Ultrasound technicians, also known as a diagnostic medical sonographers or simply sonographers, scan patients’ bodies with sound waves, creating images that allow the ability to see the structure and movement of the body’s internal organs. Ultrasound scans can be used in several different ways, such as monitoring an unborn baby, diagnosing a medical condition or guiding a surgeon. Medical sonographers need to undergo training in order to work in the field. Although certification is not always mandatory, it could provide an advantage over other candidates for sonography positions.
Pros and Cons of Being a Medical Sonographer
– The minimum education requirement is a certificate or an associate’s degree in sonography, so one can become a sonographer within a very short period of time (as little as 2 years).
– The job pays well.
– The expected job growth rate is high.
– Ultrasound techs can choose to specialize in the vascular system, musculoskeletal system, the breast or the abdomen.
– There are many opportunities for career advancement.
– It gives one an opportunity to serve others, and save lives.
– Sonographers have to work extra-long hours, including on weekends.
– The fast-paced environment found in medical settings means the job can be stressful.
– It can be tiring because of standing for long periods of time and moving or lifting patients. There are also many administrative tasks and functions involved which add to the workload and physical demands of the job.
– Some patients behave rudely and this can be demoralizing on the part of ultrasound techs.
– Sonographers are sometimes exposed to blood and body fluids, particularly when doing biopsies and transvaginal ultrasound.
Ultrasound Job Description
A diagnostic medical sonographer operates machines called sonographic or ultrasound scanners that utilize sound waves to produce images of the human body’s internal organs and systems to aid doctors and surgeons in diagnosis and treatment of patients. This medical professional can work in hospitals, physicians’ offices or clinic, and night and weekend shifts may be required. They may specialize in certain areas, such as vascular, obstetric or breast sonography. Sonographers are trained to perform different types of ultrasound procedures and to look for abnormal problem areas in the resulting images. They have to ensure that the images are clear enough so the doctors and other qualified healthcare professionals can make an accurate diagnosis. Medical sonographers may also be required to obtain measurements, perform calculations and evaluate the results. Additionally, these specialists usually act as communicators between the doctor and patients. To this end, they must be able to explain complicated ultrasound procedures and results to their patients while describing possible treatment methods.
– Preparing patients for procedures
– Preparing and maintaining imaging equipment
– Operating equipment to obtain diagnostic images and/or conducting tests
– Analyzing the diagnostic images or test results to ensure the images are of good quality, and that the areas needed for diagnosis have been adequately covered
– Understanding the difference between good and bad images and other important diagnostic information
– Analyzing diagnostic information to produce a summary of findings for doctors
– Recording findings and keeping track of patients’ records
How to Become an Ultrasound Technician
There are several routes to becoming a sonographer. A number of hospitals and organizations, such as the U.S. military, offer on-the-job training but this option may not be available for everyone. Undertaking an accredited training program is the most common route for an individual to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. This can be done in several ways and at many different training institutions. Vocational and technical schools, community colleges and universities all offer programs in diagnostic medical sonography. Community colleges and universities offer sonography programs resulting in associate and bachelor’s degrees, respectively. These programs are the most common, though there are some certificate programs that take a very short period of time to complete but require previous experience or employment in the healthcare sector.
How Long Does It Take To Become An Ultrasound Technician?
How long it will take to become a qualified sonographer depends on the length of the program. Certificate programs last just one year. Associate degrees usually require 2 years to complete, while bachelor degrees last for 4 years.
To enroll in any of the diagnostic medical sonography programs found in colleges and universities, prospective students must have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. certificate. Applicants may also need to undergo placement testing, plus an interview. Individuals seeking to enroll for the 1-year certificate program must have already completed considerable health-care training or possess adequate experience in the healthcare field. Those with no previous health-care experience or training must have already completed either a 2-year associate degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree program in a math or science field, and passed college-level courses in anatomy and physiology, math, physics and medical terminology, as well as CPR certification, in order to gain admittance. Medical sonography training combines classroom learning and clinical internship or externship experiences. To attend the required clinical internships, students must provide proof of having received specified immunizations, submit to a drug-screening test and pass a criminal background check.
Most states do not have any mandatory certification requirements for medical sonographers. Nonetheless, certification is an important credential that aspiring sonographers should seek. This is because most employers prefer their prospective ultrasound technicians to hold such a credential – which means certification acts as a passport into getting lucrative positions with high pay rates. State and private hospitals, as well as other high-paying medical employers, almost always require their sonographers to hold certification from a recognized body. This is because it provides a profession assessment of an individual’s skills and knowledge in the field. To get certification, aspiring sonographers must complete a training program and then take and pass a certification exam.
Generally, sonographers are not legally required to obtain a license. Nonetheless, according to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), the rules are changing and states are increasingly imposing mandatory licensing requirements for imaging specialists, including sonographers. Currently, a number of states including New Jersey, West Virginia, New Mexico and Oregon require sonographers to obtain a license. This means if you’re in any of these states, you must seek licensure or certification. But even if you don’t plan on working in any of these states, it is advisable to apply for a license as it can boost your job prospects. There are two organizations that are widely recognized to offer licensure. These are: the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). Graduates of accredited ultrasound training programs can apply to sit for the credentialing exams from any of these organizations. Passing the exams leads to the award of a license.
Ultrasound Technician Job Outlook
Just like most of the medical professions in the United States, qualified ultrasound technicians are in high demand. Job growth in this field has been projected to increase at a whopping 39% (which is much faster than the average for all occupations) between 2012 and 2022, according to the statistics by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is attributable to several factors, including the shift toward outpatient care whenever possible, preference for noninvasive measures over invasive ones, increasing patient access to medical care, and the ever-expanding healthcare sector. Opportunities for employment as a diagnostic medical sonographer are good right now and should continue to stay that way for at least the next decade or so. There are also many opportunities to choose from, and licensed sonographers can choose to work in hospitals, clinics or physicians’ offices. Significant career advancement is possible by specializing in several specific areas of diagnostic medical sonography, such as prenatal, cardiac or general, or moving into management or education. The median annual earnings for sonographers in 2013 were $66,410.
Employed people, by detailed occupation and gender, annual averages
Diagnostic related technologists and technicians
Total employed 362 (Numbers in thousands)
Percent Women 72.0%
(1) Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
(2) Women in Labor Force: http://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/cps/women-in-the-labor-force-a-databook-2014.pdf