Digital sonographers operate equipment to obtain images of the body's internal structure. They require a degree and can obtain certification in their specialty. This profession is in high demand with an expected job growth rate that is much faster than that of all jobs.
Digital sonographers use diagnostic imaging methods to examine organs, soft tissues, and even blood paths in a patient's body. Sonography has become invaluable in the field of obstetrics, where radiation at any level may damage a growing fetus. Sonographers must be caring to the patients and familiar with equipment use in order to provide the necessary images to assist the doctor. The education required for this career ranges from 1-4 years of college courses, depending on the specialization. Although not nationally required, most employers prefer additional certification in the specialty field.
|Required Education||Associate or Bachelor Degree|
|Other Requirements||Preferred specialty certification|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||26% (higher than average)*|
|Annual Mean Salary (2015)||$70,880*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS)
A sonographer must be able to explain procedures to patients and be sensitive to the patient's needs and concerns. A high degree of skill is required to attain the images. The sonographer needs to understand how to correctly position the patient, adjust the frequencies on the equipment and determine which images are most relevant to aid the physician. He or she must also be able to detect slight discrepancies and adjust to correct them--or note the anomaly as something that may be of concern for the physician. Some sonographers assist in record-keeping and appointment-scheduling.
As a rule, sonographers spend the majority of their time assisting patients, standing, bending and lifting. For this reason, they must be physically fit. They must also have the ability to distinguish sounds and color variants within their results.
There are several specialization fields open to sonographers. Some of the primary specializations include echocardiography, obstetrics, vascular technology and opthamology. A recent addition to this list is the field of neurosonology; this specialization was not practical historically due to the fact that cranial bone precluded the efficacy of sonographic images in this area.
Sonographers work directly with patients, primarily in clinics and hospitals. In some rare instances, a sonographer may find employment in private practice. The military hires sonographers as well.
Accredited public school programs require enrollment candidates to have a high school diploma or GED certificate; they may prefer applicants who display aptitude in science and math. Previous work experience in the health field is also helpful. Depending on the specialization field, accredited programs for sonographers typically last 1-4 years. Sonographers may acquire additional training through vocational schools and hospitals.
Universities and colleges offer both associate and bachelor degree programs for this field. Coursework includes anatomy, medical ethics, physics and basic patient care.
In the United States, sonographers are not required to attain certification. However, most hospitals prefer hiring sonographers who have completed their certification examinations. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) provides examination venues for all specialization certifications. Those passing the examinations become certified as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, or RDMS. The requirement for each specialization is different; the ARDMS provides aspiring examinees with information pertinent to their specific goal.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2015, diagnostic medical sonographers earned an annual mean salary of $70,880. In 2014, the BLS projected much faster than average job expansion of 26% for these medical professionals, through 2024.
Sonographers usually need an associate's degree, but some positions and employers may prefer or require a bachelor's degree in this fast-growing field. Professional certification is voluntary, though many employers prefer candidates with certification. The annual average salary for these positions was about $71,000 in 2015.