What is the Difference between a Radiology Technician and an Ultrasound Technician?

Radiologic imaging and ultrasound are two medical imaging techniques that are among the most commonly used. However it’s important not to confuse the two because they are distinctly different modalities and are usually used for different purposes. From a physics standpoint and also a professional one these two technical allied health fields are not the same.

People going for careers in medical diagnostic imaging technology are often attracted to these two fields because they do not take overly long to prepare for educationally and offer high pay and interesting work. But if you’re trying to decide between them, you first need to be able to compare and contrast these two fields. So what is the difference between a radiology technician and an ultrasound technician?

Radiology Technician

A radiology technician, also called a radiographer, deals with x-ray imaging. They work in hospitals, private physician practices, clinics, medical laboratories, outpatient care facilities, and so forth.

Radiology technicians are responsible for pretty much the entirety of the x-ray imaging process aside from the actual final diagnosis. They often are involved in explaining and discussing x-ray imaging with patients, positioning patients in relation to radiographic equipment so that they can be filmed, making any adjustments to the equipment before the process begins, taking the actual x-ray, and doing some simple interpretation of the final image. The interpretation may include such things as identifying anatomical areas in the image and making measurements.

Radiology technicians may also be involved in other tasks such as the maintenance and repair of x-ray equipment, and administrative tasks such as organizing and filing x-ray films that are taken.

X-rays, as most people are aware, can be dangerous if improperly used. Because of this, x-ray technicians must be licensed. This licensing insures that they are fully aware of all the safety procedures and technical aspects of radiography and are fully competent professionals.

Ultrasound Technician

A medical diagnostic ultrasound technician, also called a medical sonographer, performs many of the same sorts of duties as a radiology tech except for the important difference that they use a completely different type of imaging technology. Ultrasound equipments sends high frequency sound waves into the human body. These sound waves are reflected back and these returning echoes or reflections are used to produce an image.

Ultrasound technicians, like radiology technicians, are responsible for the entire technical and practical end of ultrasound imaging. They position patients to be imaged, explain the process, adjust and maintain equipment, and take the actual images. Afterwards, like radiographers, they are often involved in purely technical assessments and interpretations of the sonograms. And they also may perform repair/maintenance duties as well as organizational or administrative ones.

One important difference in these imaging types and professions is the danger level involved. Ultrasound is considered far safer. In fact, sonographers are not even required to be licensed in order to work, while x-ray technicians are. After all, people are surrounded by sound waves all the time, but if they are exposed to concentrated x-rays for long periods it can have very harmful effects on health.

This is the reason that ultrasound is used for things like obstetric imaging, where a fetus is imaged in the womb. These images are often moving video, because it is generally safe to use ultrasound for extended periods. Again, this could not be done with x-rays – it would be far too dangerous to the health of the fetus and the mother. X-rays are usually snapshots of parts of the body rather than video images through time. In this way, exposure to x-rays is minimized, while the particularly penetrating quality of x-rays is used to advantage to produce very clear and easily read images.

That said, some feel that ultrasound is more dangerous than is claimed. They point to studies which show damaging effects on prenatal health of babies or health of adult ultrasound patients. Others dispute these claims and say there is little or no evidence of danger.

It is up to both imaging professionals and patients to be informed of the potential hazards of various types of imaging. And if you are considering a career in one or the other of these modalities, be sure to be well informed as to differing views and research on the subject.

These two professions have similarities as well as differences. These should be weighed carefully before someone selects one or the other (or both) as a career. It is possible to combine the two careers or even add other imaging techniques like echocardiography. But you need to know what you’re getting into to make the right decisions from a career standpoint.

Now that you know the difference between these two great careers, here are more articles you should check out on topic of ultrasound technician:

How to Become a Certified Ultrasound Technician
How to Become an Ultrasound Technician
Top 5 Ultrasound Technician Schools
Types of Ultrasound Technician Training
Ultrasound Technician Schools

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