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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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