Ultrasound Technician School Explanation & Rankings
Becoming an ultrasound technician usually involves pursuing a more general field in college, and taking classes and internships to move your emphasis toward diagnostic medical sonography. Schools do not offer bachelor’s degrees in “ultrasound technology,” but they do offer degrees in medical assisting in which you can learn the basics of ultrasound scanning and patient relations that you will use in an ultrasound tech career.
Additionally, there are several niche careers in diagnostic medical sonography that go by similar names, so if you’re interested in the field, you need to know what a sonographer does, versus what an ultrasound tech, radiology tech, or radiologist does. The medical imaging realm is littered with redundancies in job titles and functions, and having it all explained once can help you sort through your options for schooling and eventual employment.
Terminology in the Field of Diagnostic Medical Imaging
An ultrasound technician is not the same as an ultrasound technologist. A radiographer and a radiologist are completely different. The terminology in medical imaging can be overwhelming. The following list attempts to clarify blurry terms and help you know what you’re getting into when you work towards being an ultrasound technician.
- Medical Sonography: The process of taking pictures of bones, internal organs, fetuses, or other tissues using high frequency sound waves as the medium for generating images. The term ultrasonography can be used interchangeably with sonography.
- Ultrasound: A sonographic technology often used to capture images of babies still in the womb, and internal organs and soft tissues, for diagnostic and development tracking purposes.
- Ultrasound Technician: Someone who operates ultrasound machinery. There are different levels of ultrasound technician, which can be confusing. Some ultrasound techs only operate the machinery, and have no authority to analyze the images they produce, or make diagnoses based on them. Some ultrasound techs not only take images, but examine and explain them to the patient. Which type of ultrasound tech you can become depends on your schooling and experience. Someone with a degree in medical imaging can have much more freedom and responsibility in an ultrasound tech role than someone who is trained as a medical assistant, with some ultrasound practice.
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: This is a broad term with disputed definitions. Some sources say that diagnostic medical sonographer is a more educated position, with more responsibility, than ultrasound technician. Some sources use the terms interchangeably. Ultimately, the position you are prepared for depends on the school you go to, so finding out how your potential colleges use the terminology, and what careers their programs will prepare you for, is the only way to be absolutely certain.
- Allied Health Professions: If you’re searching the internet for info about being an ultrasound tech, you’ll come across the term “allied health” a lot. It means, generally, health related professions that are not medicine, dentistry, or nursing. Ultrasound technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers are allied health professionals. Some schools offer Associate of Science or Bachelor of Science degrees in allied health science. Within these degree programs, students can choose to emphasize ultrasonography to prepare for a career as an ultrasound technician.
- Radiography and Radiology: Radiography is the use of radiation, such as x-rays or positron emission, to generate images of bone and other tissue within a human body non-invasively. Though x-rays and ultrasounds are used for similar purposes, and have slightly similar appearances, they are completely different, and there is little to no overlap in the required training to become an ultrasound tech versus an x-ray tech. Radiology is the science and application of radiation to medical diagnosis and treatment, whereas radiography is restricted to the operation of radiation based image capturing equipment. A radiologist requires significantly more education and training than a radiographer.
An important thing to remember is that Ultrasound Technician School is not a thing unto itself. There are ultrasound technician classes, and medical sonography classes, within other fields, but there are no schools dedicated only to training ultrasound technicians. If you want to be an ultrasound technician, pick a school that offers that as a specialty, and choose your main degree based on what kind of career flexibility or further education opportunities you want in the future.
College Rankings and How To Use Them
A lot of people pay serious attention to popular rankings or “best colleges” lists when they’re trying to pick a school. While rankings and lists do offer some valid comparisons between colleges, they shouldn’t make your decision for you, because it is likely that the people releasing the rankings don’t have your particular values or needs in mind when they construct their lists. If you know what kind of info is used to build a particular college list, you know how much weight to assign it in your own decision process. Some of the data used by popular lists of “best colleges” include:
- Graduation Rates and Retention Rates: The number of students who graduate, or re-enroll from year to year.
- Financial Aid: The amount of financial aid received by students, on average, can be a strong motivator for new students to enroll at a given college.
- Employment After Graduation: It says a lot about a school if all of its graduates go on to lucrative careers within a year of graduation.
- Diversity: A school’s student body can be an indicator of its appeal and efficacy. Socio-economic and racial diversity can strengthen a school’s social and educational bandwidth.
Looking into a school’s rankings can be a good place to start exploring colleges, but definitely shouldn’t be where you finish. For a niche concentration like ultrasound technology, it is best to talk to some successful professionals in the field, and ask where they were educated. Major employers of ultrasound technicians should have some idea of which schools turn out the most qualified graduates.If your school isn’t included in rankings or “best of” lists, you can always do your own research. The chart below depicts average retention rates of public and private colleges and universities in the U.S., and if you ask someone at your college of choice, they might be able to tell you more specific data about their own institution.
The Rise in Ultrasound Popularity, and What it Means for Jobs
Ultrasound is rising in popularity as an imaging technique in medical facilities because of its significantly lower risk factors than radiographic technologies like x-ray. While the most publicly visible application of ultrasound is in obstetrics, where it is used to see unborn babies in the womb, to track their growth and diagnose abnormalities, there are many other applications of ultrasound technology which require specialized training and education. The four main uses of ultrasound technology for diagnostic imaging are:
- Obstetrics and Gynecology: Getting images of fetuses to track their growth and diagnose abnormalities is the main purpose of this specialty within ultrasonography.
- Abdominal Imaging: Soft tissues, such as organs and elements of the circulatory system, can be scanned with an ultrasound to detect tumors and other abnormalities. Abdominal sonographers take images of organs within the abdominal cavity, except for the heart, which is left to heart specialists.
- Neurosonography: The brain and nervous system can be imaged with special ultrasound equipment, and the images used to diagnose disorders with physical manifestations.
- Breast Sonography: Ultrasounds can be useful for detecting cancer and other abnormalities in the breasts. Specialized knowledge and training is required for ultrasound techs in this field.
The combination of ultrasound technology’s increasing popularity and robust growth across the medical industry in general bodes well for ultrasound technician jobs. Over 9,000 new jobs in the field are expected to be created over the next half decade.
So Which One is For You?
Allied health careers are many and diverse, so do a little research before committing, and if what you really want is to be a doctor or dentist, but you don’t think you can afford it, think again! Becoming an ultrasound technician can be a great career, but make sure that, among the diverse options, it really is the one you want to pursue. Once you’ve decided, use the widget in this article to get connected with a school that can help you on your way toward a career as an ultrasound tech.