Although the names are similar, there’s a big difference between a radiologist and a radiologic technician. You’ll need a lot more time and education to become a radiologist, and you’ll have a lot more responsibility. Of course, if it’s the moola that interests you, you’ll also make a lot more money by going for that medical credential.
A radiologist is a doctor -- right, four years of college, four of medical school, and four of residency. What you’ll learn in the course of that education is how to use imaging techniques such as X-rays, CAT scans, nuclear medicine and sonography to diagnose diseases and injuries. You’ll also study radiation safety, learn how to protect yourself and your patients, and how to tell just what you’re looking at when you hold that X-ray up to a light.
Radiologic technologists -- the term technician is sometimes used interchangeably, but technologist is the correct term -- are the folks who actually take the X-rays the radiologist examines. They also adjust and maintain the imaging equipment, prepare patients for procedures, position the patient and shield other areas of the body to prevent the radiation from causing damage. Although some states allow a radiologic technologist to complete a certificate program, most require at least an associate degree.
Radiation can damage healthy tissues. Radiologists and radiologic technicians must both be educated about and constantly aware of radiation safety issues. They typically wear dosimeter badges -- devices that track how much radiation exposure they get in the course of their work. Both must be knowledgeable about human anatomy, how to position a patient to obtain the desired exposure, and whether the quality of the film is adequate for its purpose. They typically work in hospitals, but may also work in outpatient care centers.
Radiologists spend much more time and money getting an education than radiologic technologists do. As physicians, radiologists must be licensed in all states. State requirements for radiologic technologists vary, although most require either a license or certification. Salaries are considerably different. The average annual salary of radiologic technologists in 2012 was $56,450, according to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Radiologists fall into one of two specialties -- non-interventional and interventional radiology. Non-interventional radiologists earned a median salary $461,250 and interventional radiologists earned a median of $492,102 in 2011, according to the American Medical Group Association.
Although both radiologists and radiologic technicians work in health care, they do so in very different ways. Radiologists have much more responsibility and the educational process is lengthy. Interventional radiologists might also perform high-risk procedures such as cardiac catheterizations. Radiologic technologists, however, often have more extensive patient contact. Since either might work for a hospital, which is a 24/7 operation, they might be required to work night shifts, weekends and holidays, or to be on call.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Radiologic Technologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 29-2034 Radiologic Technologists
- American Medical Group Association: 2011 Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- Career Trend: Physicians and Surgeons
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.