Associate degree programs in sonography includes courses in anatomy, equipment operation, and patient care as well as general education courses. The curriculum of bachelor's programs also involves healthcare ethics, medical regulations, and medical quality improvement. At both levels, clinical experiences give students practice in all types of sonography, and many programs also allow students to choose an area of specialization. Licensing is not required, but most employers prefer to hire sonographers who hold professional certifications.
Medical residencies in diagnostic radiology take place at a teaching hospital after doctors have graduated from medical school. They generally work a 1-year internship in radiology, then begin a 4-year residency. Residents gain experience in many types of radiology or specialize in a specific field. At the end of the program, they must pass board certification exams.
To earn an associate or bachelor's degree, students must first have a high school diploma. Some programs may require a license in radiology or an associate's degree in allied health (for a bachelor's program); they also must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (for the residency program) and have work experience.
Associate's Degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
An associate degree is the basic entry-level degree for beginning a career as a sonogram technician. Students in these degree programs learn to run a sonogram machine, which uses sound waves to safely produce images of structures and organs inside the patient's body. Associate degree students might choose one field of sonography of which to focus.
The associate degree program includes classroom study of health science topics and hands-on supervised clinical practice, as well as general education courses. A certificate program may be available, consisting of the health science and clinical courses only. This certificate program is restricted to students who already have an academic background or have worked in a healthcare field.
Sonography students take courses that teach them about the body parts they'll be studying and the technology they use to examine the body. Some classes require patient care, and some may include lessons on appropriate, professional patient interactions. The following list shows some common courses for a sonogram technology program:
- OB/GYN sonography
- Abdominal and small parts ultrasound
- Physics of medical sonography
- Anatomy and physiology
- Circulatory system sonography
- Sonographic pathology
Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
While earning a B.S. in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, students learn to operate sonogram technology machines safely. They complete clinical rotations or internships, during which they practice the use of sonogram machines under a mentor's supervision. They can choose to emphasize one or two types of sonogram imaging, such as obstetric sonography of the fetus, cardiac sonography of the heart, or vascular sonography of veins and arteries. Baccalaureate students do study all three types of ultrasound, whatever focus area they choose.
Sonography degree programs teach students how to distinguish between normal anatomy and diseased or injured anatomy based on the images they produce. These are some classes that sonography students can take:
- Physics of sonography
- Abdominal sonography
- Gynecologic, obstetrical, vascular ultrasound
- Medical terminology
- Healthcare ethics and sonography regulations
Diagnostic Radiology Medical Residency
When sonogram technicians have secured the images of a patient's body with the sonogram machine, they take these images to a specially trained doctor called a radiologist. Radiologists learn to interpret sonograms, X-rays, and other types of medical imaging and determine the presence of injury or illness. These physicians may also use radiological treatment procedures to promote healing. Radiologists develop these skills through at a teaching hospital during their medical residency, a 4-year postgraduate training program after medical school.
The coursework in a radiology residency is largely composed of clinical rounds of patient examination and treatment, hands-on education, and practice under the guidance of experienced doctors. There are also lectures, case analyses, and conferences. Some programs incorporate research. Toward the end of the residency program, residents may do less clinical time as they focus on studying for board certification exams. Rounds and lectures will address these topics:
- Emergency radiology
- Critical care radiology
- CT scans and MRI
- Pediatric radiology
- Nuclear medicine
Popular Career Options
Graduates from a bachelor's degree program may be able to earn certification in two or more areas of sonography from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, and focusing in multiple areas widens each individual's career options. Some clinics may prefer to hire sonographers who have a B.S. degree. Bachelor's degree students may even get a head start on the job search by taking ARDMS certification exams before their senior year, thereby graduating as a qualified sonographer. The graduate could get one of these or other jobs:
- Obstetric/gynecologic sonographer
- Vascular technologist
- Abdominal sonographer
- Sonography clinic manager
The classic career option for a radiology resident is to begin medical practice in a hospital or clinic as a radiologist. Some radiologists specialize in treating a particular group of patients, such as children, while others specialize in a particular treatment method or part of the body, such as mammograms of the breast. Those who accept positions at teaching hospitals may eventually advance to become senior radiologists, supervising future residents. Here's a partial list of potential careers.
- Pediatric radiologist
- Nuclear radiologist
- Radiology residency director
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected an excellent career outlook for diganostic medical sonographers between 2014 and 2024, predicting 26% growth. As the population of the country ages, more people will need diagnostic sonographic tests (www.bls.gov). Employment opportunities may be better for those with credentials from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, or ARDMS (www.ardms.org).
Most sonographers in the country work for hospitals or physicians' offices. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers was $68,970.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of all physicians is expected to increase by 14% from 2014 to 2024. The median annual wage for all physicians was greater than or equal to $187,200, per the BLS. Physicians practicing medical specialties typically earn more.
Certification and Continuing Education
Sonogram technicians with an associate degree are qualified to immediately begin working, but they may wish to pursue professional credentials with ARDMS. Two examinations are required to earn these credentials: one addresses the physics of ultrasound technology, and the other evaluates the technician's knowledge of his or her chosen specialty.
While no licensure is required for diagnostic medical sonographers, graduates may wish to take ARDMS examinations. Possible credentials include Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer, Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, or Registered Vascular Technologist. Some graduates may even choose to pursue other healthcare careers, perhaps applying to medical school, dentistry school, or veterinary school. If they go to medical school, they may become radiologists or medical imaging physicians.
When residents complete the four years of radiology residency, they take the American Board of Radiology board certification exam, which results in basic diagnostic radiology certification upon passage. Additional subspecialty certifications are in neuroradiology, vascular radiology, pediatric radiology, and nuclear radiology. The certification lasts ten years. After that, the radiologist must pass a maintenance of certification exam. Some newly graduated radiologists pursue fellowship programs for additional academic and clinical study.
While there is no Ph.D. program for sonogram technology, students can enjoy a career as a sonographer after earning an associate or bachelor's degree and gaining experience in another medical field. Physicians who specialize in radiology will work closely with sonographers and the images they produce.