The dictionary offers the following:

technologist — a person who specializes in technology

technician — specialist in industrial techniques: somebody who is skilled in industrial techniques or the practical application of a science

But if I look at Wikipedia's entry they give the following list:

  • Applied Science Technologist, a Canadian professional title in engineering and applied science technology
  • Architectural technologist, a specialist in the technology of building design and construction
  • Cardiovascular technologist, a health specialist who uses imaging technology to help diagnose cardiac and vascular ailments
  • Chemical technologist, a worker who provides technical support or services in chemical-related fields
  • Educational technologist, a specialist in tools to enhance learning
  • Electrical Technologist, a person whose knowledge lies between that of an electrical engineer and an electrical tradesperson
  • Engineering technologist, a specialist who implements technology within a field of engineering
  • Industrial technologist, a specialist in the management, operation, and maintenance of complex operation systems
  • Medical technologist, a healthcare professional who performs diagnostic analysis on a variety of body fluids
  • Polysomnographic technologist, a health specialist who administers overnight polysomnograms
  • Professional Technologist, a Canadian professional title in engineering and technology related fields
  • Radiologic technologist, a medical professional who applies doses of radiation for imaging and treatment
  • Surgical technologist, a health specialist who facilitates the conduct of invasive surgical procedures

This usage seems to suggest some variant of "technician". Wikipedia even redirects many of the equivalent "technician" articles to the corresponding "technologist" article (e.g. chemical technician; x-ray technician).

Where did "technologist" come from? Are these professions simply relabeling "technicians" as "technologists" or is there a significant difference between a "technologist" and a "technician"?

  • 1
    You may find this question and answer insightful: english.stackexchange.com/questions/119717/…
    – Lumberjack
    Oct 29, 2013 at 14:08
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    The Wikipedia entries sound conflated. Is there a difference (in salary, in reputation) between a "radiologic technologist" and an "x-ray technician"? I have seen x-ray technicians work in Radiological disciplines besides x-rays, such as bone density scans. FWIW, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the former at bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Radiologic-technologists.htm, while a search for "x-ray technician" points to the same page. The BLS definition says "Radiologic technologists perform diagnostic imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients."
    – rajah9
    Oct 29, 2013 at 14:12
  • @rajah9: Yeah, that was my impression as well. As best I can tell, there isn't a significant difference between the two terms.
    – MrHen
    Oct 29, 2013 at 14:18
  • In the medical field, a technologist operates the equipment, while a technician repairs the equipment.
    – Davo
    Mar 26, 2019 at 14:59

5 Answers 5


It sounds a lot like title inflation to me, to avoid the perception of a technician as a someone who simply applies technological solutions in a more or less routine, rote manner.

As for "technologist" itself, Dictionary.com says it dates back to the mid-19th century. I would say that it sounds like a broad term that can encompass technicians, engineers, inventors, (technical) evangelists, etc, but most of the usages I've found could just as easily have used "technician". So I'm sticking with simple job title inflation as the explanation for the popularity of the word, and technologist=technician.


I think a generalization of the dictionary definitions would be:

  • a technician works primarily on things
  • a technologist works primarily on technology

The object of the technician / technologist is the key.

So looking at the Wikipedia entries, one could argue that

  • an Architectural technologist specializes in technology, not architecture, so technologist is appropriate.
  • a Cardiovascular technologist specializes in cardiology, not technology, so technician is appropriate.
  • an Engineering technologist specializes in technology (more so than engineering), so technologist is appropriate.
  • a Radiologic technologist specializes in radiograms, not technology, so technician is appropriate.

One could also argue that if the person depends on a specific technology (x-ray machine, Doppler heart monitor), then s/he is a technician. If that person needs to develop or deploy or implement a technology, then s/he is a technologist.

Applying this thought,

  • an Architectural technologist designs technology for new buildings, so technologist is appropriate.
  • a Cardiovascular technologist is dependent on his/her Doppler heart monitor, so technician is appropriate.
  • an Engineering technologist implements technology in the field of engineering, so technologist is appropriate.
  • a Radiologic technologist is dependent on his/her x-ray machine or Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry instrument or MRI, so technician is appropriate.
  • So why are radiologic technicians calling themselves radiologic technologists?
    – MrHen
    Oct 29, 2013 at 21:03
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    If they really had distinct jobs, I would think that the radiologic technician would be taking x-rays, while the radiologic technologist would be installing or designing the equipment. The BLS and other sites are muddying the waters by conflating the terms. The direction of the conflation seems to be to call a technician a technologist, not the other way around.
    – rajah9
    Oct 29, 2013 at 22:00

So which title is appropriate for the person who repairs the x-ray system? In brief, a radiologic technologist is the health professional who creates ("techno-"=art, craft of making, word of greek origin) images which are produced with the use of appropriate machines. He/she decides and applies scientific methods according to laws of physics using his/her thought-mind (-logist derives from "logos"= speak/ thought/ mind, a word of greek origin) after receiving recognized tertiary education. A radiologic technologist cannot repair an xray system! Hence, there is a great difference btw the two terms.


By your logic, a radiologic technician would more aptly be applied to an individual who uses x-ray emitting equipment in a mechanical fashion. Possibly on welds and other inanimate objects. Imaging people, especially those in pain requires a higher level of understanding of both the human body and radiation physics. Different size bodies require different amounts of radiation applied, referred to as technique. This must be done in a way that minimizes the radiation dose to the patient. People with broken bones don't want to stretch them out in a way that demonstrates the break and the technologist must find a way to do so. For some exams, the RT is required to administer medications and contrast material. These can cause harm if not done properly. These things are taught in college and tested by a national certification board exam administered by The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. This board exam is similar to all other health care professionals such as physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and so many more that most people don't know about. Modern health care is way more complex than what can be administered by a doctor and his nurse. I would certainly not want my doctor or his nurse to try to take my x-rays and neither should you. So why should they be called a technologist? Because after passing their board exams they get to add the credentials to their name RT (R). Radiologic Technologist (Radiography).

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    This is an interesting viewpoint, but it basically boils down to the last sentence: You call them a technologist because that's what the board decided to call them. That doesn't really offer a distinguishing feature between the two words, so "title inflation" could still be the real reason.
    – Hellion
    Jan 13, 2017 at 21:08

If you are putting forth that a technologist is a more inflated title than a technician then why would you deny that title to one who has acquired the education and credentials? There are limited license "technicians" many of whom work in small clinics and have limited training. They might also do phlebotomy and vitals and so on. They do not do tomograms, contrast injection or more complicated exams. The title is earned and separates the level of education one has achieved.

  • 2
    Please provide sources to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Mar 25, 2019 at 16:59

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