Radiography vs Radiology: What’s the Difference Between a Radiographer and a Radiologist and What Do They Do?

This article will explain radiology vs radiography and the roles of the professionals you might meet on your scanning journey: radiologists and radiographers.

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Radiography vs Radiology

If you’re wondering, ‘What is the difference between radiology and radiography?’ You’re in the right place. This article will explain radiology vs radiography and the professionals carrying out these disciplines: radiologists and radiographers.

What is the difference between radiology and radiography?

Radiology is a branch of medicine that studies the interpretation of medical images to diagnose and guide disease treatment. In contrast, radiography focuses on the technical process of capturing these images using technologies like X-rays

What is the difference between a radiographer and a radiologist?

Both radiographers and radiologists are vital, from the diagnostic process to treatment planning. However, their qualifications and roles are completely different. Radiographers, who typically hold a bachelor’s degree in radiography, spend their workday (or shift) taking high-quality images of patients’ internal organs and tissues while ensuring patient safety. Radiologists, on the other hand, are medical doctors with added years of specialised training in clinical radiology. They check scan images for changes suggestive of an injury, abnormality, or disease and generate reports with their interpretation of the images and expert advice on the most effective treatment options.

Radiographer

What is a radiographer?

A radiographer, also known as a radiologic technologist (RT), medical radiologic technologist (MRT), or diagnostic radiographer, is a healthcare professional who operates medical imaging technology and machinery to produce images of the inside of the human body. These medical imaging procedures, such as X-rays, ultrasound, echocardiogram, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), mammography, and computerised tomography (CT) scans, are typically used for diagnostic and screening purposes. 

A radiographer is the person you will see if you’ve been referred for a scan, typically after your doctor or clinician has assessed your medical history, physical health, and in some cases reviewed other test results, such as blood tests. Radiographers work within healthcare settings, including:  

  • Private or public health hospitals, working in the primary care, urgent care, outpatient, accident and emergency, and surgery units.

  • Specialist clinics, such as cancer or OB-GYN (obstetrics and gynaecology) clinics.

  • Private offices, such as those of doctors or chiropractors.

  • Diagnostic imaging centres.

There are two types of radiographers: diagnostic radiographers and therapeutic radiographers.

What is a diagnostic radiographer? 

A diagnostic radiographer is the photographer of the medical world. They undergo extensive training in human anatomy and physiology as well as the use of specialised imaging equipment to learn how to accurately capture changes in bones, organs, and soft tissues (i.e., muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and tendons.)

A diagnostic radiographer is an essential ally to doctors, as the images they capture help to identify anomalies, where they are, how they could be treated, and monitor how they respond to treatment.

What is a therapeutic radiographer?  

A therapeutic radiographer, also known as a radiotherapy radiographer or radiation therapist, is a healthcare professional who uses highly specialised technical equipment to plan and administer radiotherapy to people with cancer or tissue defects. They also administer radiotherapy accurately to minimise exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.

Compared to diagnostic radiographers, therapeutic radiographers often develop closer relationships with patients. This is because, in delivering treatment and monitoring progress over time, they also need to provide encouragement and emotional support. Additionally, through regular consultations with their patients' doctors, therapeutic radiographers manage to stay fully updated and invested in each patient's health journey.

What does a radiographer do?

Here are some day-to-day tasks of a diagnostic radiographer:

  • Preparing patients. Before an imaging procedure, a radiographer educates their patients about what to expect and how to prepare, helping them feel confident and at ease. During the imaging, a radiographer positions the patient correctly and responds to any feedback.  

  • Ensuring safety. A radiographer follows established safety protocols, particularly during procedures involving radiation use, to protect themselves, patients, and others from unnecessary exposure. They also prioritise patient health and well-being if a contrast agent or dye is used. 

  • Operating imaging equipment. A radiographer adjusts scanning machine settings and uses different parameters or techniques based on the specific body part being examined to get the clearest possible views of abnormalities quickly and with the lowest amount of risk.

  • Capturing high-quality, detailed images. A radiographer may assess the area under examination from different angles to avoid overlapping structures. Before concluding the procedure, they carefully review the captured images to ensure they are high-quality and detailed enough to make an accurate diagnosis.

  • Assisting doctors. A radiographer may provide doctors with real-time images during procedures, such as biopsies or minimally invasive surgeries. 

A therapeutic radiographer’s daily tasks may include:

  • Collaborating with medical specialists to develop radiotherapy plans.

  • Using X-rays and other radioactive elements for treatment.

  • Monitoring their patients' health through follow-up appointments.

How to become a radiographer?

Want to know how to become a radiographer in the UK? It starts from acquiring the necessary skills and qualification through any one of three different methods, including:

  • A university course. You’ll need this to earn an undergraduate qualification in diagnostic radiography or other related fields approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This could take around three to four years full-time (or up to six years part-time) to complete. But, if you already have a degree in a health or science-related subject, you might be eligible for a postgraduate qualification, which usually takes two years to complete. 

A radiography degree program may offer courses in anatomy and physiology (the study of the human body’s structure and function), radiobiology, medical imaging physics, pathophysiology (the study of how diseases develop and manifest), medical ethics and laws, and patient care. The program might also combine classroom learning with an internship or clinical placement, providing the opportunity to practise positioning patients, operating imaging equipment, following safety protocols, and analysing images under the supervision of experienced radiographers in healthcare settings.

  • An apprenticeship. A diagnostic or therapeutic radiographer level 6 degree apprenticeship usually takes a minimum of 36 months (3 years). It combines on-the-job learning with academic study at an approved university. This method is highly recommended for people who prefer a work-based learning experience.

