Either an associate's or a bachelor's degree is required to become a medical sonographer. Although both degree programs prepare students to work as diagnostic medical sonographers, the bachelor's degree program allows graduates to assume more advanced positions upon entering the field. While many schools offer courses at both levels online, there is an extensive clinical component to these degree programs that must be completed at a healthcare facility. Additionally, online programs may have specific prerequisites that students are required to meet before program entrance. Some bachelor's programs require an associates degree for admission.
Students at both degree levels study anatomy, equipment operation and imaging of the body's major systems. They learn to understand and follow physician's orders. Clinical work gives the students experience working with patients in a real healthcare facility. These experiences can usually be arranged for a facility near the student's home.
A few states require that sonographers be licensed, usually through certification from the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), which requires passing an exam. Even in states where certification is not a requirement, many employers prefer it.
Associate's in Medical Sonography
Online universities offer both Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees in medical sonography. Students learn the clinical skills needed to properly view the internal structures and organs of the body through ultrasound devices. The program requires a strong knowledge of anatomy, science and math. Because sonographers work directly with patients, it's important to develop strong interpersonal skills.
Most programs require students to have their high school diploma or GED. Many online universities also expect students to have completed health sciences coursework or to have had prior experience working in the medical field.
Program Information and Requirements
The medical sonography associate's degree program shows students the correct sonographic methods for viewing four main parts of the human body, the cardiovascular system, the abdominal region, the vascular system and the gynecological region. The associate's program takes about one to two years to complete, depending on whether the school requires students to already hold postsecondary experience before starting the degree program.
The online medical sonography program usually requires an on-site clinical component. Students are required to assist at a nearby hospital or clinic under the supervision of a skilled sonographer who has volunteered to mentor the student and assess his or her progress in the field.
The online associate's degree program in medical sonography introduces students to the basics of sonography and provides them with specialized instruction on ultrasound practices for each section of the human body. Students gain experience in treating patients during the clinical portion of the program.
This class emphasizes maintaining a friendly and open discourse with patients since communication is the key to alleviating any fears of the sonographic procedure. Various legal issues are also discussed, including maintaining patient confidentiality. Students are able to watch streaming video and learn techniques to interact with patients.
Obstretrical and Gynecological Sonography
Students learn how to properly sonograph female reproductive organs, usually during the course of pregnancy, to detect any abnormal patterns in the body. Students also must determine what course of action should be taken based on any irregularities seen in the results.
The course requires students to memorize the correct terminologies and placement of the human organs, particularly in the abdominal region. Students must learn to recognize these anatomical structures through pictures online.
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Bachelor of Science in Medical Sonography
Online B.S. degree programs in medical sonography teach students many of the same skills that the associate's degree does, but earning the more advanced degree allows graduates to begin work at a higher salary and possibly take on managerial positions at hospitals or clinics. Most programs require students to have an associate's degree in sonography or in a related health sciences field.
Some programs also require registration with the ARDMS before entering the bachelor's degree program. The application process for a bachelor's degree program usually includes sending multiple recommendation forms, and some students must pass an entrance exam before receiving admittance into the program.
Program Information and Requirements
The program usually takes two years to finish, since most schools require students to already hold their associate's degree. Students continue learning about sonographic techniques, but they usually begin specialized study in a particular area, such as cardiovascular sonography.
Like the associate's degree program, schools usually require students to participate in on-site clinical experiences. While many universities try to accommodate students by letting them practice at a nearby clinic or hospital close to their home, some require students to travel to an orientation on campus before beginning the program.
Medical sonography courses are taught through readings and online lectures, but the most important component of learning comes when students apply the coursework to real clinical practice. Working with one of the hospital's sonographers, students gain hands-on experience in their chosen field of specialization.
Students are presented with mathematical problems based on the instrumentation of ultrasound scans. Particular focus is placed on exploring the types of wavelengths produced by sonographic devices.
The course instructs students on how to evaluate sonographs of the chest to look for proper blood flow of the heart and its valves. Students also must detect blockages or other issues with the heart's blood vessels. Opportunities are available to view images through e-mails or other online resources and begin recognizing abnormalities in this area.
Students must successfully sonograph various organs and systems in the human body, including the liver, gallbladder, spleen and pancreas. The class also teaches students the correct functions and appearances of these structures, so that they can detect abnormalities or pathologies.
The vast majority of medical sonography associate's degree graduates go on to become diagnostic medical sonographers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median annual salary of $68,970 in 2015 (www.bls.gov).
The BLS also predicts that diagnostic medical sonography positions will rise 24% from 2014-2024, which is well above the average of other employment sectors. This is due in part to the increasing preference of diagnostic sonographic methods over more potentially dangerous radiological procedures.
Graduates of the medical sonography bachelor's degree program usually enter employment as diagnostic medical sonographers. Earning a bachelor's degree allows graduates to advance into managerial positions within their field. The BLS reports that medical and health services managers earned a median annual salary of approximately $94,500 in 2015.
Continuing Education and Licensure Information
Bachelor's degree graduates would want to apply to the ARDMS to become a registered diagnostic medical sonographer, if they wish to advance within the field. However, most students must already earn this registration before they can begin the bachelor's degree program.
With a combination of online courses and in-person clinical training, online associate's and bachelors degree programs in medical sonography teach students about working with patients, creating sonography images for diagnostic purposes and anatomy.