breasts to identify and monitor breast cancers.
Radiologic technology is a significantly larger field than sonography. The BLS reports that, in 2019, diagnostic medical sonographers held about 131,000 jobs, while radiologic technologists held about 250,000 jobs in the U.S. Hospitals are the main employers for both professions (60%), followed by physician offices, medical diagnostic labs, and outpatient care centers. About 3 of RTs are employed by the federal government.
Salary and Job Outlook
Both professions typically employ full-time workers, with hours varying based on the setting and need. Both professions are also projected to grow significantly between 2018 and 2028: radiologic technology jobs are estimated to increase by 9%, while sonography expects a 19% leap over the same period.
Perhaps because of this increased demand for sonography, the profession has a higher median wage than radiologic technology. As of May 2019, radiologic technologists’ median wage was $62,280, while diagnostic medical sonographers’ median wage was $68,750.
Weighing the Risk
That might be enough information for you to decide which career is right for you, but you should also consider the risks of radiologic technology vs sonography. Radiologic technologists spend a lot of time around radiation. They wear badges to measure their radiation exposure and use shielding devices to decrease overall exposure. In contrast, sonography uses sound waves, not radiation, to create images, so it doesn’t carry the health risk that radiology does.
Both radiologic technologists and sonographers play an important role in today’s medical field. Their services can save lives by identifying threatening conditions that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Here at Concordia, we offer bachelor’s degree completions for both radiologic technology and sonography to equip you with the training and knowledge necessary to step into either career. We also offer a diagnostic medical sonography certificate.
This post was originally published on November 19, 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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