MRI technician vs. ultrasound technician: schools, salary and jobs

The ultrasound technician, also called a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, produces sonograms which are ultrasonic recordings. Using special imaging equipment, high frequency sounds waves are directed into the body to produce real-time or dynamic images of internal organs, the heart, the vascular system and fetuses to detect abnormalities. The MRI Technician does Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which uses radio waves and magnetism. Images are taken of patient organs, tissues, bones and joints using a specialized MRI machine that produces magnetic field and radio waves. The positions are similar but use different, sophisticated medical equipment.

Ultrasound technician salary

How to Become an MRI Technician?

Earning certification as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technician through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) is only possible by first completing a Magnetic Resonance Imaging training program that is ARRT recognized. After December 31, 2014, an Associates degree in sonography or Bachelors degree in sonography is required for eligibility to earn ARRT MRI certification. The degree does not have to be in radiologic science. Attending an ARRT recognized MRI technician school is important because it ensures students learn what is needed to meet ARRT’s didactic and clinical competency requirements. The MRI technician program includes training in general patient care, MRI procedures, and quality control.

How to Become an Ultrasound Technician?

To become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, it is important to attend a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs. The training programs lead to earning an Associate degree or Bachelor’s degree, taking two or four years to complete respectively. Students with an Allied Health degree or relevant work experience can choose to earn an ultrasound technician certification in a lesser period of time. Sonography students working towards degrees will complete coursework and clinical training in general patient care, imaging procedures, and quality control. Once educational requirements are met, the graduate can sit for the ARDMS examinations and earn sonography certification. This is the best way to increase employment opportunities.

What does an MRI Technician Do?

It is highly recommended that the MRI technician gets certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Typical duties for this position include:

Consult with patients to review medical history and update records as needed
Screen patients to identify contra-indications that can cause problems or issues with procedures, like cardiac pacemakers, pregnancy, ear implants, prosthetic heart valves or any other implanted devices that could potentially react to magnetic waves
Position patients on MRI equipment cradle
If necessary, inject gadolinium (contrast dye) intravenously to enhance images
Operate a magnetic resonance scanner and peripheral equipment to produce images, transferring them from disk to magnetic media to produce transparency and developing film using an automatic processor
Analyze images to determine suitability and quality, ensuring the appropriate ones are archived
Consult with physicians

What does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

The ultrasound technician is also called an ultrasound technologist or Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. The typical duties are as follows:

Greet patients and discuss prior medical history and current health issues
Document patient history and imaging procedures
Manage the ultrasound equipment, adjusting controls as necessary to obtain ideal images
Assist patients on and off the imaging table and with positioning of the body to obtain necessary images
Produce real-time images of internal organs like the heart, pancreas, kidneys, liver, pelvic organs, and blood flow in vascular system
Review and analyze the images, deciding if images are acceptable or if additional images are needed
Record images, document procedures, interpret sonographs, update patient history
Obtain necessary legal and medical forms and patient signatures
Consult with physician

The Diagnostic Medical Sonographer must have the knowledge and skills to recognize the difference between normal and abnormal tissue and systems based on a study of the ultrasound images. Depending on their training and credentials, sonographers may take images of the abdomen, breast, musculoskeletal system, female reproductive systems, and cardiovascular system.

Salary and Job Outlook Facts of MRI Technicians and Ultrasound Technicians

As of the May 2012 occupational employment and wages survey conducted by the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers earned $65,860 as the median annual wages. That equates to $31.90 per hour. For the same time period, the MRI Technologist earned median annual wages of $65,360 or $31.42 per hour. The two positions are paid almost the same amount, making them very competitive positions. However, there were many more sonographers employed. The national estimate was 29,560 MRI Technologists versus 57,700 ultrasound technicians versus. Looking at projected job openings for the period 2012 to 2022, there are more employment opportunities in ultrasound technology 35,300 new positions than magnetic resonance imaging at 11,300 positions.

Pros and Cons of Becoming an MRI Technician

Following are some advantages of becoming an MRI Technician:

Works with equipment that does not use radiation, thus reducing exposure to hazardous materials
Performs non-invasive medical procedures
Greater variety of images taken because MRIs can be used to evaluate bones and spaces where organs may potentially block ultrasound waves
May become member of a team of physicians, nurses, and radiologists
Usually works regular day-time shifts

Following are some disadvantages of become an MRI Technician:

MRI studies can be dangerous to people who have implanted medical devices, so MRI Technician must carefully follow safety rules or risk patient safety
Employment limited to hospitals and imaging clinics or centers because equipment not normally suitable for a physician office or mobile unit
Must administer oral or intravenous contrast dyes
Often must work with patients who are claustrophobic or have high anxiety levels and do not want to lie in a close fitting tube during the procedure

Pros and Cons of Becoming an Ultrasound Technician

Following are some advantages of becoming an Ultrasound Technician:

Safe to use on almost all patients because no radioactive or magnetic waves are involved
Ultrasound waves do not involve the use of radioactive materials
Only non-invasive procedures are involved; exceptions are the use of special probes in certain obstetric, pelvic, rectum or heart exams which are performed by physicians with the assistance of the ultrasound technician
More employment opportunities in hospitals, clinics, physician offices, excellent projected job availability over the next 10 years

Following are some disadvantages of become an Ultrasound Technician:

Might have to work flex schedules, rotating shifts, and on-call hours
Requires high level of physical labor related to positioning patients on the exam table who not able to help themselves due to disease or illness; can lead to high rates of musculoskeletal injuries among ultrasound technicians
Can be a high stress job
Must sit in a dark room for much of the work shift

The MRI Technician and Ultrasound Technician do similar, but not identical, work. Both positions require critical thinking, specialized training, and the ability to work with a variety of people and patients. One of the major differences is the type of equipment used for taking MRIs versus sonograms. The MRI chamber often creates a lot of anxiousness in people who are already experiencing stress due to illness or disease. Ultrasound Technician use equipment that is much less stressful on patients. In addition, ultrasound technology is likely to offer greater employment opportunities in the future, because the equipment is more portable and the procedures are more affordable, benefiting the health care expansion effort.

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