Echocardiographers most commonly receive their professional training through an associate degree program, though some certificate and diploma programs are also available. Students in these programs learn to capture images of the heart, note any abnormalities and document their findings for physicians. These programs take two years to complete and often include a hands-on training aspect to better understand the body. Graduates of these programs are prepared to take national registry and certification exams.
Associate of Applied Science in Cardiovascular Technology
Students studying cardiovascular technology gain an overview of invasive techniques, but can opt to focus on non-invasive procedures. They take foundational classes in electrophysiology, anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology. Echocardiography undergraduates also learn about:
- Heart and vascular abnormalities
- Pacemaker technology
- Doppler testing procedures
- Electrocardiograms and stress testing techniques
- Test results interpretation
Associate of Applied Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Within a diagnostic medical sonography program, students have the option to specialize in echocardiography. They learn about heart health and diseases and study different cardiac echo techniques, such as vascular sonography and transesophageal echocardiography. They also take classes in:
- Acoustical physics
- Sectional anatomy
- Medical vocabulary
- Cardiovascular principles
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS states that the employment for diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists is expected to grow 24% from 2014-2024, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations. The mean annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers as of May 2015 is $70,880, according to the BLS.
Licenses and Certifications
Most states in the U.S. do not require echocardiographers to be licensed. Instead, cardiac echo technologists often pursue professional credentialing through Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). While certifications are voluntary, they are typically required for employment. In order to qualify for CCI's Registered Cardiac Sonographer or ARDMS's Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer designation, applicants must meet minimum education requirements and pass each organization's exams. Continuing education requirements are needed to maintain certifications; recertification testing may also be required.
Workshops and Seminars
Medical organizations, such as the American Society of Echocardiography (www.asecho.org), often sponsor 4-5 day long scientific conferences. Attendees can participate in educational presentations, lectures and workshops, which may focus on topics from trends in treatment to heart and valve diseases. Shorter 1-2 day seminars are also offered throughout the year.
Echocardiographers can stay abreast of industry issues and gain helpful tips by looking to industry websites, which often feature articles and photo galleries. Additionally, echocardiography-related websites allow visitors to subscribe to virtual newsletters. Web-based discussion forums are also available in general echocardiography or may be specific to fetal, pediatric or adult echocardiography.
Cardiac echo training programs are offered through technical and community colleges, most often as 2-year degrees. Graduates are prepared for a number of careers and to earn professional certification, as well as continue their education through things like workshops and seminars.