Ultrasound technicians -- or diagnostic medical sonographers -- use ultrasound technology to check for tumors and injuries in patients' brains, abdominal cavities, livers, spleens and other organs. They also do ultrasounds on expectant mothers to study images of fetuses. Respiratory therapists diagnose various respiratory ailments in patients, measuring their lung capacities and providing treatments to ease their breathing. While you would earn over $50,000 in either field, you'd make more as an ultrasound technician.
Salary and Education
The average annual salary for an ultrasound technician was $66,360 as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent made over $91,070 annually. Respiratory therapists earned approximately $9,000 less on average at $57,200, according to the BLS. Top-paid respiratory therapists earned more than $71,090 per year. To become an ultrasound technician or respiratory therapist, you need the minimum of an associate degree in sonography or respiratory therapy, respectively.
Salary by Industry
In 2012, ultrasound technicians' salaries were highest in colleges, universities and professional schools at $74,940, according to the BLS. They also earned relatively high salaries in outpatient care centers and specialty hospitals -- $72,200 and $71,090 per year, respectively. Specialty hospitals include substance abuse, cardiac hospitals and cancer units. Your salary as a respiratory therapist would also be the highest in a college, university or professional school at $68,120, based on 2012 BLS data. If you worked as a respiratory therapist in an outpatient center or specialty hospital, you'd make $67,720 or $59,150, respectively. Ultrasound technicians and respiratory therapists made $66,390 and $56,760, respectively, in general medical and surgical hospitals.
Salary by State
Ultrasound technicians earned the highest annual salaries of $84,220 in California, based on 2012 BLS data. They made the second and third highest earnings in Oregon and the state of Washington -- $81,010 and $79,980, respectively. You'd also earn the highest salary in California as a respiratory therapist at $73,320 annually, according to the BLS. In Nevada or Connecticut, you'd earn the second and third highest salaries -- $69,540 and $67,890, respectively. The BLS didn't report salaries for respiratory therapists in Oregon or Washington.
The BLS projects a 44 percent increase in jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers, including ultrasound technicians, from 2010 to 2020, which is must faster than the 14 percent growth rate for all occupations. Increasing demand for ultrasound technology to replace more expensive and invasive procedures should increase jobs for ultrasound technicians in the next decade. Jobs for respiratory therapists will increase 28 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is also above average. Population increases in middle-aged and seniors will spur much of the job growth for respiratory therapists.