Careers an Ultrasound Tech Can Pursue

Being an ultrasound technician is a career unto itself, but many ultrasound technicians are also medical assistants with other duties besides operating ultrasound machinery. There are also various uses of ultrasound machinery that ultrasound technicians may choose to gain expertise in. Ultrasound technicians, also called diagnostic medical sonographers, can provide either diagnostic or treatment services, depending on the field of sonography they specialize in. Possible specialties include:

  • Obstetric and Gynecologic Sonography: Technicians in this specialty will work with pregnant mothers, taking ultrasounds of fetuses to track their development, diagnose abnormalities, and determine the sex of babies still in the womb.
  • Abdominal Sonography: Diagnosis, and sometimes treatment, of diseases of the internal organs is the main goal of abdominal sonographers. The kidneys, liver, spleen, and other internal organs can be imaged using ultrasound, and certain types of blockages and tumors can even be dissolved, or at least made easier to treat with medicine, with focused high-frequency sound waves.
  • Neurosonography: The brain can be imaged using sonography, even in babies that have not yet been born, and the images can be used to diagnose abnormalities that may cause problems later on.
  • Breast Sonography: Breast sonographers primarily try to detect breast cancer, though other maladies of the breasts can be detected and possibly treated using ultrasound technology.

The different specialties within diagnostic sonography require different types of equipment, and different anatomical and medical knowledge, so choosing a specialty before you head to school can help you develop niche expertise which will get you a better job after graduation.

The Difference Between Radiology and Sonography

Both radiology and sonography are used for medical diagnosis and treatment, but a radiologist and an ultrasound technician are not the same thing, and being trained in one field will not qualify you to work in the other. Below are brief descriptions to help you tell the difference between radiology and sonography, and decide which appeals more to you.

  • Ultrasound Technicians, or Diagnostic Medical Sonographers use sound wave based technology to produce images and stimulate tissue for diagnostic and treatment purposes. Diagnostic ultrasound machines emit high frequency sounds in excess of 20 kilohertz, then gather the reflected echo of the sounds and translate it into visual imagery. Ultrasounds being used for treatment use focused “beams” of high frequency sound to agitate areas of soft tissue, which can break up tumors or buildup in organs or arteries. Ultrasound technology is growing in popularity for imaging use because it carries low risk compared to radiological imaging tools such as x-ray.
  • Radiologists and Radiology Technicians use machines like x-ray and positron emission tomogoraphy (PET scans) to capture images, usually of hard tissue like bone, or foreign objects that have become lodged in a person’s body. Radiological techniques are also used for treating maladies, especially cancer, but the risk associated with any type of radiation exposure makes sonography a safer way to meet many medical imaging needs. High energy beams of radiation, and even injectable radioactive materials, are also used for medical treatment, but most radiology technician positions are more concerned with imaging than treatment.

Ultrasound Tech Employment Settings

Though the majority of ultrasound technicians are employed in hospitals, there are also ample job opportunities in private clinics and smaller family practices. The U.S. government expects significant growth in the diagnostic sonography job market in the next several years, so it is likely that jobs will be increasingly available in both public hospitals and private firms in the near future.

With an increase in jobs in the field, there may also come an increase in the need for qualified teachers of ultrasound sonography. If you already have experience in the field, and are interested in teaching instead of, or in addition to, practicing, going back to school for an education certificate may be in your interests.

Career Trajectory for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Diagnostic medical sonography is a burgeoning field in the medical support industry, but it is not a stepping stone towards becoming a doctor. If you are interested in becoming a physician, surgeon, or other high level, highly paid medical professional, you will need a decade or more of postsecondary education, including a bachelor’s degree, several years of medical school, and a residency. If you are interested in the supporting role of a diagnostic sonographer, your education and career trajectory might go something like this:

  1. Study for one to two years at an accredited college or vocational program to learn medical assistantship or diagnostic sonography.
  2. Get hired into an entry level ultrasound tech position at a big public hospital. Your hours might not be the greatest at this job, but the experience will be worth it, and will help you decide whether ultrasound technician is a good job for you to hold in the long term.
  3. Move up the chain of command into a supervisory or administrative role. In a setting with many ultrasound techs, some managerial roles are bound to exist, and if you stay in the same facility for a few roles, you could get a pay and responsibility upgrade.
  4. If you are interested in getting more education or changing specialties, your employer might help you pay for continuing education. If not, you can go back to school with the knowledge that jobs for those with ultrasound expertise are likely to keep growing, and if you’ve got specialized knowledge when you get back out of school, you can probably secure employment.

