Radiographer vs sonographer (Comparison and opportunities)
Updated 23 May 2023
Radiologists and sonographers are medical professionals who specialise in operating imaging technology that allows them to see inside patients' bodies. This has many medical applications, such as monitoring pregnancies or diagnosing diseases that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to detect. If you're interested in a career in medicine and medical imaging, understanding the differences between a radiographer and a sonographer can help you decide which position to pursue.
In this article, we define both job titles, discuss the differences between a radiographer vs a sonographer, outline their respective roles, describe their employment prospects and set out the steps to secure either role.
What is a radiographer?
Radiographers, diagnostic radiographers or radiologic technologists are medical professionals who specialise in using imaging technology to scan human anatomy and investigate symptoms. They work in hospitals in the private and public sectors operating radiologic diagnostic equipment to support other health professionals in diagnosing and treating diseases. Radiographers are distinct from radiologists. Radiologists are the physicians responsible for interpreting the images that radiographers collect. Radiographers work in multidisciplinary teams, consulting with radiologists and various departments to examine conditions and develop and monitor treatment plans. They work with advanced technology, such as computerised tomography (CT or CAT) scanners.
What is a sonographer?
Sonographers do similar work to radiographers. They specialise in using ultrasonic imaging equipment, as radiation imaging technology isn't always safe or appropriate, such as with pregnancies. They produce various diagnostic data, such as images, videos and scans. Sonographers are experts in ultrasound physics, with a deep understanding of pathology, physiology and cross-sectional anatomy. This enables them to play a significant role in the diagnostic process besides operating ultrasound technology and producing data. Sonologists are medical doctors who work with sonographers to verify their reports and interpret imaging data independently. They can also prescribe medication and provide clinical consultations.
Radiographer vs sonographer
When examining the positions of radiographer vs sonographer, you may notice many similarities, but there are also important differences between them. Here are some comparisons of key areas:
Education and training
Radiographers are not medical doctors, meaning they don't attend medical school and undergo the same training. Instead, they can gain their education through a university degree, train through an apprenticeship or the armed forces or gain experience in a radiographer's assistant role. Radiographers who study at university can take up to three or four years to achieve a diagnostic radiography degree. Those with degrees in health-related fields can sometimes complete a two-year master's degree to gain the required level of education and training for a radiographer role. Radiography apprenticeships often take three years and combine education and work experience.
Sonographers undergo similar levels of training, typically gaining a three- or four-year degree in a subject, such as radiography, midwifery, science, health science or nursing. These courses also have practical requirements, meaning students spend time working in medical settings. The next stage of training involves getting a postgraduate qualification that the Consortium for the Accreditation of Sonographic Education (CASE) recognises, which takes another two years. They can also begin their career in junior positions in the same field or become sonographers through apprenticeships.
Radiographers use imaging technology, usually X-ray machines, to examine patients internally and uncover the source of their health issues. They position large X-ray cameras, which are also known as C-arms, so that the radiologists are able to see the area they want to examine. This helps diagnose and treat common issues, such as broken bones. Radiographers monitor the radiation levels of the equipment they use to ensure the safety of themselves and others. It's also their responsibility to store the images they capture safely.
Sonographers do similar work but specialise in using ultrasound equipment to examine patients. They frequently diagnose pregnancies and monitor the babies' development, keeping expectant parents informed throughout the duration of the pregnancy. They set up and check the ultrasound equipment regularly to ensure it's working correctly and perform investigations to produce internal images of patients' bodies. They interpret results and work closely with sonologists, who are medical doctors that verify their interpretations. Like radiographers, sonographers safely store the data they produce and maintain patient records.
Both radiographers and sonographers are in high demand. The medical industry relies on these specialists to conduct standard procedures, such as scanning patients for broken bones and pregnancies. Imaging equipment is vital for providing medical care, so there's a constant need for experts to operate this advanced equipment.
Radiographers and sonographers work in similar environments. They both work in locations with imaging technology. This is typically in hospitals but can also be in private treatment clinics and some general practitioners' offices. Work environments can vary depending on the individual's specialisation. For example, accident and emergency specialists are more likely to work in hospital emergency departments and other fast-paced environments. Other professionals may work in more specialist diagnostic imaging centres.
Radiographers can specialise in multiple areas. These include mammography, which is the screening of breasts for tumours and other abnormalities, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine and interventional radiography. Radiographers may also specialise in a particular position, such as management.
Sonography is a specialisation of radiography, but sonographers can further specialise in various areas. The main specialities include abdominal, cardiac, breast, paediatric, musculoskeletal, vascular, gynaecologic and obstetric sonography. Both radiographers and sonographers can specialise in accidents and emergencies.
How to become a radiographer
Learning what it takes to become a radiographer may help you decide between the two careers. Here's how you can do it:
Gain an approved degree or postgraduate qualification. The first step is to gain an approved degree, which can help you obtain the required skills and knowledge for a career in radiography. Before enrolling on a degree programme, decide whether you want to work in therapeutic or diagnostic radiography and select a course accordingly.
Register with the Health and Care Professions Council. With an approved degree, you can register with the Health and Care Professions Council, the governing body that protects the public by maintaining high standards. It's an essential prerequisite before you can begin practising as a radiographer.
Apply for jobs. With the right level of training and registration with relevant professional bodies, you can begin applying for radiography roles. Ensure you tailor your CV and cover letter to the jobs you're applying for, which can help attract the recruiting managers' attention.
How to become a sonographer
Here's how to become a sonographer:
Gain a relevant degree. Relevant degrees for aspiring sonographers include those in midwifery, health science, radiography and nursing. These can give you general medical knowledge and an understanding of the physics behind imaging technology.
Obtain a postgraduate diploma. Because sonography is a specialism of radiography, students specialise in using ultrasound technology by gaining a postgraduate diploma, which includes practical and theoretical elements. Only postgraduate certifications in medical or clinical ultrasound recognised by the CASE are acceptable.
Register with professional bodies. You can register with professional and industry bodies, such as the Register of Clinical Technologists. Many sonographers register with this organisation, but it's optional, and you can continue registration with your previous professional body if you have one.
Apply for jobs. Once you have the qualifications and experience to practise as a sonographer, you can apply for open positions. Ensure you tailor your CV and cover letter to each job you apply for to maximise your chances of success, including keywords from the job description where possible.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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