Nurses can study to become sonographers by completing certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree programs in diagnostic medical sonography. Although a nursing degree or certification is not required to become a sonographic or ultrasound technician, many sonography programs require a minimum of health care or nursing related education before enrolling. Candidates for the degree programs may need to have prerequisites such as certification as a nurse's aide or have completed advanced science or math courses, while those seeking a certificate will need an undergraduate degree.
The curriculum for associate's, bachelor's and postgraduate certificate programs in sonography typically involves laboratory clinical work, as well as classroom training. Certification in a specialty area of sonography, such as in the breast, abdomen, vascular, obstetric, or gynecological sonography is attainable through a professional sonography organization upon completion of a training program. A practicum may be required for graduation. As well, some courses and programs are available online.
Associate's Degree Programs in Sonography
Students looking for a career in sonography might consider an Associate of Applied Science degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. In this program, sonography technicians train to use advanced diagnostic imaging equipment. They take digital and ultrasonic images of the body, which allow doctors to detect disease and injury. Students can elect to concentrate in a particular area of sonography, such as abdominal, vascular, obstetric or gynecological.
Although each school has its own prerequisites, some associate's degree programs in sonography require students to have a minimum amount of college-level coursework, including physics, anatomy and mathematics, before applying. Some schools require students to have a nurse's aid certification.
Students in a sonography associate's degree program are introduced to equipment, terminology and contemporary practices and procedures in the industry. Classes take place in the laboratory and in the classroom. Course topics include:
- Abdominal sonography
- Vascular sonography
- Human anatomy
- Digital imaging protocol
Bachelor's Degree Programs in Sonography
A Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography degree gives students comprehensive background in the fundamental practices and principles of sonography. Students gain valuable hands-on experience in using state-of-the-art equipment and learn to interact with patients. Degree programs emphasize job skills, the evolution of sonography in the medical field and current policies and procedures. The goal of a bachelor's degree program is to prepare students for employment in the medical field as sonographic technicians.
Students wishing to pursue a bachelor's degree in sonography typically must complete coursework in anatomy, physiology, physics and mathematics before being accepted into the sonography program. These courses may be taken in the first two years of the bachelor's program.
Undergraduate courses in sonography include technical and theoretical concepts. Courses in health care policy and practice are also part of the curriculum. Courses include:
- OB/GYN sonography
- Breast sonography
- Physics and sonography
- Medical ethics
- Leadership in health care
Certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Certificate programs in diagnostic medical sonography are designed for students who have completed a degree in a health-related field, completed a radiography certificate program or who are licensed medical professionals, such as nurses or doctors. These programs may last up to one year and can be general or focus on a specialized area of sonography, such as vascular or cardiac sonography.
An associate's or bachelor's degree in biology or a related field is typically the minimum acceptable education for a sonography certificate program. Some schools will admit students who are concurrently completing a related degree program.
Program requirements range from 30-45 credit hours in both theoretical and laboratory coursework. A clinical practicum is completed near the end of the program. Courses include:
- Sectional anatomy
- Acoustical physics
- Pediatric sonography
- Abdominal sonography
- Foundations of sonography
For those currently in a health-related occupation, education and certification in sonography may provide opportunities for advancement. In addition, sonographers may choose to become certified in more than one type of sonography to improve job prospects.
Associate's degree graduates in sonography are often equipped for entry-level positions in the industry. Such positions might include:
- Obstetrics sonography technician
- Abdominal sonography technician
- Vascular sonography technician
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to a 2015 report by the U. S. Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS), diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median annual salary of $68,970 (www.bls.gov). The same BLS report attributed a projected 26% rise in employment opportunities for diagnostic medical sonographers between 2014-2024 to the aging of the population and advances in medical technology. The majority of diagnostic medical sonographers worked in hospitals.
Students may choose to continue their education at the bachelor's level. In addition to formal education, graduates may choose to obtain a professional credential in sonography from a certifying association such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). ARDMS grants qualified individuals the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential, which can be obtained in certain areas, such abdomen, breast or nervous system. Many credentialing organizations require sonographers to complete continuing education courses or a recertification exam for certification maintenance.
Students with some health care or nursing related education who wish be diagnostic medical sonographers can pursue associate or bachelor's degrees or a certificate program before seeking credentialing.