How to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Learn how to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. Research the job description, education, and licensing requirements to find out how to pursue a career in medical sonography. View article »

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  • 0:01 Diagnostic Medical…
  • 1:05 Necessary Education
  • 2:56 Additional Requirements

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Video Transcript

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Diagnostic medical sonographers use sophisticated equipment to project sound waves into patients' bodies and create images of their tissues for medical diagnostic purposes. Sonographers can choose from several specialization options, including abdomen, breast, vascular, and cardiac sonography. Because of the many fields available in sonography, these professionals can work in a variety of settings, from doctors' offices to medical laboratories. Most workers are hired full time, and some diagnostic medical sonographers must work graveyard and weekend shifts.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate or bachelor's degree; certificate programs typically for those with experience
Degree Field Sonography or radiologic technology
Licensure and Certification Few states require licensure; sonography certification required by many employers; basic life support (BLS) or CPR certifications typically required
Experience No experience outside of educational training is required for entry-level positions
Key Skills Interpersonal, technical and detail-oriented skills; good hand-eye coordination and physical stamina; ability to operate computerized instruments and complex machinery
Salary $68,970 per year (2015 median salary for all diagnostic medical sonographers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online Job Postings (August 2015)

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Necessary Education

An associate or bachelor's degree is typically required to pursue employment as a diagnostic medical sonographer. Students also have the option to graduate with a degree in a related field, pursue a certificate program in diagnostic medical sonography, and then receive on-the-job training. This option is usually reserved for professionals already working in the field, such as nurses, respiratory therapists, and radiologic technologists. Most degree programs allow students to choose an area of specialization, such as abdominal sonography, obstetrics/gynecology, vascular sonography, and echocardiography. Supervised clinical experience is an essential component of the curriculum for all degree programs.

For students wishing to excel in this field, it is recommended that they develop strong people and communication skills. Since diagnostic medical sonographers spend the majority of their time working closely with patients, the ability to be an effective communicator is highly regarded. While in school, students can take advantage of clinical experiences to develop people skills and learn how to interact with patients. They will also need to choose an accredited program. Students should ensure that their program has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), as employment and certification are often dependent on completing an accredited program.

Obtaining sonography clinical experience is important for those who have earned a degree in a related healthcare field, such as radiologic technology or nursing. During this time, one can become acquainted with the daily responsibilities of a diagnostic medical sonographer while under the supervision of an experienced professional. These clinical experiences can also prepare individuals to meet certification requirements.

Additional Requirements

Most employers require that diagnostic medical sonographers be certified. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers diagnostic medical sonographers the opportunity to become certified in a variety of specialties, including radiation therapy, radiography, nuclear medicine technology, sonography, and magnetic resonance imaging.

Through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), sonographers can also pursue certification, such as the registered diagnostic medical sonographer (RDMS), registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer (RDCS), registered vascular technologist (RVT), or registered in musculoskeletal (RMSK). Graduating from an accredited sonography program, completing sufficient clinical experience, and passing an exam are the main pathways to becoming certified.

Only a few states require sonographers to be licensed. While state requirements can vary, a professional certification from a national credentialing organization is often required to become licensed.

Registration through the ARRT must be renewed annually. Diagnostic medical sonographers must complete 24 continuing education credits every two years to remain certified. To maintain ARDMS credentials, sonographers must earn at least 30 continuing medical education (CME) credits in a 3-year period and pay an annual renewal fee.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, diagnostic medical sonographers who are certified in more than one specialty are expected to have the most favorable job prospects. The ARDMS offers numerous specialty certifications for diagnostic medical sonographers who focus on abdominal sonography, breast sonography, obstetrics and gynecology, echocardiography, or neurosonology.

Diagnostic medical sonographers are medical professionals who can specialize in a variety of different areas of the body. Becoming one requires at least the completion of a degree or certificate program in the field, clinical experience, and the completion of certification.

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