Ultrasound technicians, also called diagnostic medical sonographers or just sonographers, operate equipment that utilizes sound waves to create images of the body's internal structures. Ultrasound is commonly used in obstetrics, but it can also diagnose other medical conditions. Most ultrasound technicians train through associate's degree programs, although bachelor's degree and certificate programs are also available. Employers often prefer to hire ultrasound technicians who hold professional certification, which is available in various specialty areas.
Ultrasound technicians perform duties that produce results similar to other diagnostic imaging fields, including X-ray technology and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). The difference is that sonography uses reflected sound waves to create an image of the inside of a patient's body. Ultrasound is commonly used during pregnancy to view a fetus.
Ultrasound technicians are trained to operate ultrasound equipment and to look for abnormal problem areas in an image. They must ensure that the image is clear enough for the doctor and other medical staff to make an accurate diagnosis. Also, the ultrasound technician may be required to obtain measurements, perform calculations and evaluate the results.
Training to become an ultrasound technician can be done through a formal education program or through military training. The most common training is an associate's degree program, although there are bachelor's degree and 1-year certificate programs available. These programs can be found at community colleges, technical/vocation schools, and some universities. Coursework typically includes human anatomy, ultrasound equipment, pathophysiology, and obstetrics. In addition, students must complete clinical education, which is a requirement of the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) for anyone wishing to take the registration examination for certification.
A few states require certification as part of their licensure process for ultrasound technicians. In general, though, certification in this field is voluntary. Certification can provide ultrasound technicians with a professional assessment of their skills that employers typically prefer. Registration or certification as a diagnostic medical sonographer can be obtained by passing an ARDMS certification exam. The ARDMS offers certification in various areas of specialty, including breast, abdomen and vascular sonography. Certified sonographers must participate in continuing education to maintain their certification.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for for diagnostic medical sonographers, were projected to increase by 26% between 2014 and 2024. In part, this growth was attributed to the less invasive nature of ultrasound as well as its lower cost compared to other procedures. The BLS also noted that the mean annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers was $70,880 as of May 2015.
In summary, an ultrasound technician typically needs an associate's degree and voluntary registration or certification to gain the best chances in this field.