Sonographers operate medical equipment that uses sound waves to create images of human organs. Unlike an associate's degree program with a limited number of specialty areas, a bachelor's degree program generally features several areas of specialization, such as vascular, veterinary, small parts or cardiac sonography. At either level, programs should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP). Before graduates can obtain work they must be registered with the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS).
Associate of Science in Diagnostic Ultrasound
Nine specialties make up the field of ultrasound, but concentration areas at the associate's degree level may be limited to general sonography, vascular ultrasound or cardiac ultrasound. While enrolled in an Associate of Science (A.S.) in Diagnostic Ultrasound programs, students learn about patient care techniques, imaging accuracy and medical ethics. Laboratory coursework is a large component of the curriculum, and practical training is provided through a clinical component. Sonography courses vary by discipline and by college. Common topics include:
- Medical ethics
- Physics of sonography
- Gynecological sonography
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Cardiac sonography
Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
A bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography can be completed in four years and prepares students for work in the field of allied health. Training is provided in the major areas of sonography during the first two years of enrollment. Specialized classes are completed in the final two years. Clinical rotations are a key component of the degree, and training is provided at local participating hospitals and health care agencies. The goal of the clinical rotations is to familiarize students with the process of performing a general ultrasound examination. The first and second years of enrollment are dedicated to general science and math courses. The final two years explore core aspects of diagnostic medical sonography, and elective courses allow students to focus on an area of interest. Courses typically feature:
- Analytical chemistry
- College physics
- Vascular evaluation
- Clinical ultrasound
- Gynecological ultrasound
- Genetics for medicine
Popular Career Options
Completion of the bachelor's degree program prepares graduates for a variety of career options, such as:
- Diagnostic medical sonographer
- Sonography systems administrator
- Sonography marketer
- Sonography sales specialist
Job Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected employment growth of diagnostic medical sonographers is 26% for the 2014-2024 period. This may be due to patient preference as a wider population embraces ultrasound over invasive or radiological imaging methods. The annual median salary of a sonography technician was $68,970 as of May 2015, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Once they have completed at least an undergraduate degree program in the field, prospective professional sonographers must successfully pass the national qualifying exam administered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). Once a general exam covering both the physics of sonography and a sonographic specialty area is passed, the RDMS (Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer) credential is recognized. Registration communicates to potential employers that a job applicant has met the minimum educational and experiential requirements to be considered a medical imaging professional.
Students have several options when considering a sonography degree, including an associate's in diagnostic ultrasound and a bachelor's in diagnostic medical sonography. Both degree options require in-class course completion, along with clinical rotations to provide on-the-job experience.