Students interested in ultrasonography can find programs at the associate's, bachelor's, and certificate levels. All three types of programs will generally require students to already have high school diplomas or GEDs. Prior healthcare experience may be helpful, as well as CPR training. Associate's programs generally take 2 years to complete, while bachelor's programs take 4. Certificate program length varies from 1 to 2 years.
Students should look for programs that meet the standards of the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, which offers professional certification in several specialty areas. While this certification is usually not mandatory, most employers desire it when hiring. Some states require that sonographers be licensed, and certification is a requirement.
Associate of Science in Medical Sonography
An associate's degree program in the field of diagnostic medical sonography prepares students to use ultrasonography instrumentation to take images of internal tissues and organs. Students take courses in medical terminology, anatomy and physics. They learn to operate various types of imaging equipment and get many hours of experience working with patients and medical staff during internships at health care facilities. Some schools offer online or hybrid programs that require little or no on-campus participation. Applicants could be required to have experience in a healthcare setting and current Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification.
Hands-on courses teach students how to identify and operate ultrasound and sonographic equipment for multiple diagnostic procedures, such as abdominal, gynecological or vascular imaging. Practicums or internships allow students to implement their training in a supervised setting. Common course topics include:
- Medical ethics
- Patient care
Medical Sonography Certificate
Certificate programs in sonography are aimed at individuals who have medical experience or a degree in a related field. Coursework varies, but all programs have a clinical component.
A certificate program in ultrasonography prepares trained or current allied health professionals to obtain additional skills in the field of medical imaging. Students might need to choose a specialization in general sonography, cardiac or vascular imaging. Programs typically prepare students for board certification examinations. Applicants to certificate programs usually must either have sufficient medical experience or a degree in a related field, such as radiologic technology or nuclear medicine. Additionally, a current license and health care or rescue-level CPR certification might be required. Some programs could require completion of postsecondary coursework in biology, medical terminology and physics.
A certificate program in medical sonography includes didactic, laboratory and practical components. Students learn sectional imaging techniques and practice with specific sonographic equipment. Some topics and activities include:
- Sonographic and radiographic imaging
- Abdominal sonography
- Gynecological sonography
- Physics in medical sonography
- Cadaver dissection
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Bachelor of Science in Medical Sonography
A bachelor's degree program may be aimed at entry-level students, or individuals who already are licensed in the field and are seeking a degree. The courses depend upon the previous level of education but often include physics, sectional anatomy and patient care. Some programs offer online classes. Like all types of sonography training programs, bachelor's programs have an extensive clinical component.
A bachelor's degree program generally requires completion of general education classes and pre-professional coursework prior to acceptance. Some programs provide 2-year degree-completion options for those with previous education who are licensed in the field. Internships and significant hands-on training are typically required. Online and distance learning options could be available for students through affiliated teaching hospitals and healthcare facilities. Bachelor's degree curricula include professional coursework, lab sessions and a clinical internship. Didactic and hands-on courses provide comprehensive training in all specialization areas, including abdominal, obstetric, vascular and small body parts. Students also learn the techniques necessary for echocardiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scanning. Skills in research and administration are emphasized. Ultrasonography coursework includes:
- Patient care
- Sectional anatomy
- Gynecological sonography
- Obstetrical and vascular sonography
Medical and healthcare professionals with ultrasonography training could offer additional services within their careers or choose to provide ultrasound services to several institutions and doctor's offices. Some possible locations an ultrasonographer could work include:
- Medical and surgical hospitals
- Pediatric hospitals
- Cancer centers
- Nursing care facilities
- School health clinics
- Pregnancy centers
Graduates of an associate's degree program in ultrasonography can qualify to work in a variety of healthcare institutions, including hospitals, clinics and private physicians' offices. Professionals can offer general sonography and ultrasound services or specialize in one or more of the following areas:
Career Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for diagnostic medical sonographers was expected to grow 26% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The increase was largely due to the safety of the procedures over radiation alternatives. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for a sonographer was $68,970.
Certification options for ultrasonography professionals are available through professional organizations, such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The BLS stated that employers frequently look for professionals who have obtained the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential. Certifications are available in several specialties, including fetal echocardiography, neurosonology or abdominal sonography. Candidates with approved education and experience can qualify to test for one or more credentials.
At the certificate, associate's, and bachelor's level, there are programs offered in the field of sonography. Each degree will prepare students for different jobs in sonography, as well as professional certification.