Medical radiography and ultrasound workforce

Doctor looking at ultrasounds

There are two branches of radiography;

  • diagnostic 
  • therapeutic. 

Once qualified as a radiographer in either of these fields further training can be completed to become a sonographer - performing and reporting medical ultrasound examinations in a variety of settings.

The sonographer may have originally trained as a radiographer, some may have originally trained as a nurse or midwife (for example). Individuals may also be direct entrants to sonography training.

This section clarifies the current position of registration for sonographers.

Education and training

Medical ultrasound is currently taught at postgraduate level, typically to existing radiographers, qualified healthcare science staff in vascular technology and cardiac physiology and qualified midwives. 

Approximately 18 universities and colleges in the UK offer medical ultrasound courses and training.


There is no statutory regulation arrangements for sonographers and both sonography and ultrasonography are not protected titles.

There are instances where an individual, for example, is qualified in radiography and is able to register with a statutory regulator, in this case the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) but only under their protected title of radiographer, not sonographer. There are also many instances of individuals having trained, for example, as a nurse or midwife and are able to register with the associated regulatory body.

What this means in practice for employers

When recruiting to sonographer vacancies, it is important for employers to carefully consider their registration requirements.

Many employers prefer their sonographers to be statutorily registered i.e. as a radiographer with the HCPC, or nurse/midwife with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and this is an acceptable local decision. It is fair to expect individuals who are able to register with a regulatory body such as the HCPC or NMC to do so, however, we would urge employers to consider that for some otherwise well qualified sonographers who have trained from different professional backgrounds where regulation doesn't exist or who are direct entrants into sonography training, statutory registration is not possible. By insisting on statutory registration you could be further limiting your pool of candidates in what is recognised as a shortage specialty by the UK Government Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). 

When considering your registration requirements for a sonography position, please be aware that there are some legal restrictions for sonographers who are not statutorily registered, which prevent them carrying out elements of a role:

  • Sonographers who are not statutorily registered cannot act under Patient Group Directions for the administration of drugs and medicines, or train to become Supplementary Prescribers. They are allowed to act under Patient Specific Directions but those requiring them to do so must ensure their competence.
  • Sonographers who are not also statutorily registered cannot act as a referrer for clinical imaging examinations involving the use of ionising radiation.

Voluntary registration

In the absence of statutory regulation, the Society and College of Radiographers maintains the 'Public Voluntary Register of Sonographers'. Although not a requirement for working in the UK, all sonographers, whether statutorily registered or not, are encouraged to apply.

NHS Jobs

When posting adverts for sonographer vacancies on the NHS Jobs service consider your use of the pre-application filtering question for registration. This question will automatically prevent otherwise well qualified sonographers for whom statutory registration is not possible from applying to your vacancy.

Employment and workforce practices

There are several areas where employers can provide assurance of the competency of their workforce. These include:

  • Recruitment - clear expectations and the use of NHS Employment Check Standards in addition to recruiting for values and behaviours.
  • Supervision - ensure appropriate supervision of individuals where it is required.
  • Continuing Professional Development - ensure staff continue to meet the professional requirements of their role and are up to date in their practice.
  • Clear standards, expectations and boundaries - ensure appropriate delegation so that individuals do not operate outside of their competence.
  • Effective appraisal - embed organisational values and behaviours into individual objectives.
  • Policies - embed into day to day practice and support staff to challenge issues of concern appropriately.

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