Registered nurses have a broad range of duties centered on patient care, while ultrasound technicians focus on diagnostic medical sonography. Both professions require postsecondary training, usually through associate or bachelor's degree programs. All registered nurses must be licensed, while licensing of ultrasound technicians is mandatory in only a few states. Although the salaries of registered nurses and ultrasound technicians are similar, the industry and location are factors in who earns more.
Average Pay Comparison
As of 2012, the average pay for registered nurses was $32.66 per hour or $67,930 annually full-time, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ultrasound technicians, also called diagnostic medical sonographers, received an average of $31.90 per hour or $66,360 per year. Registered nursing is a much larger profession; the BLS counted 2,633,980 registered nurses nationwide as of 2012, compared to 57,700 ultrasound technicians.
Range of Pay
The pay ranges for registered nurses and ultrasound technicians are similar, but nurses earn more at both the low and high ends. Registered nurses in the lowest-earning 10 percent received $45,040 annually or less, while the top 10 percent earned $94,720 per year or more. For ultrasound technicians, earnings at the same percentiles ranged from a low of $44,990 to a high of $91,070 annually.
Another measure of typical income is the median or midpoint, meaning half earn more and half earn less. Unlike the average, the median is not skewed by a few exceptionally high or low numbers. The wages of both professions are very close by this measure, but ultrasound techs have a higher median income. The median salary of registered nurses in 2012 was $65,470 annually, according to the BLS, while that of ultrasound techs was $65,860.
Hospitals and doctors' offices are the two largest employers of both registered nurses and ultrasound technicians. In 2012, nurses received average annual pay of $69,490 in general medical and surgical hospitals and $62,120 per year in doctors' offices, according to the BLS. Ultrasound techs in hospitals averaged less than nurses, $66,390 per year. However, they averaged $66,900 annually in physicians' offices, more than registered nurses in this industry.
Registered nurses received more than $80,000 per year on average in four states in 2012, according to the BLS report. In California, their average pay was $94,120 annually, and in Hawaii, it came to $84,750. The other two high-paying states were Massachusetts, at $83,370 annually, and Alaska, paying $80,970 on average. Ultrasound technicians, however, averaged more than $80,000 per year in only two states. California was also their top-paying state, paying an average of $84,220 annually in 2012. Oregon came second, with annual wages averaging $81,010.
Both registered nurses and ultrasound technicians have favorable job prospects for the future. The BLS predicts 26 percent growth for RNs between 2010 and 2020, compared to 14 percent on average for all jobs, and a 44 percent increase for ultrasound technicians. Advances in technology and the aging population will be factors in the growth of both professions.