Ultrasound Technician Career & Average Salary

Are you curious about a career as an ultrasound technician or as a diagnostic medical sonographer? Sonography, or ultrasonography, is a branch of diagnostic imaging that is used to diagnose medical conditions. While this technology often is associated with obstetrics, diagnostic imaging can aid in the diagnosis and treatment of many other types of medical problem.

Responsibilities of a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Diagnostic medical sonographers use special equipment to direct nonionizing high frequency sound waves into areas of the patient’s body. Sonographers operate the equipment, which collects reflected echoes and forms an image that may be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician. You must be able to explain the procedure to a patient and to record any medical history and subtle clues that contrast healthy areas with unhealthy ones in the patient’s body. You then decide whether the images are satisfactory for diagnostic purposes and select the ones to store and show to the physician. Sonographers take measurements, calculate values, and analyze the results in preliminary findings for the physicians.

You may also be asked to keep patient records and to adjust and maintain equipment, prepare work schedules, evaluate equipment purchases, or manage a sonography or diagnostic imaging department. Sonographers also may specialize in various departments, such as obstetrics, abdominal sonography, neurosonography or vascular and cardiac sonography.

Sonographers work in various environments such as hospitals, clinics and may travel as contract employees to several health care facilities. You may be on your feet for long periods of time and may have to lift or turn disabled patients, not to mention the many other day-to-day tasks of an ultrasound technician. The nature of this work can put sonographers at risk for musculoskeletal disorders such as carpel tunnel syndrome, neck and back strain, and eye strain: however, using ergonomic equipment and avoiding repetitive strenuous activities can minimize these risks.

Working Conditions and Salaries

Most sonographers work about forty hours per week, but you might expect to work rotation shifts or work at night or on some weekends. Sometimes, sonographers are on call, which means that you must be on hand to report to work on short notice. But, you may learn that the salaries are worth this effort.

Sonographers work in fairly comfortable conditions, primarily public or private hospitals and the offices of physicians. However, the physical nature of the work, which involves moving and operating heavy machinery, walking around to different parts of a facility, and assisting some patients onto and off of the scanning table, makes being an ultrasound tech a little more strenuous than your average desk job.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles loads of information about wages and employment in various sectors, and they have a whole category of statistics about diagnostic medical sonographers. According to the data they collected in May, 2008:

  • Median annual earnings of diagnostic medical sonographers were $61,980.
  • The middle fifty percent earned between $52,570 and $73,680 a year.
  • The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,600.
  • The highest 10 percent earned more than $83,950.

The graph below illustrates the above salary data so you can really visualize how much more money an ultrasound tech with better education, more experience, or a job in a high-demand region can earn.

Career Trajectory for Ultrasound Technicians

So now you know what it is like to be an ultrasound tech, and how much they earn. But how do they get there? There are several possible paths to an ultrasound tech career, all of which involve at least two years of school, and around a year of clinical experience. The degree you get will influence what type of further education you can pursue, and your career advancement opportunities, so it is a good idea to talk to someone who has the job you eventually want, and find out what path they took to get there. Below is a list of educational paths that can prepare you for a job as an ultrasound technician.

  • Combined Online and Campus Courses: Many schools offer medical assisting programs with ultrasonography classes built in that can be done partially online and partially on campus. This frees up some of your time, and can allow you to work part time while you’re enrolled. After finishing classes, you’ll want to get a full time internship in sonography, because clinical experience is a must-have for your resume.
  • On-Campus Associate’s Degree: An associate’s degree takes two years, and will usually be followed by one year of clinical experience, for a total of three years spent learning ultrasonography before you start looking for jobs. This might seem like a big time commitment, but the immersion you get from enrolling in a full-time college will pay off in the end by offering you better career advancement opportunities, and the ability to quickly finish off a bachelor’s degree in the future, should you so choose.
  • On-Campus Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree is a fantastic credential for an aspiring ultrasound technician or sonographer. A four year degree shows that you are committed and have spent some serious time learning the skills you need to excel in sonography. You’ll still have to gain clinical experience, but can probably do it concurrently with your schooling, so that four years is the total time you’ll spend on education before getting a paid job. After that, your advancement opportunities should be strong.

What is Clinical Experience and How do I Get It?

For most medical or allied health professions, students are required to spend some time in a health facility during their education, so that they understand the actual nature of daily work in their industry. For ultrasound technicians, this means working alongside professional ultrasound techs in a hospital or physician’s office. You will likely do all the work that a professional ultrasound tech does, but you may or may not be paid, depending on the internship policy of the facility you intern at. Some daily requirements of professional ultrasound techs that you will experience as an intern include:

  • Taking sonograms (ultrasound images) and determining whether they are high enough quality for a physician to make a diagnosis based on them.
  • Preparing patients to have their sonogram taken by explaining the process and helping them get situated on the exam table.
  • Maintain patient files, including records of various exams and procedures they’ve undergone, and records of doctor’s recommendations, prescriptions, and other treatment administered.
  • General procedural activities, such as taking patients’ blood pressures, weighing patients, and administering general health questionnaires.

Any school worth attending will offer some kind of service to help you find an internship or clinical volunteering opportunity, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strike out on your own and try to find one you’re really excited about. Approach the hospitals and doctor’s offices in your area and see whether they have any opportunities for ultrasound tech students who need to fulfill their practical requirement.

Getting Down to Business

A big part of the journey towards any fulfilling career is getting started on the right foot. Use the widget in this article, or the other resources on this site, to explore schools and programs that may fulfill your needs. Once you’ve enrolled at an accredited school you’ll be exposed to a wealth of new resources to make sure that your education is leading you towards a well-paid career as an ultrasound technician.

Top Online Health Services Programs

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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