Day to Day Responsibilities of an Ultrasound Tech

An ultrasound technician is a medical assistant or diagnostic sonography professional who maintains and operates ultrasound machinery in a hospital, doctor’s office, or health clinic. Ultrasound machines are used for both diagnostic and treatment of various medical conditions, as well as for preventive treatment. The main duty of an ultrasound tech is to make the physician or radiologist’s job easier by doing preparatory work or capturing images before the doctor comes in to see a patient. Ultrasound technician is a general term for someone working in the field of diagnostic medical sonography, which includes any use of sound wave-based imaging technology in a medical context.

Some of the main tasks you’ll be expected to do in most ultrasound tech employment situations are:

  • Patient Preparation: Escorting patients into the treatment room, describing the process of “taking an ultrasound,” taking images, and calling the doctor in when the preparations are finished.
  • Results Analysis: Determining whether the image is of usable quality, and taking more if not. Summarizing the number, type, and content of images that have been taken, and keeping a record of the information for the doctor or radiologist.
  • Equipment Operations and Maintenance: Preparing the ultrasound machine for each use, and cleaning and recalibrating it afterward. A professional technician will be needed to fix actual problems within the machine, but ultrasound techs do routine maintenance to assure that the machine is functioning properly and ready to use when a patient arrives.
  • Record Keeping: Write down the details of each patient’s visit, from the type of images taken to their content and the diagnosis or treatment that was suggested or given. Many doctor’s offices have specific employees to keep records and do other paperwork, but an ultrasound technician’s job inevitably involves some writing and paper pushing.

Though ultrasound technicians work in comfortable offices or clinics, they may need to spend long hours on their feet, operating ultrasound machinery, greeting patients, and fetching the radiologist or other resident physician to make interpretations and diagnoses.

What are Ultrasounds Used For?

Ultrasound machines project high-frequency (above 20 kilohertz) sounds and gather information from the echo or reflection of the sounds, which can be translated into visual information on a screen, like a very high resolution sonar. The high-frequency sound waves can also have a material effect on soft tissue. Ultrasound machinery can be used for both diagnostic and treatment purposes, including:

  • Obstetric Imaging: Generating images of babies inside the mother’s womb, for the purpose of tracking development, diagnosing prenatal problems, and determining the baby’s sex.
  • Soft-tissue Analysis: Images of the liver, kidneys, other organs, muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be generated using ultrasound, for the purpose of visualizing tumors or other abnormalities, and diagnosing diseases in the soft tissues.
  • Therapeutic Treatment: Soft tissues can be agitated and even pulverized by targeted ultrasound projections. This type of treatment can be used to break up blockages in blood vessels or other harmful buildup, and has even been used to break apart cancerous tumors. The efficacy of this application of ultrasound technology is disputed, but still frequently used.
  • Dental Treatment: Varying intensities of ultrasound can be used for cleaning teeth and even stimulating tooth and bone regrowth.

Ultrasound technicians usually work in clinics that specialize in a particular type of treatment, and different types of machinery are required for the applications of ultrasound listed above, so as an ultrasound tech, you will likely become an expert in one, but not all, of the above processes.

Taking an Ultrasound: Step by Step

Obstetric diagnostic sonography is a common field for ultrasound technicians to get a career in, and the main responsibility in the job is taking ultrasounds of fetuses at various stages of development. The steps involved in this process can be quite repetitive, so only people who can get enjoyment from doing repetitive processes efficiently should get into this field. When taking an obstetric ultrasound you will need to:

  1. Greet the patient, and usher them into a private room where they will likely need to change into a special gown that allows their belly to be exposed and protects their clothes from the ultrasound jelly.
  2. Double check that the ultrasound machine is properly calibrated and ready for use.
  3. Apply conductive jelly to the expectant mother’s belly, which allows the ultrasound wand, or transducer, to pick up a clearer image, as well as letting it glide smoothly over her skin.
  4. Move the transducer over the mother’s belly, covering all regions so that a complete image of the fetus appears on the screen.
  5. Analyze the image. In many cases, this means identifying the sex of the baby, and generally determining whether the fetus is developing normally, based on the week of pregnancy.

If you like interacting with patients and are comfortable with the process above, becoming an obstetric ultrasound technician could be a rewarding career for you.Hospitals hire many obstetric sonographers, but other facilities need them as well, as is the case with most specialties in sonography. The chart below breaks down the industries with the highest employment rates for sonographers by raw job numbers from The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Other Specialties in Diagnostic Sonography

If obstetric imaging doesn’t interest you, there are several other distinct specialties within diagnostic sonography that you can pursue. Where obstetric/gynecologic sonography is primarily used for tracking and diagnostic purposes, other specialties are much more closely related to detection and treatment of diseases. Other common specialties within diagnostic sonography include:

  • Abdominal Sonographers use ultrasound to take images of internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, pancreas, and male reproductive parts. Both diagnosis and treatment of cancers and calculus buildup in these areas can be done using focused ultrasound technology.
  • Neurosonographers focus on the brain and nervous system, and are mainly involved in diagnosis of neural abnormalities. Different types of machinery that produce different wavelengths of sound are used for neurosonography than in other types of sonography.
  • Breast Sonographers mostly aid in diagnosis and tracking of breast cancer, although other diseases of the breasts can also be detected and possibly treated using ultrasound. Specific machinery exists solely for breast sonography as well.

All of the above specialties of medical diagnostic sonography require strong technical knowledge and medical and anatomical training, although the requirements for becoming a neurosonographer may be more rigorous than those to work in another specialty.

Credentials for Ultrasound Technicians

There is no specific degree that qualifies someone to be an ultrasound tech, and no legal requirement for licensure, but there are accredited certifying organizations, and many employers prefer registered sonographers or those with training from a recognized institution.

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography is a widely recognized credentialing body that gives any sonographer legitimacy and a leg up in the job market. Registered sonographers are preferred in most settings, especially those with training or work experience in a specific field of diagnostic medical sonography.

A degree from an accredited college or university is also a strong credential for any sonographer. Most programs that prepare students for careers in sonography last two years, and incorporate basic math and physics along with anatomy and physiology, health, and medical ethics courses. These programs can pave the way to many auxiliary roles in the medical establishment, from diagnostic sonography to medical assistantship or even nursing, with additional training.

Becoming an Ultrasound Technician

Though it is possible to start a career as an ultrasound technician by getting on-the-job training at a medical facility, your best bet is to go to school first. Anything from a one year vocational training program to a four year degree can help you become an ultrasound tech, and the amount of education you get may determine your future career options. If you want to move on from sonography eventually, into a role as a nurse or even a doctor, you should plan your education accordingly. If becoming an ultrasound tech is your primary career goal, a shorter program, combined with good references and experience, wil get you the job you desire.

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, both medical assistant and ultrasound technician job opportunities are likely to rise in the next decade, and those with the best training will have broader choices about where they work, what hours they work, and how much money they earn. The medical field is growing rapidly, and becoming an ultrasound tech can help you get your foot in the door and give yourself room to grow, both personally and career-wise, in the industry.

To check out ultrasound sonography and medical assistant programs at top accredited online schools, click the links below, or look around this site for more information about this career path.

Top Online Health Services Programs

There are multiple educational paths that students can take to become an ultrasound technician or diagnostic medical sonographer. The schools below do not offer ultrasound-specific training, but they do offer medical assisting and other healthcare programs that are closely related. You can request information by clicking on any of the links below.

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.

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