Using sound waves, diagnostic medical sonography produces images used to identify and evaluate certain medical conditions. Programs usually lead to an associate's or bachelor's degree, although some schools also offer distance-learning certificate options. Many distance-learning degree programs pair online courses with on-site clinical training, though fully online bachelor's programs are available.
Programs focus on the technical skills needed to perform imaging tests on patients safely and accurately. Students also complete training in order to prepare for professional certification exams from organizations like the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).
The common accreditation body for sonography degrees is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), which as of 2016 accredits over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs in the field (www.caahep.org). Though many schools offer distance learning or hybrid options in diagnostic medical sonography, only a handful have accreditation from this agency.
CAAHEP has accredited the distance-learning program of only one school that offers associate degrees in this field. However, the organization has awarded accreditation to the online undergraduate certificate programs available at an additional university.
An associate's program is foundational for a bachelor's program, although graduates are also qualified for entry-level employment once they are certified. In addition to completing general education core requirements, students learn to perform gynecologic, obstetric, abdominal and small parts sonography. Upon completion, graduates are eligible to take specialty credentialing exams in obstetrics and gynecology as well as abdominal sonography.
Associate of Applied Science Degrees
Three areas of study are available through distance learning A.A.S. in Sonography programs. Required courses include medical terminology and introductory courses in computer systems, health occupations, diagnostic imaging and sonographic instruments.
General Sonography (GSON-AAS)
This program focuses on obstetrics and gynecology as well as superficial structures and the abdomen. However, all aspects of sonography are introduced and reviewed to help students prepare for the ARDMS board examinations.
Vascular Sonography (VSON-AAS)
To perform vascular sonography, a variety of monitoring, diagnostic and ancillary equipment must be mastered. Techniques include Doppler imaging, duplex sonography and segmental pressures. The skills needed for certification are covered in this program.
Cardiac Sonography (CSON-AAS)
To perform echocardiography, a sonographer needs to know anatomy and physiology of the heart, dynamics of blood circulation and cardiovascular system pathophysiology. Students learn these topics along with Doppler, 2-D and M-Mode imaging.
There is only one school offering CAAHEP-accredited online bachelor's degrees in this field as of July 2014. These programs are either in general sonography or allow students to complete a specialization in areas like cardiac or vascular sonography. A number of four-year universities also offer online degree completion programs designed for students who already have an associate's degree in diagnostic medical sonography.
Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
This online program is usually a continuation of the Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The bachelor's degree curriculum adds vascular and cardiac sonography knowledge and skills. Students prepare to take the ARDMS board examinations for obstetrics and gynecology, abdomen, vascular and cardiac sonography specializations.
Bachelor of Health Science in Medical Imaging
For these distance learning degree programs, applicants must have an associate degree in any field related to patient care, but do not need previous sonography training. However, those without prior experience must concurrently be completing a certificate program in general, vascular or cardiac sonography. Additional general education classes and courses in human disease, healthcare research and a healthcare seminar complete the degree program. Students may elect to earn more than one certificate, while earning their bachelor's degree.
Students in a distance-learning sonography program may be able to complete all courses online, although clinical requirements involve on-campus sessions and/or practicums in local healthcare facilities. The online coursework is typically presented through a virtual classroom environment organized by a school's course management system. These sites are generally accessible any time of day and contain lectures, assignments, videos and other materials. Distance learners may communicate through discussion boards, chat rooms, e-mail or web conferencing.
Individuals who would like to have a career in diagnostic medical sonography can find fully online bachelor's programs or more commonly, hybrid certificate/undergraduate/graduate degree formats. Since this profession requires specific hands-on training, students often must complete clinical on-site training.