What is Radiography and How Is It Different Than Radiology?

Posted November 26, 2019 by in Career
Doctor sees virtual images of the patient .

If you break a bone, you meet a long list of healthcare workers along the way. You see your general physician and nurses, of course. But you also need to see both a radiographer and a radiologist, who can tell you where and how bad the break is.

Why do you need to see both a radiographer and a radiologist? Because each position has a specific function. What is radiography, and how is it different from radiology? The answer is more straightforward than you think.

What Are Radiography and Radiology?

Radiography and radiology are very similar health disciplines who work with radiological testing, like x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs.

The difference actually lies in what people who practice each side of the position do.

A radiographer is someone who takes the images. These health professionals didn’t go to medical school, nor are they licensed nurses (at least usually). Instead, they specialize solely in medical and radiological imaging. Other names for radiographers include radiologic technologists.

A radiologist (radiology) may not be in the room for the image itself, but they receive the testing images once taken. The role of the radiologist is to interpret the image to identify illness or injury as well as the extent of both. In essence, a radiologist provides a diagnosis to prepare the patient for treatment. 

To diagnose patients, the radiologist must also be a licensed physician. They complete medical school and their first few years as an intern before specializing in radiology.

How to Become a Radiographer

You don’t need to go to medical school or nursing school to become a radiographer. Instead, you need to complete a relevant radiography program. The program requirements tend to depend on the state you live in because you do need a license to work in health care.

Often, the state allows you to either enter a specific training program or require you to get an associate’s (two-year) degree from an accredited school.

When choosing your school as a future radiographer, you might want a general radiography program. However, you also have the option to enter into a narrower professional discipline. Some of the disciplines within radiography include:

  • Bone densitometry
  • Breast sonography
  • Cardiac interventional radiography
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Mammography
  • Nuclear medicine technology
  • Radiation therapy
  • Sonography
  • Vascular interventional radiography
  • Vascular sonography

If you’re curious about the specialties available, you can read more here.

How to Get Your Radiography License/Certification

Many U.S. states require you to apply for a state license before you can seek work in the field.

To apply for the license, you typically need to complete the correct education program, which includes a minimum number of classroom and practical hours. You then need to sit and pass the state licensing exam. Only then can you apply for the state license itself.

However, your education doesn’t end when you get your license. Most states require you to take continuing education classes to maintain your license.

Additionally, your state and/or employer may ask you to register with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART). The AART provides standardized professional credentials both in radiography and across the other disciplines and pathways listed above. As with state licensing, you need to complete continuing education to keep your certification up-to-date.

How Much Do Radiographers Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median pay for a radiologic or MRI technologist with an associate’s degree was $29.44 per hour or $61,240 per year.

Like most positions in healthcare, the field is growing faster than average, and the government expects that there will be 23,300 new jobs between 2018 and 2028.

How to Become a Radiologist

Radiologists are medical specialists who need formal medical training before they can practice.

The typical pathway to a career as a radiologist looks like this:

First, you complete a bachelor’s degree, usually in a pre-med major, intending to apply to medical school. Second, you spend four years at medical school and graduate. Third, you move into your internship year, which all med school graduates must do if they want to be a doctor. It’s also required before you can pass your state licensing exam. Fourth, you must take and pass the licensing exam for your state to move into your residency. Ideally, you complete a residency program in a radiology department.

After your residency, you need to take further exams to seek board certification. Once certified, you usually take a specialization fellowship, but this is also optional.

How Much Do Radiologists Make?

The BLS doesn’t compile data on radiologists. Still, given that these professionals are licensed doctors, you can expect to earn substantially more than you would as a radiographer or radiologic technologists.

According to Glassdoor, radiologists report an average salary of $335,000 per year. The low end of the spectrum is $167,000, and the high end is $460,000. In 2019, the Medscape Physician Compensation Report reported an average salary of $419,000 per year, which tied it with spot five (with dermatology) among the best-paid specialties.

Like most fields of medicine, the professions sound similar, but they are different. Those differences are what make them depend on each other.