Ultrasound technicians have a fast-growing job in the medical industry. They may have titles such as diagnostic medical sonographers or diagnostic imaging workers, and they perform scans that allow physicians to see inside a patient's body. As part of their work, they generally do the following things:
- Prepare patients by gathering their medical history and explaining the procedure.
- Operate medical equipment to complete scans requested by a physician or other health care professional.
- Ensure images are of good quality.
- Understand when an image may be abnormal and respond appropriately.
- Maintain medical equipment between uses.
You may be wondering about the difference between sonography and ultrasound technician jobs. Both words are used to describe the same type of work. Ultrasound refers to the type of technology used while a sonogram is the image created. They are both part of the same procedure which is why you'll hear the terms ultrasound technician and sonographer used interchangeably.
Ultrasound Technician Specializations
Ultrasound technicians may be most well-known for conducting scans on pregnant women to track the growth of unborn babies. However, these professionals can actually specialize in a number of different health care practices. Here's a look at just a sample of the jobs you can get after graduating from an ultrasound technician school:
- Breast sonographers take images of breast tissue, and their scans may be used to confirm the presence of cysts or tumors found on a mammogram. Their work is essential to the detection and treatment of breast cancer.
- Cardiac sonographers are also known as echocardiographers. They use ultrasound technology to take images of the heart.
- Pediatric sonographers work with young patients to provide images of newborns, infants and older children.
- Vascular sonographers may also be called vascular technologists, and they take images of blood vessels.
How to Become an Ultrasound Technician
Since ultrasound technicians need to know how to use specialized medical equipment, you'll need to complete some formal education. A few states also require sonographers to be licensed. In general, the process for how to become an ultrasound technician looks like this:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED.
- Attend an ultrasound technician school. Earning a certificate or an associate degree is usually enough for most entry-level jobs.
- Become licensed or certified. Even if your state doesn't require you to be licensed, you may want to become certified. Ultrasound technician certification is one way to stand out from other job applicants.
Ultrasound technician programs not only teach students how to use medical equipment. They also usually cover the following topics.
- Applied science
- Medical terminology
Ultrasound technician degree programs
How long does it take to become an ultrasound technician? That depends on how you decide to meet your ultrasound technician education requirements. Here are the three most common options available:
- Certificate: A certificate may take anywhere from one year to three years to complete, depending on whether you study full-time and have any previous experience in health care. An accredited certificate program should provide a rigorous education that covers everything you need to know to work as an ultrasound technician.
- Associate Degree: An ultrasound associates degree is usually earned in two years. Like a certificate, it prepares students for entry-level positions. Credits from an associate degree may be transferrable though, making this a good choice for anyone who might want to earn a bachelor's degree in the future.
- Bachelor's Degree: A four-year degree is not required for most ultrasound technician jobs, but it's an option for those who want to further specialize their career and offer more advanced services.
Ultrasound technician schools
Students can enroll in ultrasound technician programs at community colleges, universities, vocational schools and even hospitals. There are also a few online ultrasound technician schools. If you're looking into ultrasound technician online schools, check to see how they provide students with hands-on training.
When selecting a school, make sure its programs are properly accredited. Ultrasound technician certification programs may require applicants graduate from a program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Ultrasound technician certification
Only a small number of states - New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oregon - require ultrasound technicians be licensed. However, that could always change so it's a good idea to ask your ultrasound technician school if they are aware of plans to require licensure in your state.
While you might not need to be licensed, you should think about becoming certified. Ultrasound technician certification is offered by industry organizations, and employers may look for certified workers. Having certification signals to a health care provider that you have a certain level of education and expertise.
Here are a few of the most common ultrasound technician certifications:
- Registered Medical Diagnostic Sonographer (RDMS) offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). This certification is available in five different specialty areas.
- Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) is also offered by the ARDMS. It has three specialty options.
- Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS) offered by Cardiovascular Credentialing International. This is one of several ultrasound technician certifications offered by the organization.
- Sonography credential from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
Each has its own requirements, but they typically involve having a minimum level of education and passing an examination. Continuing education may be required to maintain certification.
Career advancement for ultrasound techs
With additional experience or further education, ultrasound technicians may go on to work in supervisory roles or provide services in advanced specialty practices.
Skills and Qualities for Ultrasound Technicians
Successful sonographers need the right education, but they also must have certain skills and abilities. These are traits that make it easier for them to their jobs well.
- Operation monitoring: A technician must be able to ensure equipment is operating correctly and make adjustments as needed.
- Social perceptiveness: Patients may be nervous or uncomfortable about imaging procedures. A good ultrasound technician will be able to pick up on social cues that will help them respond in a way to put others at ease.
- Coordination: Ultrasound technicians need to be able to move imaging equipment appropriately to take requested images.
- Near vision: Imaging equipment may require technicians to review scans on a screen for accuracy and type in additional data. Both duties can require good vision.
- Control precision: Small changes in the angle of imaging equipment can provide a different view, and technicians must be precise in their movements.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Ultrasound Technicians
It's natural to want to know how much you can earn before enrolling in a degree program. So how much do ultrasound technicians make? We've included average ultrasound technician salary data below, but actual incomes can vary depending on a person's education, experience and certification.
The career outlook for this field can also vary by region and other factors. For instance, some employers may prefer to hire those who have earned an ultrasound technician certification.
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||71,130||$73,860||23.2%|
Professional Resources for Ultrasound Technicians
Sonographers play an important role in health care, and several organizations advocate for the profession. These groups offer a number of services from educational resources to certification programs. Here are three that are good to know:
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography - Founded in 1970, SDMS represents more than 28,000 sonographers as well as students, educators and other health care professionals. The organization compiles salary information and offers a number of other career resources.
- American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine - The AIUM has more than 9,000 members that include sonographers, physicians, students and other professionals who are committed to advancing the safe use of ultrasound technology.
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers - ARDMS is one of the main credentialing organizations for ultrasound technicians.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Accessed May 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
- Sonography, American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, Accessed May 2019, https://www.arrt.org/earn-arrt-credentials/credential-options/sonography
- Credentials, Cardiovascular Credentialing International, Accessed May 2019, http://www.cci-online.org/CCI/Credentials/CCI/Content/Credentials.aspx?hkey=8770022b-951e-4b38-aa50-c2920ea6a7d6
- Get Registered, American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Accessed May 2019, http://www.ardms.org/get-certified/Pages/default.aspx
- Ultrasound: Sonogram, American Pregnancy Association, Accessed May 2019, https://americanpregnancy.org/prenatal-testing/ultrasound/
- Sonography Licensure FAQs, American Society of Echocardiography, Accessed May 2019, https://www.asecho.org/sonographylicensurefaqs/
- Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, Accessed May 2019, https://www.caahep.org/Students/Program-Info/Diagnostic-Medical-Sonography.aspx
- Certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Rutgers, Accessed May 2019, https://shp.rutgers.edu/clinical-lab-and-imaging-sciences/certificate-diagnostic-medical-sonography/
- General Sonography, Jackson College, Accessed May 2019, https://www.jccmi.edu/degree/general-sonography-associate-in-applied-science/
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, O*Net Online, Accessed May 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2032.00