The table below indicates the industrial settings with highest employment ratings for diagnostic medical sonographers.

Careers Related to Medical Sonography

Medical machine repair and maintenance is another burgeoning career possibility that deals with the functionality of the equipment itself, rather than its application to medical purposes. Medical machine repairers work on all sorts of contraptions, from ultrasound machines to CAT scanners, MRI machines, and x-ray equipment.

Jobs in the medical machine repair industry will grow much faster than most industries according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, so if you are technically minded, with a strong aptitude for engineering, circuitry, and mechanical systems, then pursuing this career could prove lucrative. If you like working with heavy duty medical equipment, but interacting with patients and filling out medical paperwork isn’t your thing, medical machine repair is a career option to look at.

Licensure, Certification, and Other Credentials for Sonographers

While there are no legal requirements for sonographer credentialing in the United States, employers are much more likely to hire candidates with a degree, certificate, or other proof that they have training and experience as an ultrasound technician. A degree or certificate from a 1-4 year program can serve as a testament to your skills and commitment, but even if you can prove you’re educated, getting registered with the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) will go a long way toward getting you a job. The combination of a certificate or degree and ARDMS registry is the best endorsement an ultrasound tech can have.

Wages and Benefits for Ultrasound Technicians

Diagnostic medical sonographers earn between $43,000-$80,000 annually, and usually work a standard, 40-hour week, although some night and weekend work may be required for technicians working at a facility that is always open, such as a hospital’s emergency room. Wages are slightly higher, on average, for ultrasound techs in private doctors’ offices than public hospitals, but both settings offer a median wage that is well above the national median wage across all professions.

A peripheral benefit to working as an ultrasound technician is career mobility. Anywhere that has a hospital or doctor’s office needs at least one ultrasound technician, and probably more. California had the most jobs for ultrasound techs as of 2008, but jobs are available and growing in the field all over the U.S., especially in metropolitan areas with dense populations and many medical facilities. Being able to choose where you work, and pick up and move to another place if you so desire, is a perk that should not be undervalued.

Now, Get To It!

Now you know the basics of how to start and succeed in a career as an ultrasound technician. You know that a degree isn’t absolutely required, but it will definitely help you get a job, and you know that the pay and career mobility afforded to ultrasound technicians is well worth the time and expense of getting educated. To get started toward your own career as an ultrasound technician, explore some of the links to top accredited online schools for diagnostic medical sonographers listed below to find a program that is right for you.

Top Online Health Services Programs

Herzing University
AS in Medical Assisting
Herzing University — With a 45 year history, Herzing University is an accredited university that offers associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees as well as diplomas in over 45 different programs. The AS in Medical Assisting program builds on the online diploma program by incorporating the general education requirements required for this level of degree. Herzing University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
DeVry University
AS in Health IT
DeVry University — For over 80 years, DeVry University has focused on relevant areas of study, offering associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs and specializations that cover 34 different career fields. Earn your associate degree in Health Information Technology from DeVry University, and prepare to be an HIT leader in contemporary hospitals, physicians' offices, medical clinics, and more. DeVry University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Adventist University of Health Sciences
BS in Radiologic Sciences
Adventist University of Health Sciences — Founded in 1992, the Adventist University of Health Sciences is formerly the Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences, a school focused on privding higher education in the several fields of healthcare. The BS in Health Information Technology program prepares students to become radiologic technicians. Adventist University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Pima Medical Institute
BS in Radiologic Sciences
AOS in Radiography
Pima Medical Institute — Pima Medical Institute, founded in 1972, is a private, regionally accredited career university offering certificates, associate, and bachelor's degrees for careers in the healthcare industry. The BS in Radiologic Sciences program prepares students to perform the duties and responsibilies of a radiologists. Pima is accredited by organizations in several fields of healthcare including the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology

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