In cardiac sonography programs, students take courses in cardiovascular anatomy, pathology, and the physics of sound. They learn basic cardiac sonography procedures and gain practical experience through clinical work in a health care facility.
Certificate programs in cardiac sonography may require students to have an associate's degree in a relevant field or to have taken college courses in physics, algebra, and biology. Undergraduate degree programs may require preparatory courses in composition, CPR, and biology. Some schools only accept registered nurses or candidates with training in the health sciences.
Bachelor's degree programs offer more in-depth training, and students explore general imaging topics in addition to cardiac sonography. More emphasis is given to patient care and clinical experience. Clinical experience and intern- or externships may also be a part of the program.
Programs prepare graduates to take the professional certification exam. While not required legally, certification is preferred by most employers. Some courses and programs in cardiac sonography are available online.
Certificate in Cardiac Sonography
A certificate program in cardiac sonography acquaints students with the process of using sound waves to acquire images of the human heart and evaluate its condition. Course work covers the performance characteristics of the technology as well as pathology, anatomy, physiology and physics. Students also develop their communication skills. In addition to classroom study, many programs also include lab work and clinical rotations.
Some programs require an associate's degree in a health care-related subject or college level course work in biology, physics, and algebra. Although general education courses are not part of a certificate program, some cardiac sonography programs require a course in composition. Sonography and sonography-related courses include the following:
- Cardiovascular anatomy
- Cardiovascular pathology
- Physics of sound
- Basic sonography procedures
- Sonography principles
Associate's Degree in Cardiac Sonography
As in certificate programs, associate's degree programs in cardiac sonography cover general principles of sonic imaging as well as what sonic images specifically reveal about the condition of the heart. In classroom sessions, students learn cardiovascular anatomy and physiology, cardiovascular diseases and pharmacology. In sonography lab work, students evaluate the heart's pumping capacity, shape, size and areas of damage. In clinical rotations, students conduct exams under the supervision of physicians or senior nurses. A cardiac sonography program may also be referred to as an echocardiography program.
Admission to a cardiac sonography associate's degree program requires at least a high school diploma or GED. Associate's degree programs include a limited number of general education courses. Topics directly related to cardiac sonography are covered over multiple stages or course levels. Courses include:
- Medical terminology
- Doppler physics
- Cardiovascular imaging
- Cardiographic evaluation
- Patient care
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Bachelor's Degree in Cardiac Sonography
Bachelor's degree programs in cardiac sonography address a broader range of topics related to sonographic imaging than a certificate or associate's degree program. Programs cover general applications of diagnostic medical sonography followed by the study of cardiac sonography as a specialty. Other programs are completion programs making echocardiography their upper division focus. More emphasis is given to patient care and developing an empathic bedside manner. Students have to complete an internship or externship.
Admission to a bachelor's degree program minimally requires a high school diploma or GED. Cardiac sonography courses in a bachelor's degree program have a lot of overlap with those in an associate's degree program. More class time may be devoted to general education courses in composition, humanities and social sciences. Cardiac sonography courses include:
- Medical ethics
- Cardiac pharmacology
- Cardiac and vascular testing
- Cardiography lab management
- Pediatric echocardiography
- Adult echocardiography
Popular Career Options
The value of non-invasive imaging in general and for the heart in particular is creating an expanding field of opportunity for sonographers. Cardiac sonographers can find employment in:
- Mobile services
- Private physicians' practices
With their broader base of education to draw upon, bachelor's degree holders are in a position to pursue career opportunities other than cardiac sonography. Alternative career possibilities include:
- Medical equipment sales
- Lab research
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Graduating from a cardiac sonography associate's degree program qualifies degree holders for entry-level positions as cardiac sonographers or echocardiographers, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies as cardiovascular technologists and technicians. Over the years 2014-2024, the BLS projects employment of cardiovascular technologists and technicians will grow 22%. In May 2015, the BLS reported that these workers made a median annual salary of $54,880.
Continuing Education Information
While a certificate may be sufficient for established sonographers or other health care providers transitioning into cardiac sonography, graduates of a certificate program may have better employment prospects with an associate's degree. Associate's degree programs are widely available and in many cases accept certificate credits in transfer.
The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Credentialing International both offer credentials to cardiac sonographers who complete an accredited program. Earning a credential entails passing an exam. In order for students to maintain credential, they must enroll in and complete refresher courses periodically.
Degree programs in cardiac sonography train students in topics such as cardiovascular imaging and evaluation, patient care, and physics. This prepares graduates for careers in the fast-growing cardiovascular technologist or technician field.