How to Become an Ultrasound Technician
Ultrasound technicians, also called sonogram technicians, are allied health professionals who use equipment that generates high frequency sound waves to detect what is happening within a human body. Doctors use the imaging data collected to diagnose illnesses, such as measuring the growth of tumors or checking the flow of blood through veins, or to monitor the health of a developing baby prior to birth. Becoming an ultrasound technician often involves specialized schooling and some on-the-job training. Certification is an option for ultrasound technicians, and may be preferred by employers. A small number of states do require ultrasound technicians to be licensed.
Ultrasound Technician Educational Requirements
To work as an ultrasound tech, it is necessary to complete a post-secondary educational program in medical sonography or vascular technology, and programs in these areas are available as certificates, associate's degrees, and bachelor's degrees. Associate's degree programs in sonography tend to be more common, and are able to be completed within two years. Ultrasound tech schools often offer courses such as:
- Sonographic physics
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Abdominal sonography
- Vascular sonography
Sonography programs are also likely to include lab and clinical components, which will allow students to gain experience with the actual equipment and real world situations. Even online ultrasound technician programs are likely to include at least some clinical experience, so students signing up for degree programs online should research nearby options for obtaining that experience prior to enrolling.
Ultrasound Technician Certification Options
While certification is not required for ultrasound technicians in most states, many employers prefer applicants to hold certification. Certification is available in the field of sonography through several organizations, with the most notable being the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). ARDMS offers a certification called the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), which also requires a choice of one of the available specialties. Requirements to receive RDMS certification include completion of a 2-year program in a healthcare field, such as nursing or physical therapy, with 12 months of experience in sonography, or an approved sonography program with no additional experience required. Applicants must then pass the certification exam on sonography principles and instrumentation, as well as a specialty exam related to different areas of health that they might focus on: abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiography, obstretrics and gynecology, or pediatric sonography.
The RDMS credential requires 30 continuing medical education (CME) credits every 3 years in order to maintain certification. Be sure to check the laws in your state regarding licensure and certification requirements for ultrasound technicians.
Ultrasound Technician Salary and Career Information
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, the category in which ultrasound techs belong, was $67,080 as of May 2018. The BLS predicts that employment within this group will grow by 17% over the 10 year period from 2016 to 2026, significantly faster than the national average. The need for ultrasound technicians and others within this area of expertise is driven largely by the medical needs of an aging population.