Explainer: What’s the Difference between Therapeutic and Diagnostic Radiographers?

Medical Physicist and Therapeutic Radiographer, Shelley Blane, is Course Leader for both our BSc (Hons) Radiography (Radiotherapy and Oncology) and our BSc (Hons) Radiography (Diagnostic Imaging) degrees.  

She explains the main differences between the two pathways, tells us more about the recruitment process, and shares her invaluable insight gained from 30 years in Radiotherapy:  

Outlining the different roles  

“Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiographers do have quite different roles, although the two professions share many similarities.  

“Therapeutic Radiographers solely work with cancer patients and are based in Radiotherapy departments. They have more of an opportunity to build a relationship with their patients over the course of their treatment, which can be very rewarding.  

“Therapeutic Radiographers work with large amounts of radiation and, as a result, precision and attention to detail is highly important. I think people sometimes believe Radiotherapy departments can be depressing places, but they absolutely aren’t. 80% of patients are undergoing Radiotherapy with a view to curing them of cancer.  

“Therapeutic Radiographers always work as part of a team, as they are always checking positioning and dosages for colleagues as part of procedure.  

“Diagnostic Radiographers typically work with X-ray, CT and MRI machines. They work with lots of different teams within a hospital, from Accident and Emergency to Operating Theatres, and meet lots of different patients in a day.  

“Most in-patients will meet a Diagnostic Radiographer during their time in hospital as imaging has become a crucial part of diagnosing what is wrong with a patient.  

“Many Diagnostic Radiographers enjoy the problem-solving aspect of their job, which lies at the heart of diagnosis. There are opportunities to work as part of a team, for example in Interventional Radiography where you are working within other specialties, but Diagnostic Radiographers tend to work more independently.”  

Similarities between the roles  

“There are a number of similarities between the two roles. Both professions combine the use of specialist technology with being very patient-focused.  

“Both are expanding practices that are constantly developing in terms of technology and technique. This is really exciting and means you are always learning and developing as a professional. I’ve been in Radiotherapy for 30 years and I can honestly say that Radiotherapy now looks nothing like it did when I was training. 

“We are now using a lot of Artificial Intelligence in Radiography. The skillsets required are really quite different to what they used to be. In Radiotherapy, we are now using images to guide the set-up of patients for their treatment, rather than drawing marks on their skin. It’s very exciting to see these developments. 

“On the South Coast, we unfortunately have a shortage of both Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiographers. It’s vital that we are training and recruiting Radiographers for both pathways.” 

Values of a radiographer   

“The values that we look for on our Radiography courses are the same as those required by any Allied Health Profession. These include compassion, empathy, and good communication with patients and colleagues. For Radiography, we’re also looking for people with a technical mind and strong attention to detail.  

“In their everyday work, Radiographers are using ionising radiation, which is dangerous if not used correctly, so an understanding of and commitment to this responsibility is vital. Resilience is important too and building this is a key part of the course.” 

Personal statement and interview  

“If you meet the academic requirements of the Radiography courses, we’ll review your personal statement and invite applicants to interview at that point.  

“I’m looking to see that you know about the profession that you have applied for and for some examples of the values that I would expect anyone working within these professions to have. 

“An interview is an essential part of course recruitment for Radiography, in line with NHS requirements. An interview gives us the opportunity to discuss your values with you and ensure that these are in line with the NHS Constitution and in particular the NHS’ 6 Cs of Care.  

“At the interview, we’ll be asking you questions such as: what do you think a day in the life of a Diagnostic Radiographer would look like? What skills and values do you have that will make you a good Radiographer?  

“I look at it this way: if it was my mum being treated or imaged, would I want this person to be looking after her? Good communication skills and a caring nature are essential to this and are so important to being a good Radiographer.  

“This is a profession that will interest and challenge you for the rest of your life: good luck with your application!”   

You can find out more about our Radiography degrees here 

Shelley Blane

Above: Shelley Blane