What’s the Difference between a Radiologic Technician and a Radiologic Technologist?

Both radiologic technicians and technologists are specially trained to perform diagnostic imaging exams for patients at the direction of a physician. The only difference appears to be in the type of imaging exams they perform.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, radiologic technicians, occasionally called radiographers, primarily produce x-ray images on film of various areas of the body to aid in the diagnosis of medical problems. Radiologic technologists, on the other hand, perform more complex imaging procedures. They are trained to produce images using computed tomography (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and mammography, the Bureau explains.

The radiologic technician is responsible for clearly explaining the x-ray procedure that is about to take place so that the patient is fully informed. They instruct the patient to remove jewelry and other articles that could interfere with the x-ray and help arrange the patient into the appropriate position so that a quality x-ray image can be produced. There are a variety of precautions a radiologic technician must take to shield the patient as much as possible from the potential harmful effects of radiation, including using lead shields or reducing the size of the x-ray beam being put to use. The radiographer must also take steps to protect himself or herself from exposure to radiation.

Radiographic technologists have slightly different, and usually more complex, responsibilities. For a fluoroscopy procedure, for instance, the technologist may prepare and administer a solution for a patient to drink that will give a radiologist a better look at the soft tissues inside the body, the Bureau said. Some technologists may specialize solely in CT scans (a procedure that produces 3-D cross-sectional images of a part of the body by using x-ray technology, i.e., ionizing radiation). Others will specialize solely in MRIs (a procedure that produces multiple cross-sectional images, creating a 3-D image using non-iodizing radio frequency) or mammography (which uses a low-level x-ray to produce images from within the breast).

Both technicians and technologists must keep patient records and be highly trained to operate the specialized medical technology they work with every day. Because of their familiarity with the technology, they often play a role in maintaining their equipment, ordering new parts or evaluating equipment purchases. Both are primarily employed by hospitals, but a rising number are employed by free-standing diagnostic imaging centers, the Bureau said.