Both the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer and the Registered Nurse (RN) work directly with patients and must use medical equipment on a regular basis. However, the two professions are quite different in many ways. The sonographer produces ultrasonic images of internal organs, systems and tissues, and the job duties are primarily concerned with patient comfort and ensuring the production of quality images. The RN is trained to manage a broader scope of patient care and health advising duties.
Table of Content
- Typical Duties of the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
- Typical Duties of the Registered Nurse
- Sonographer Salary vs. Registered Nurse Salary
- Sonography Education vs. RN Education
- Pros and Cons of the Two Careers
Typical Duties of the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers may have various titles, depending on their training and places of employment. They might be called Ultrasound Technicians, or Ultrasound Technologists. Titles might be influenced by the type of credentials earned by passing exams offered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Titles professionals can use after earning the appropriate credential include Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, Registered Vascular Technologist, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Registered in Musculoskeletal and Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer.
The duties vary depending on the type of medical facility where the sonographer is employed. Typical job responsibilities for sonographers include the following:
- Talk to patients to gain a better understanding of symptoms
- Record patient history to add to pre-testing knowledge
- Adjust the ultrasound equipment settings to ensure quality images are produced
- Position patients as necessary to obtain the best ultrasound images
- Perform the sonograms and obtain the ultrasound images
- Analyze the images to determine quality and appropriateness to patient symptoms and doctor orders
- Take additional images as needed and determine which to include and which to discard
- Determine if the scope of the exam should be expanded
- Record imaging results, sonographs, interpretations of sonographs, patient experience, required medical and legal forms and documentation, and other information as needed
The Diagnostic Medical Sonographer must develop the skills needed to differentiate between pathological and healthy tissue areas. The radiologist and physician rely on the sonographer to take images that assist their efforts to diagnose the patient’s medical issues.
Typical Duties of the Registered Nurse
Registered Nurses (RNs) often have titles that reflect the unit of employment or the type of nursing services provided. For example, the title might be OR RN (operating room), Oncology RN, PHN (public health), DON (Director of Nursing) and many others. No matter where an RN is employed, there are basic job responsibilities the people holding the positions must perform. They include the following:
- Consult with physicians ordering tests, prescriptions and patient monitoring
- Assess patient symptoms and health need
- Develop nursing care plans
- Maintain detailed patient medical records as manual or digitized documentation, or both
- Administer medications and monitor patients for adverse reactions or side effects and take appropriate actions
- Monitor patient symptoms and record details, while also using judgment as to the appropriate response or need to report to the doctor in charge or the patient’s doctor
- Monitor patient diet, physical activity and symptoms
- Supervise less-qualified patient care staff
- Assist patients as needed, including preparing them for medical treatments, procedures, or examination
- Communicate with family, doctors, caregivers, extended care and nursing home facilities as necessary
- Instruct patients, families, caregivers, community groups, and others on topics concerning healthy living, disease management and prevention, age-related health management, pregnancy and childbirth, and many other topics
Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual salary for Sonographers in 2016, Cardiovascular Technologists, Vascular Technologists, and related technician positions was $71,750 or $34.49 per hour. The average annual wage for Registered Nurses in 2016 was $72,180 or $34.70 per hour. The growing importance of sonographers in the delivery of healthcare services is seen in the growth of annual salaries from $66,360 in 2012 to $72,180 in 2016, while registered nurse salaries grew from $67,930 in 2012 to $72,180 in 2016.
Training Requirements Comparison
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers play an ever-increasing role in delivering healthcare services to people across the nation. The fact that ultrasound imaging is non-invasive is a major factor in the growth of the profession. One of the main differences between sonography and nursing is that nurses have a broader set of responsibilities and are more likely to be required to work rotating shifts. The Registered Nurse is also more involved in the ongoing care of patients. The sonographer is concerned with patient diagnostic needs that are met through imaging procedures.
The Diagnostic Medical Sonographer can earn a certificate, Associate’s degree, Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree depending on which school is chosen. The sonographer student has a much wider selection of schooling and degrees. The vast majority of states do not require Diagnostic Medical Sonographers to have a license in order to practice their profession. All states require Registered Nurses to be licensed.
Deciding Between Diagnostic Medical Sonography vs. Registered Nursing
Choosing between pursuing a career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography versus a career as a Registered Nurse is not always simple. Following are the advantages and disadvantages of each position.
Pros and Cons as a Diagnostic Medical Sonography
The advantages of a Diagnostic Medical Sonography career are as follows.
- Has a choice of completing a certificate or degree program, but the certificate programs usually require the student to have Allied Health experience or have earned an Allied Health degree
- Has a limited scope of responsibility compared to a Registered Nurse
- Rapid employment growth of 44 percent expected through at least 2020
- Interesting work using high-tech equipment
The disadvantages of a Diagnostic Medical Sonography career are as follows.
- High rate of musculoskeletal injuries due to physically assisting patients
- Often requires doing many administrative departmental tasks
- Can be a high stress job requiring long hours
Pros and Cons as a Registered Nurse
The advantages of becoming a Registered Nurse are as follows:
- Has large choice of positions in medical facilities, doctor offices, clinics, nursing homes, home health care
- May have more career advancement opportunities after gaining experience
- Strong job outlook nationwide
The disadvantages of becoming a Registered Nurse are as follows:
- Requires an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree to become RN
- Requires state licensing
- More likely to be required to work regular rotating shifts or weekends
- Can be a high stress job
A Diagnostic Medical Sonographer has more limited responsibilities compared to a Registered Nurse but is still heavily involved in patient care and more likely to work weekday day shifts that better accommodate family responsibilities. An attractive option is for RNs to complete a second degree or certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, giving healthcare professionals the best of both worlds.