So you’ve completed an ultrasound program and your preceptorship/externship – or perhaps you are still in the process, and by now you’ve been told a million times how important it is to become a “Registered” Sonographer. Now you’re wondering, “Where do I begin?” or “Why do I need to become Registered? Isn’t the certificate/degree I completed enough?”.
For starters, what does it mean to be a “registered” sonographer? Being registered means that you have met certain criteria, passed registration exams, and hold a credential in the field of sonography. It also means that in order to maintain your credential, you adhere to certain guidelines and obtain Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits to stay up to date with the latest in research, clinical findings, and technology in your field. You can be employed and practicing in the field of sonography without being registered as long as you have the proper education and training. However, with the changing climate of our economy, holding a credential in the field of sonography is becoming more of a requirement than an option.
The main, and probably most important reason you need to become a registered sonographer, is so you can find employment as a sonographer. Though it is true most States do not require a sonographer to be registered in order to work, most employers will not hire a sonographer without their registry. One of the reasons for this is that Medicare is currently cutting back on reimbursements for diagnostic testing. In other words, Medicare may not pay for a patient’s sonogram if the lab where the patient had their test is not accredited. In order for an ultrasound lab to become accredited, one of the many criteria is that certain members of the staff be registered sonographers. Although an ultrasound lab may not need to have all of their sonograpers credentialed in order to become accredited, most labs hiring new staff require sonographers to be credentialed just so that all of their bases are covered. In fact, New Mexico has already passed a bill that requires that all sonographers must be registered in order to work in the field. Many other States are currently working on passing similar legislation.
So where who do you go to to obtain your registry? There are three different credentialing bodies that credential sonographers including the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), and the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). All are reputable organizations and offer national certifications. All require the sonographer to sit for an exam – or two, and each have their own set of prerequisites. The one you choose depends on your personal career path and prerequisites that you meet.
Most sonographers are credentialed by the ARDMS due to the fact that they offer registry certifications in all specialties of sonography and can be very specific. For example, I am a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) with my concentration being in Adult Echocardiography(RDCS-AE). A sonographer who wishes to specialize in Obstetrics ans Gynecological Sonography would obtain the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer credential with their specialty being in OBGYN (RDMS-OBGYN). Once you obtain one registry with the ARDMS, you may sit for an exam to become credentialed in another specialty as long as you can show that you have been trained in that additional specialty. Visit the ARDMS website for more information on the prerequisites and certifications that they offer.
ARRT offers certifications in Sonography, Vascular Sonography, and Breast Sonography. Getting credentialed through ARRT may be a good option if you have experience in or plan to broaden your career into other imaging modalities such as X-Ray or CT technology.
CCI credentials sonographers in cardiology and vascular specialties. CCI also offers certifications for cardiographic technicians as well as other cardiology related certifications.
As long as you meet all the prerequisites for the credential you would like to obtain, it is advisable that you start preparing for an sit for the exam as soon as possible. It is much easier to study material that you have just learned while in school, than have to go back and re-learn it later for the exams. All of the credentialing websites provide outlines of the content of their exams. There are many review courses to help you prepare that are available throughout the year and some that are available via webinar online. Below are some helpful websites that offer review courses and materials to help you on your road to becoming a registered sonographer: