Medical Sonographer: Job Description & Career Info

Read on to learn what medical sonographers do. Find out what the career and training requirements are, and see the career prospects to determine if this career is a good fit for you. Learn about alternative options for your career.

Career Definition for a Medical Sonographer

Medical sonographers play an important role in non-invasive diagnostics. Many patients are opting for these imaging procedures - which use non-ionizing, high frequency sound waves to create an image - when it can be used in place of exploratory surgery or imaging that uses radiation. The most common use for sonography is to look at an unborn fetus in prenatal care, but medical sonographers can also specialize in imaging the abdomen, the breasts or the brain. Typical duties include preparing patients, explaining the exam, performing the procedure and reporting the findings to the patient or a physician. Most medical sonographers work in a hospital setting, and are required to stand or walk for long periods of time. They also may be called upon for heavy lifting if a patient requires positioning assistance before or during a procedure.

Required Education An accredited associate's degree or bachelor's degree are the most employer-friendly options; licensure required in some states
Job Duties Preparing patients, explaining the exam, reporting the findings to patients and physicians; lifting patient into position on occasion
Median Salary (2015)* $68,970 (diagnostic medical sonographers)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 26% growth (diagnostic medical sonographers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

To practice as a medical sonographer, a 2-year associate's degree or 4-year bachelor's degree is required, with the 2-year degree being the most common. There are a few certificate programs that last for one year, but these courses are not accredited and are reserved for current healthcare personnel. While there is no national license required to become a medical sonographer, the rules are changing. The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) reports that as of April 6, 2009, New Mexico became the first state to require a license for imaging specialists, including sonographers, and the SDMS expects more states to follow suit (www.sdms.org). More and more employers prefer or require Medical Sonographers to have an exam-based certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), to make sure applicants have the necessary skills and knowledge.

Required Skills

Medical sonographers need the ability to explain technical procedures in a simple, clear way to patients who may be nervous about the procedure or its outcome. Sonographers also need sharp attention and good eye sight (or corrective lens) to ensure they can read and interpret images accurately.

Employment Projections and Economic Outlook

Job growth for diagnostic medical sonographers has been projected to increase at a higher-than-average rate of 26% between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Career advancement is possible by specializing in several specific areas of sonography, such as general, cardiac or prenatal, or moving into management or education. Median annual earnings for diagnostic medical sonographers in 2015 were $68,970.

Alternate Career Options

Here are some alternative career option examples:

Radiologic Technologist

Radiologic technologists perform medical imaging duties similar to those of medical sonographers; they give x-ray, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. Radiologic technologists discuss the procedure with patients, position them properly to get a good scan and monitor the scanning machine. They also keep detailed records about exams given.

An aspiring radiologic technologist may complete a certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program. Licensing and certification may be required, and requirements vary by state. Radiologic technologists are expected to see 9% job growth from 2014-2024, per the BLS. This occupation paid a median salary of $56,670 in 2015, according to the BLS.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Nuclear medicine technologists also perform diagnostic imaging procedures. They prepare special radioactive drugs and give them to patients. They explain the process to patients and position them for the scan. Nuclear medicine technologists then operate a scanner that picks up on abnormal tissue because it looks different when exposed to radioactive material.

Nuclear medicine technologists can complete an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine technology. Licensing and certification rules vary by state. The BLS reports that jobs in this field will increase 2% from 2014-2024, and this job paid median wages of $73,360 in 2015.


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