Master's degree programs in sonography are rare, but may be found in concentrations like vascular sonography. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in cardiac sonography are more common and may also be known as cardiac technology or echocardiography. In these programs, students learn to use ultrasound imaging to observe the heart in order to diagnose and monitor patients. Coursework typically combines studies human anatomy, health imaging technology and cardiac diagnostic techniques. Students may also participate in lab sessions, clinical experiences and externships. Some programs are offered online.
Admission to a graduate program in vascular sonography requires a bachelor's degree, and students need to have taken undergraduate courses in chemistry, physics, anatomy and human physiology. Some programs also require students to earn CPR certification prior to enrollment.
Associate Degree in Cardiac Sonography
An associate's degree in cardiac sonography usually requires a full-time commitment and amounts to about 60-120 credits, which usually takes about two years to complete. Education is provided in classroom settings and off-site clinical environments for practical application. Students are trained to perform echocardiograms, producing pictures of the heart and its major blood vessels. The images displayed by the sonography machine, also known as an ultrasound, help diagnose heart malfunctions. In addition to high school education, some programs require references, a letter of intent, a personal interview and completion of a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course before acceptance is granted. Certain programs require coursework prior to enrollment in subjects like biology, algebra, and physics. Courses may include:
- Sociological ethics
- Human anatomy
- Interpretation of sonographic images
- Echocardiography and diagnosis
- Clinical applications of sonography
- Physics in relation to sonographic imaging
Bachelor's Degree in Sonography
A four-year bachelor's degree program in sonography teaches non-invasive and invasive diagnostic procedures for abdominal, breast, fetal, heart, brain, pediatric and vascular medical diagnosis. Programs may offer dual concentrations in specialties like general, cardiac and vascular sonography. Coursework concerning body systems, the use of sonography equipment, management, communications, cardiovascular studies and social sciences may be completed in four years. Some programs may require the submission of recommendation letters, a letter of intent, a personal interview, and CPR certification prior to admission. Subjects covered may include:
- Anatomy of specific body regions
- Healthcare administration
- Quality management
- Cardiac assessment techniques
- Physics in cardiovascular testing
- Ethical standards
Master's Degree in Vascular Technology
Master's degree programs in vascular sonography incorporate research, procedural applications, case studies, surveys and diagnostic methods. These programs specialize in the use of ultrasound imagery to assist in the detection and assessment of vascular conditions in arteries and veins. Vascular sonographers are sometimes referred to as vascular technologists. Coursework for a master's program in vascular sonography can be provided on-campus, online and in ultrasound laboratories. A year-long externship in a clinical vascular research environment is also usually required. The entire master's program in vascular sonography typically takes a little over two years to complete. Training in a vascular sonography program enables students to become credentialed as a Registered Vascular Technologist through exams given by ARMDS. Coursework includes:
- Cranial vascular diagnostics
- Abdominal vascular testing
- Anatomy of veins
- Arterial diagnostics
- Medical writing composition
- Disease statistics
Cardiac sonography offers a non-invasive medical diagnosis and may be used in doctor's offices, hospitals and clinics. Graduates are prepared to sit for certification exams to become Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographers or Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographers through the ARDMS. Possible job titles include:
- Vascular sonographer
- Cardiac sonographer
- Research sonographer
- Sales representative for sonographic machinery
Employment Outlook and Career Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment growth for diagnostic sonographers of around 19% for the years 2018 through 2028, which is much faster than average (www.bls.gov). The BLS also suggests that sonographers with concentrations in multiple specialties will have the best opportunities for employment.
After graduating from a master's program in vascular technology, students are prepared for management roles in the vascular sonography profession. The BLS states that vascular technologist's employment opportunities will grow because non-invasive vascular diagnostics are replacing expensive invasive medical tests. With a master's degree, students may also find careers at two-year community or junior colleges.
To summarize, students have the opportunity to study cardiac sonography at the associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree level. These programs provide students with theoretical and practical training in the field.