Education and Training
Diagnostic medical sonogoraphy is an area in which there is no standard level of educational requirement; however, employers do prefer sonographers who are trained in accredited programs and registered.
Sonographers may train in hospitals, colleges and universities, vocational-technical institutions, or even the military. Two-year and four-year programs are available, with two-year programs being the most prevalent. Workers who are already in a health care field may find a one-year certification program acceptable to their employer. In 2006 there were 147 accredited training programs for ultrasound technicians in the United States.
Certifying organizations include the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and the association of Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (RDMS).
Sonographers need to have good communication skills, as they will be explaining complex technical procedures to patients who may feel nervous or concerned about the exam and what it may reveal. Strong skills in math and science are also helpful.
Nature of the Work
Sonography or ultrasonography uses high frequency sound waves to generate an image for use in diagnostics. The most common use of sonography is in obstetrics (providing an ultrasound image of a fetus), but there are uses for sonography in various other areas of the body.
Ultrasound technicians use special equipment to direct the sound waves to the appropriate area of the patient’s body. Technicians operate this equipment and tape, transmit or photograph the resulting image for purposes of interpretation and diagnosis by the physician.
During diagnostic sonography, technicians look for subtle visual differences that contrast healthy parts of the body with unhealthy ones. They take measurements, calculate the findings, and provide preliminary analyses for the physicians. They also keep patient records and adjust and maintain the equipment.
Areas of specialty may include obstetrics and gynecology, abdominal sonography, neurosonography, breast sonography, vascular sonography, or cardiac sonography.
Ultrasound Technicians generally work in health care facilities or imaging centers. They are on their feet much of the day. They have to lift patients, and they have to operate complicated equipment. They generally work a 40-hour week, which can include nights and weekends. Sonographers who work in a hospital may have on-call duties.
Earnings and Employment Outlook
The average income of a diagnostic medical sonographer in 2006 was $57,000.00. Also in 2006, there were about 40,000 jobs for ultrasound technicians in the US, with over half of those being in public or private hospitals.
Employment is expected to increase by 19% through 2016 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008-09).
Sonography is a safer method of diagnostics, because it has no harmful side effects, such as radiation; thus, more patients are choosing this alternative. This means there should be additional job growth in this area.
Ultrasound image of an embryo at 14 weeks.
Credits: Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Embryo_at_14_weeks_profile.JPG).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook , 2008-09 Edition, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos273.htm.