MRI Tech vs Ultrasound Tech: Career Comparison

June 22, 2019


Interested in an allied health career but aren’t sure which way to turn? If you’re a gadget lover who’s looking to help people, why not consider a future as an MRI tech or medical sonographer (also referred to as an ultrasound technician)? 

While there aren’t huge differences between MRI technologist and sonographer salaries and working environments, choosing between the two careers can be tricky – unless you know more about each role.

That’s why we’ve done the research to help you make such an important professional decision.  

Ultrasound Techs vs. MRI Techs. 

You already probably know that medical sonographers and MRI technologists scan internal body parts to help physicians diagnose a variety of health conditions. Unlike diagnostics that require ionizing radiation (such as CT scans and X-rays), MRIs and ultrasounds come with very few side effects. 

The required equipment and training, however, is quite different. 

MRI Scanning Equipment

Muffet / Flickr / CC BY 


MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a machine that produces 3D images of tissue, organs, bones, and joints by using powerful magnetic equipment. The machine then creates a 3-d image based on the movement of water molecules within the body. 

While MRIs and sonography are excellent for soft tissue, MRIs are preferred for bones and gas (within the lungs or intestines, for example). 

DMS Scanning Technology

DMS – otherwise known as diagnostic medical sonography – harnesses the power of ultrasound waves to scan internal body structures like the heart system or monitor fetal development during pregnancy. These images are referred to as sonograms.

What Do Ultrasound and MRI Techs Do with These Images?

When signals from the body are sent to the imaging equipment, MRI techs and ultrasound techs must ensure that the images are interpreted correctly. If the results are unclear, a physician will be unable to provide an accurate assessment and diagnosis.   

wistechcolleges / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 


What’s the Job Market Like for MRI and Ultrasound Techs? 

In the United States, all allied health careers are set to grow over the coming decade. 

A lot of this comes down to an aging Baby Boomers who are in worse health than previous generations and make up around 25% of the population. 

Approximately 36,000 MRI technologists were employed in 2016, compared to 67,000 diagnostic medical sonographers. Not only that, but through 2026, the market is set to grow by 12% and 17%, respectively. 

Where Can I Work? 

You’ll most often find MRI technologists in hospitals (60%) and medical laboratories (20%), owing to the need for large and expensive equipment. As for DMS techs, the biggest employers are state/local hospitals  (60%) as well as private physicians’ practices (20%). 

MRI vs. Ultrasound Salary

You don’t want to spend time and money if the recompense isn’t worth it – but for MRI and DMS techs, the juice can certainly be worth the squeeze

As of May 2018, the median salary for MRI techs was more than $71,000, with the lowest 10% earning just over $50,000. The average ultrasound tech salary hovered at an impressive $72,500, while the lowest 10% earned $51,000. 

Like in any career, extra certification from accredited programs, work experience, and even your location play a massive part in your income

How to Become an MRI Technologist 

pennstatenews / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 


MRI Tech Certification & Degrees

There are two main routes to becoming an MRI Technologist: The more traditional route is to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in radiography and later specialize in magnetic resonance imaging. 

For those who want to focus solely on MRI, it’s also possible to earn a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree in MRI Technology. MRI technologist certification training usually takes 18-24 months. During this time, you’ll study anatomy, patient procedures, MRI physics, cross-sectional anatomy, and how to conduct MRI scans. After completing your classroom and lab hours, your program should place you with an MRI mentor in a clinical internship. 

Remember that professional certification through ARRT or ARMRIT is likely required before being able to work as an MRI tech.

How to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer 

Training to be an ultrasound technologist often takes two years (or more), depending on the school and type of program you’ve chosen. Diagnostic sonography programs focus on a number of subject areas including patient care, anatomy, ultrasound physics, and scanning techniques. Certification programs will also teach students how to recognize normal and abnormal image results. 

The most-recognized certification for sonography is offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). In order to sit for the specialty exams offered by ARDMS, students must graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program. 

Certification through ARDMS or ARRT also exists for students with a bachelor’s degree or relevant work experience. 

Training Highlights Vulnerability

During training, both sets of students practice working with stressed or nervous patients. If they’ve never been in an MRI machine – where they’re expected to lie very still in an extremely small space for a series of minutes –  most people become quite anxious. 

During complicated pregnancies (or when ultrasounds detect abnormal results), the same goes for sonographers. If you’ve got great bedside manner and can set a patient’s mind at ease, you’re likely to excel in your role. 

Ready to Take the Next Step?

It doesn’t matter which career you choose – you’ve got a bright future ahead of you. If you’re in the New Jersey area, discover how AIMS Education can take you to the next level