Medical Sonography Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

Oct 14, 2019

Diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals and healthcare facilities, operating equipment that uses high-frequency sound waves to take images of patients' bodies for diagnostic purposes.

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Essential Information

Programs in diagnostic medical sonography are available for students with varied backgrounds. Entrance into certificate programs is only open to licensed radiographers who have completed courses in human anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. Associate's and bachelor's degrees are open to students with no medical background. All programs include a clinical component in addition to classroom lectures and labs. Specialization options are available in general ultrasound or cardiovascular sonography. Graduates who complete an accredited program and gain practical experience are eligible to sit for certification exams from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

The entry-level program is the associate's degree program, which is open to high school graduates with a GPA of at least 2.5. Applicants should complete college-level mathematics, physics, chemistry, English, and humanities courses. Many schools allow students to transfer their associate's degree credits over to a 4-year baccalaureate program.

Sonography Certificate

While an associate's degree is the most common educational pathway available for aspiring diagnostic medical sonographers, some schools offer vocational certificate programs in the field. Programs are properly accredited with a clinical component and are suitable for individuals seeking certification and employment. Students enrolled in a certificate program learn about sectional anatomy, abdominal anatomy, the physics of sonography, and the operation of ultrasound equipment through both didactic and clinical courses.

Certificate programs in diagnostic medical sonography cover the basics of the field. They provide students with the practical training and educational background required to gain certification and employment. Specific courses include:

  • Sonography physics
  • Sonography clinical practicum
  • Sectional anatomy
  • Abdominal sonography
  • Obstetric sonography
  • Pelvic sonography

Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

A 2-year degree program in diagnostic medical sonography (or ultrasound) is designed to provide students with the educational background and clinical training necessary to gain certification as a medical sonographer. Many associate's degree programs suggest or require that students focus on a particular specialization such as general ultrasound technology or cardiovascular ultrasound technology. Unlike students enrolled in a certificate program in sonography, students in an associate's degree program are required to complete general education courses and courses in patient care.

In addition to completing general education courses and basic courses in anatomy and medical terminology, students enrolled in an associate's degree program in diagnostic medical sonography are required to learn about sonography physics and equipment operation. Specific core courses include:

  • Sonography lab
  • Basic patient care
  • Abdominal sonography
  • OB/GYN sonography
  • Sonographic instrumentation and physics
  • Clinical practicum

Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

While earning a 4-year baccalaureate degree is not required to gain a position in medical sonography, it is an available option. Students enrolled in the program gain not only a didactic and practical education in sonography theory and equipment, but also a general education background as well. Baccalaureate degree programs provide training in all areas of sonography, including general, cardiac, and vascular.

Many core courses included in a bachelor's degree program in diagnostic medical sonography are similar to those found in an associate's degree program. Students also gain the same clinical training in order to qualify for certification. Additional core courses include:

  • Physics and high-resolution of sonography
  • Echocardiography
  • Multiplanar sectional anatomy
  • Health policy and ethics in healthcare
  • Pathophysiology
  • Patient care in imaging

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, diagnostic medical sonographers held 71,130 jobs in the United States in 2018. They earned a median annual salary of $72,510 in that year, according to the BLS.

Certification Options

Individuals who complete an accredited program in diagnostic medical sonography with a clinical component are eligible to sit for a certification exam given by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Those individuals who pass the examination gain the credential of Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Professional sonographers can also receive specialty certification from the ARDMS to become breast or abdominal sonographers.

Graduates of a bachelor's degree program in diagnostic medical sonography are also eligible to sit for ARDMS certification. They may advance to management positions within diagnostic imaging departments.

For those individuals interested in becoming medical sonographers, different degree levels are appropriate depending on the background and amount of experience. Students will learn about sonography physics and equipment operation. Certification is available for those who have completed programs that include a clinical component.

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