How to Become an Ultrasound Technician: The Ultimate Guide

Ultrasound, also known as sonography, ultrasonography or diagnostic medical sonography (DMS), is becoming an attractive alternative to radiologic procedures, because it does not involve radiation. A person who wants to work in this field has plenty of reasons to choose this career. Hands-on technology, patient, staff and medical personnel interaction, and a short training period are all points included in those reasons. But, what does it take to become an ultrasound technician? The following information about jobs, salaries and skills required might answer that question for you.

Ultrasound Technician Jobs

If you want to work in a hospital, you’ll have a good chance for that career goal as an ultrasound technician. Major employers of sonographers include general medical and surgical hospitals, followed by physicians’ offices and medical and diagnostic laboratories. These jobs are available in just about every city across the United States, even in rural areas in all states. That said, the state that employs the most ultrasound techs is Florida, followed by Connecticut and New Jersey.

The type of sonography work also is diverse, with specialties that include OB/GYN ultrasound tech, neurosonography, abdominal ultrasound techs, breast ultrasound techs and echocardiographers. On a daily basis, the ultrasound tech may encounter a variety of tasks.

Patient interaction includes preparation for the tests, and the ability to analyze results of those tests. Ultrasound technologists also maintain equipment and they may be involved with administrative work. Sonographers begin by explaining the procedure to the patient and recording any medical history that may be relevant to the condition being viewed.

They then select appropriate equipment settings and direct the patient to move into positions that will provide the best view. To perform the exam, sonographers use a transducer, which transmits sound waves in a cone-shaped or rectangle-shaped beam. Although techniques vary by the area being examined, sonographers usually spread a special gel on the skin to aid the transmission of sound waves.

Sonographers usually work at diagnostic imaging machines in darkened rooms, but they also may perform procedures at patients’ bedsides in a variety of settings. Sonographers may be on their feet for long periods of time and may have to lift or turn disabled patients. Some sonographers may work as contracted employees, traveling to a variety of facilities within a given area. But, most ultrasound technicians work the average 40-hour week, although some individuals in this career may take on-call work or work overtime.

Sonographers can seek advancement by obtaining competency in more than one specialty. For example, obstetric sonographers might seek training in abdominal sonography to broaden their opportunities and increase their marketability. Sonographers also may seek multiple credentials — for example, being both a registered diagnostic medical sonographer and a registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer. Sonographers also may advance in their careers by taking supervisory, managerial, or administrative positions.

Health Care Administration Salaries

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, ultrasound technicians held about 50,300 jobs in 2008. Job opportunities should be favorable. In addition to job openings from growth, some openings will arise from the need to replace sonographers who retire or leave the occupation permanently. However, job opportunities will vary by geographic area. Sonographers willing to relocate will have the best job opportunities. Sonographers with multiple specialties or multiple credentials also will have good prospects.

Additionally, the median annual wage of diagnostic medical sonographers was $61,980 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent of sonographers earned wages between $52,570 and $73,680 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $83,950. Median annual wages of diagnostic medical sonographers in May 2008 were $62,340 in offices of physicians and $61,870 in general medical and surgical hospitals.

How to Prepare for an Ultrasound Technician Job

If you want to become an ultrasound technician, you have multiple ways to enter this career. You can attend school, with formal training in sonography along with hands-on training at a hospital, vocational-technical institution, college or university. Some training programs prefer applicants who have experience in other healthcare professions (such as nursing) or high school graduates who excel in math, health and science courses.

You might wonder how long it takes to become an ultrasound technician. Colleges and universities offer formal training in both 2-year and 4-year programs, resulting in either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in subjects such as:

Coursework includes classes in anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care, and medical ethics.

In 2008, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredited over 150 training programs. Accredited programs are offered by colleges and universities. Some hospital programs are accredited as well, and some programs may offer scholarships.

Though certification is not a legal requirement, you pretty much have to be certified or have some type of accredited credential to be taken seriously as a job applicant. No high caliber medical facility will hire an ultrasound tech who hasn’t proven their mettle by passing a certification test.

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) certifies each person who passes the exam as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). This credential can be obtained for several different specialty areas like the abdomen, breast, or nervous system. The ARDMS also credentials cardiac and vascular sonographers. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologist offers credentials in breast and vascular sonography. The Cardiovascular Credentialing International credentials cardiac sonographers.

Ultrasound technicians have a variety of paths that they can take to get to their jobs. Many ultrasound techs become medical assistants or physician’s assistance, and pursue special training for ultrasonography, but very few techs get an actual bachelor’s degree in sonography. The table below shows the number of baccalaureate degrees versus subbaccalaureate degrees issued in various fields. Ultrasonography was not even included on the chart for subbaccalaureate degrees, because the entire category of ultrasonography is mostly encompassed by medical and physician’s assistants.

Preliminary Steps to Test Your Commitment to Sonography

Since going to school to become a sonographer, or anything else, really, is such a huge financial and time commitment, it can be wise to test out your real interest in the field before you enroll. Research hospitals and clinics in your area and see whether you can shadow an ultrasound tech for a shift, to get a feel of what the day to day grind is like. You may not actually be able to interact with patients because of privacy laws, but spending time on the hospital floor with someone who has the job you aspire to can give you a visceral feeling for the workings of the job, and give you the extra boost of enthusiasm you need to apply to school and start your journey.

Additionally, reading about the profession can give you a clearer picture about what exactly you’ll do each day when you’re hired. A pair of websites with comprehensive descriptions of the daily duties of ultrasound techs are:

Once you’ve done all that and you’re ready to commit to a long haul of education with a rewarding and lucrative sonography career at the end, use the widget embedded in this article to find a school with the type of program you’re interested in, and ask for more information about how to apply and get started.

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