Sonography College and University Program Overviews

College and university programs in sonography are designed to teach individuals how to use sound waves to capture images for assessing and diagnosing medical conditions. Program options for diagnostic medical sonography include a 1-year certificate, 2-year associate's degree and a 4-year bachelor's degree.

Essential Information

The coursework of diagnostic medical sonography programs centers around topics such as ultrasound physics, human anatomy, pathology, ultrasound instrumentation and imaging techniques. Internships and laboratory experiences allow students to gain hands-on skills. Sonographers can become registered by satisfying experience and educational requirements and passing an examination. Among the career outcomes for credentialed graduates are registered vascular technology and registered diagnostic cardiac sonography.

  • Program Levels in Diagnostic Medical Sonography: Certificate program; associate's degree; bachelor's degree.
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED and CPR certification for certificate program; high school diploma or GED, CPR certification and up-to-date immunizations for associate's degree programs; basic college admission requirements, and physical examination for bachelor's program.
  • Program Length: 1 year for certificate program; 2 years for associate's degree; 4 years for bachelor's degree.
  • Experiential Learning: Lab training; clinical experiences.
  • Online Availability: Some online courses may be available.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Certificate

Students enrolled in a certificate program learn to use sonography equipment to view parts of the human body and capture images that can assist physicians in the diagnosis of patient conditions. Certificate programs are most often completed by individuals already employed in the health care field who wish to make themselves more marketable. Although certificate programs are not accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs, the programs still prepare students to take the certification exam administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Programs at this level typically include coursework in the following topics:

  • Human anatomy
  • Patient care
  • Ultrasound physics
  • Medical terminology
  • Physiology
  • Patient Care

Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Accredited associate's degree programs teach students to perform diagnostic ultrasound examinations and evaluate the quality of sonographic images. Students practice their scanning skills in campus labs and gain clinical experience during a required internship with a local medical center. Graduates of sonography college programs may sit for the ARDMS exams.

In addition to the required core curriculum, students may customize their education by choosing to concentrate in obstetric, gynecological, abdominal or vascular sonography. General course requirements include:

  • Pathology
  • Human diseases
  • Cross sectional imaging techniques
  • Ultrasound instrumentation
  • Anatomy

Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

A bachelor's degree program in sonography includes a comprehensive general education in addition to industry specific coursework. Students must complete internships at local imaging centers to gain real-world, clinical experience in performing obstetric, abdominal, cardiac, vascular, gynecological and pediatric sonography examinations. Upon successful completion of an accredited 4-year sonography college program, graduates may take the ARDMS exams. Graduates may also become registered vascular technologists (RVT) and registered diagnostic cardiac sonographers (RDCS).

Bachelor's degree programs require students to take courses in general sonography practices as well as sonography specialties like obstetric, vascular, gynecological and pediatric imaging. Course topics include:

  • Sectional anatomy
  • Physics
  • Pathophysiology
  • Ultrasound instrumentation
  • Health care systems
  • Basic patient care

Popular Career Options

In addition to working as general diagnostic medical sonographers, students who choose to specialize can work as:

  • Breast sonographers
  • Abdominal sonographers
  • Neurosonographers
  • Gynecological and obstetric sonographers

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Although sonography is an occupation with no preferred level of education, employers tend to hire registered sonographers who have received training through accredited programs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for diagnostic medical sonographers will increase by about 46% for the years 2012-2022. As of May 2014, the median annual wage for sonographers was $67,530.

Continuing Education

Students who have completed a certificate in sonography typically choose to seek employment in the field right away. Sonographers who choose to become registered are required to complete a certain number of continuing education credit hours in order stay up to date with technological advances in the field and to maintain their registration. Individuals may also choose to pursue higher levels of education in sonography or a related health care field.

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in the field of sonography are strongly encouraged to sit for the ARDMS exams to become a registered diagnostic medical sonographer. In order to maintain registration, practicing professionals must complete a certain number of continuing education requirements in order to stay apprised of technological advances in the field.

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