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22 commonly confused job titles: What do these workers actually do?

By Beth Braccio Hering,
Don't mistake a geologist (someone who studies Earth's materials) for a genealogist (someone who researches family history.)
Don't mistake a geologist (someone who studies Earth's materials) for a genealogist (someone who researches family history.)
  • Jobs with similar-sounding names can lead to confusion
  • Optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians all deal with eyes but not in the same way
  • The difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is the ability to prescribe drugs

( -- Many jobs have similar-sounding names, which can lead to confusion. Type in "ornithologist" when you meant to search the Web for an orthodontist and you'll find someone who can identify the bird in your yard, but not help with an overbite. Here are some other occupational mix-ups:

1. Aesthetician vs. anesthetist

Aesthetician (also spelled esthetician) Laurie Neronha of Rhode Island is used to people asking what hospital she works at -- even though she is not in the health-care industry. "I do not put people out, unless they get really relaxed!" Neronha jokes. As a licensed skin-care professional, she gives facials, peels and other treatments. Anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists, on the other hand, are medical professionals trained to administer anesthesia.

2. Optometrist vs. ophthalmologist vs. optician

Speaking of people in the health-care industry, who do you go to when you need new glasses? Most of the time that would be an optometrist -- a person with a doctor of optometry degree who examines people's eyes to diagnose vision problems and prescribe corrective treatment. An ophthalmologist can do these things too, but these licensed physicians are better known for treating eye diseases and injuries and performing surgery. An optician is the person who fits and adjusts eyeglasses. What your pet says about your career

3. Psychiatrist vs. psychologist

Like the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist, a medical degree is one of the primary things distinguishing a psychiatrist from a psychologist. Both professionals are concerned with mental health and can have an individual practice or be employed by an organization. Depending on their focus, both may do research, conduct psychological testing or see patients for therapy sessions. In all but a few states, however, only psychiatrists can prescribe drugs.

4. Athletic trainer vs. personal trainer

Myke Triebold of Niceville, Florida, wishes that people would have a better understanding of what it takes to be an athletic trainer. "I graduated from Penn State with a bachelor's degree in health and physical education. I then returned as a graduate student to complete my training as a certified athletic trainer." While her duties include "complete oversight of the medical needs of athletic teams, including being the first on the scene for injuries, injury evaluation and physical rehabilitation," people often assume she does the same thing as a personal trainer -- someone who works with individuals or small groups to help them reach fitness goals.

5. Sociologist vs. social worker

"Social workers often work with individuals to help them overcome problems in their lives. In contrast, sociologists often study the social forces that give rise to so many people in society having all kinds of social problems," says Tim Madigan, associate professor of sociology at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. Because they work with the public in such an intimate way -- doing everything from advocacy to interventions -- states have various licensing requirements for social workers. Sociologists traditionally hold academic degrees and often use their keen observation and interpretation skills in fields such as research, marketing, public policy and education. Get the most from a fall-back job

6. Information architect vs. architect

Both jobs have concerns about order and structure, but unlike architects, you won't find an information architect designing any houses or buildings. Instead, information architects specialize in the design and construction of shared information environments. They make digital content (such as software and websites) easier and better to use.

7. Genealogist vs. geologist vs. gynecologist

Poor Janice Sellers. This professional genealogist from Oakland, California, says she has been mistaken for a geologist (someone who studies Earth's materials) as well as for a gynecologist (a physician specializing in the female reproductive system). She is actually someone who researches family history.

8. Copywriter vs. copyright lawyer

Nichole Bazemore of Atlanta, Georgia, also has had her share of title confusion. "I'm a copywriter -- a person who writes sales and marketing copy. You can't imagine how many people say, upon hearing that, 'Oh, I plan to publish a book next year and I'll need a good copyright lawyer.'" (They may indeed need a copyright lawyer, as that is a person who can help with establishing ownership of creative works -- just don't call Bazemore.) Keep your eyes on solar companies

9. Publisher vs. publicist

Aspiring writers also may want to be sure to know the difference between a publisher (a person in the business of publishing books or other material) and a publicist (a person hired to help a client get media attention).

10. Ghostwriter vs. writer of ghost stories

One last mistake from the editorial world: When freelance writer Cynthia MacGregor of Palm Springs, Florida, advertises her services as a ghostwriter some people take the "ghost" part the wrong way. "I've been approached by people who think I am looking for stories to write about haunted houses and the like," MacGregor states. A ghostwriter is actually someone paid to write for someone else under that person's name.

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