  • Work. If you can find work as a radiography assistant with a supportive employer, you might be able to begin an apprenticeship, so you’ll gain valuable work experience while studying part-time for a radiography degree.

Radiographers may choose to get additional training to specialise in certain imaging technologies (e.g., MRI, CT, or DEXA scans), focus areas like paediatric (children) or oncology (cancer) imaging, or specific body parts such as the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines), musculoskeletal (muscles and skeleton), or genitourinary (reproductive and urinary organs) systems.

Once they’ve completed their training, radiographers must register with the HCPC before practising in the UK. 

Are radiographers doctors? 

Are radiographers doctors? No, radiographers are highly qualified technicians in an allied health profession (AHP) — a field of healthcare that works alongside doctors and nurses to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive care. While the comprehensive information they obtain through imaging is crucial for getting accurate diagnoses and developing appropriate treatment plans, they don't have the same level of training or licensing as doctors to diagnose or treat illnesses themselves. Even therapeutic radiographers are not oncologists (specialist doctors for cancer), but they work closely with them to plan and deliver radiation treatments to patients. 

Radiologist

What is a radiologist?

A radiologist is a medical doctor who carefully analyses, reads, and interprets medical images to accurately diagnose what’s happening inside a patient’s body. While a radiographer may capture the images that answer important questions about a disease or injury, it is the radiologist who has the licence and training to provide the answers in writing. 

How long does it take to become a radiologist in the UK?

After finishing high school, it can take 11 to 13 years to acquire the necessary qualifications for becoming a radiologist in the UK.

How to become a radiologist?

To become a radiologist, you’ll need a medical degree. You can obtain this by either completing a 5 to 6-year undergraduate MBBS or MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) degree from a medical school approved by the General Medical Council (GMC) or a 4-year graduate entry medicine (GEM) program if you already have a non-medical degree (which must be a biomedical/life sciences degree). After medical school, you’ll need to undergo a 2-year foundation program that exposes you to various medical specialities through six rotations. During this time, you’ll work in a hospital, attend to patients, report to senior doctors during ward rounds, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals such as nurses, admin staff, physiotherapists, and dietitians.

The next stage after the foundation programme is when radiologists get to apply for a paid speciality training that arms them with the skills needed to launch their dream career. This speciality training lasts for 5 years, with an option to take an additional year to sub-specialise in areas like chest, breast, oncology (cancer), neuro (brain), or cardiac (heart) radiology. Progression through this training is based on positive workplace-based assessments and passing the Fellowship of the Royal College of Radiologists (FRCR) exam.

Having acquired all the qualifications, one must then apply to the General Medical Council (GMC) for full registration with a licence to practise as a radiologist in the UK.

What does a radiologist do?

Here are some day-to-day responsibilities of a radiologist:

  • Working with radiographers to plan imaging procedures that will provide images and information needed to answer the clinical question and provide a diagnosis.

  • Interpreting medical images taken by radiographers to diagnose various conditions and injuries. Sometimes, radiologists compare images received with previous ones of the same patient to check for changes and make an accurate diagnosis.

  • Writing detailed reports containing their findings and recommendations for treatment or further investigation and sending them to the primary doctor (the referring physician) of each patient.

  • Performing minimally invasive procedures, like taking small tissue samples (needle biopsy) or draining bile from the liver (biliary drainage) and pus-filled pockets called abscesses, examining blood vessels (angiography), and inserting a stent or balloon into a constricting or blocked artery (angioplasty), to diagnose and treat diseases. This is a medical speciality known as interventional radiology.

  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals, including radiographers, to answer questions and offer advice on their patients’ cases.

Radiologist or Radiographer: who will I meet?

If you need a medical imaging scan to investigate the cause of your symptoms or screen for abnormalities, you might wonder: ‘Will I be meeting a radiologist or radiographer?’

A radiographer will attend to you at the scanning centre. They will explain the procedure, position you correctly, administer any contrast agents, operate the imaging equipment, and capture all the necessary images. 

After the scan, the radiographer will prepare and send your images to a radiologist. The radiologist will carefully examine the images, interpret them, and write a report. This report will then be sent to your referring clinician, who will discuss the findings and available treatment options with you. Typically, this process can take up to two weeks or longer. However, when you book with Scan.com, your results, including an interactive radiologist report and scan images, will be made available to you within seven working days. Our Chief Medical Officer (CMO) is a consultant radiologist with over 25 years of experience, so you can trust your scan results to be accurate and reliable. 

Scan.com is the UK’s largest imaging network, with over 150 scanning centres nationwide. Booking with us is a breeze with these five steps:

  1. Select your desired scan type and the body part(s) for examination. 

  2. Browse nearby scanning locations. 

  3. Compare prices. 

  4. Check for the earliest and most convenient appointment time. 

  5. Click the 'Book Now' button and make payment to secure your booking. 

With no GP referral needed, and no waiting lists. Your booking also includes two expert clinician consultations: a pre-scan consultation to ensure you’ve booked the right scan and a post-scan consultation to discuss any adverse findings and guide the next steps.

If you are confused about which scan to book, consider booking a consultation for £50 to speak with one of our expert clinicians. After reviewing your medical history and answering all your questions about the benefits and risks of the available scan options, they’ll give you a no-obligation referral to the one that’s most suitable for your unique concerns. If you then decide to book a scan with us, you’ll get a £50 discount on your fee. 

 

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