Diagnostic Medical Sonography: Career Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Medical sonography involves diagosing medical conditions through images, using advanced medical equipment. As a diagnostic medical sonographer you'll assist physicians in diagnosing various medical condition.

Essential Information

Diagnostic medical sonographers assist physicians in identifying medical conditions through images produced through ultrasonic equipment. Students interested in this field can choose one of several areas in which to specialize. Colleges, hospitals, and vocational schools offer training in diagnostic medical sonography. Students are required to complete an associate's degree which typically takes 2 years. If already working in the medical field, an interested candidate may complete a certificate program in 1 year. Becoming a registered sonographer is an additional option for more marketability.

Required Education Associate's Degree
Optional Registration ARDMS Exam
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 26% (diagnostic medical sonographers); 22% (cardiovascular technologists & technicians)
Average Salary (2015)* $70,880 (diagnostic medical sonographers); $56,100 (cardiovascular technologists & technicians)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Diagnostic medical sonographers operate equipment that sends sound waves through a patient's body and collects reflected echoes to produce an image, which is then used by physicians to assess and diagnose medical conditions. They explain the procedure to patients and take their medical history. They also examine the images produced and choose which need to be shown to the physician. There are a number of different specialties in diagnostic medical sonography, including abdominal sonography, obstetric and gynecologic sonography, neurosonography, cardiac sonography and breast sonography.

Abdominal Sonography

Abdominal sonographers produce images of abdominal cavities to look for conditions involving the gallbladder, spleen, kidneys, liver, pancreas, bile ducts or male reproductive system. They may also sometimes examine areas of the chest cavity.

Obstetric and Gynecologic Sonography

Obstetric and gynecological sonographers produce images of the female reproductive system. One of the most common uses of sonography is to view and examine a woman's unborn baby.

Neurosonography

Neurosonographers examine the nervous system and brain for neurological and nervous system disorders. Neurosonography is often used to search for neurological defects in premature babies.

Cardiac or Vascular Sonography

Sonographers who perform cardiac sonography are known as echocardiographers. Echocardiographers use ultrasound to produce images of the chambers, vessels and valves of the heart.

Breast Sonography

Sonography is used to complement mammography in diagnosing diseases of the breasts, such as breast cancer and tumors. Breast sonography is also used to track the blood supply of the breasts, and can help doctors when performing biopsies of the breast tissue.

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Requirements for Becoming a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

There are a number of different ways to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. Training is offered by hospitals, colleges and vocational schools. However, most employers prefer job applicants who have completed a formal training program at a college or university, especially for those who have no prior experience working in health care. Most college programs in diagnostic medical sonography are 2-year programs which result in an associate's degree, though 4-year bachelor's degree programs also exist. In these programs, students take courses in physics, anatomy, physiology, medical ethics and patient care. Those who already work in health care may opt to enroll in a 1-year certificate program at a vocational school.

Optional Registration

Though it is not required, becoming registered can make sonographers more attractive job candidates to many employers. Those who have completed training or have experience working in diagnostic medical sonography are eligible to take the exam given by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) to become a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) in their area of specialization. Breast and vascular sonographers may also earn credentials from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, and cardiac sonographers may also earn credentials from the Cardiovascular Credentialing International.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts much faster than average employment growth of 26% for diagnostic medical sonographers, and 22% expansion for cardiovascular technologists and technicians, from 2014-2024. The BLS noted an annual average salary of $70,880 in May, 2015 for diagnostic medical sonographers, while cardiovascular technologists and technicians earned a average of $56,100.

A successful diagnostic medical sonographer needs to be very observant and undertand how to work specialized medical equipment. They also need to possess an associate's degree. This is a great career for someone who loves working with technology and is interested in working in the healthcare industry.


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