Sonography Education Requirements and Career Information

Oct 22, 2019

Sonographers use complex machines to look inside the bodies of patients and aid in the diagnosis of illnesses. Learn about the required sonographer schooling, what degree is needed for sonography, what a career as a sonographer entails, and what kind of income they can expect by reading below.

What Does a Sonographer Do?

Diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as ultrasound specialists or technicians, are allied health professionals who use sound waves to produce images of the inside of a patient's body. This allows doctors to examine organs for signs of illness or infection, which can then be used to develop a treatment plan. Sonographers can specialize in certain parts of the body, such as the abdomen or breast tissue, or work with obstetricians and gynecologists where they take images of developing babies prior to their birth. Sonographers need excellent attention to detail, in order to spot abnormalities in the image that might represent a health issue, and should also be able to handle patients and provide comfort and clear communication of the ultrasound process.

Sonographer Quick Facts

Minimum Education Associate's degree
Certification Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) through ARDMS
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 19% growth for diagnostic medical sonographers
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $72,510 for diagnostic medical sonographers

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sonographer Education Requirements

In order to work as a sonographer, it is necessary to earn a degree in medical sonography. Medical sonography programs are most commonly available as associate's degrees or bachelor's degrees, although shorter certificate programs are an option for those who hold a related medical degree already. Sonographer schooling takes 2-4 years, depending on the type of degree. Courses commonly included are:

  • Human cross-sectional anatomy
  • Sonographic physics and instruments
  • Abdominal sonography
  • Obstetrical and gynecological sonography

Most accredited education programs also include an internship or clinical experience that allows students to develop and exercise their skills in real-world situations. Online ultrasound technician programs do exist, but are also likely to include these internships and clinicals, necessitating a nearby clinic or hospital to participate in the educational process. Many programs are also aligned towards certification criteri, and may allow you to sit for certain certification exams upon graduation.

Certification for Sonographers

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) is the primary certifying organization for sonographers. They offer a credential known as the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). In order to qualify for the RDMS credential, applicants must generally have a year's worth of clinical ultrasound experience as well as proof of completion of at least a 2-year medical degree program. Those who have graduated from an accredited program in diagnostic medical sonography may have the experience requirement waived.

Once the documentation proving these requirements has been filed, an applicant can proceed to taking the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation exam, proving knowledge of the physics of sonography. After the physics exam has been passed, an applicant may take an exam for a specialty, such as abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiography, obstetrics and gynecology, or pediatric sonography. With both exams completed, the applicant will be awarded the RDMS credential. Certification can make you a more attractive candidate to employers and may allow for higher earning potential and greater responsibilities.

How Much Money Does a Sonographer Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), diagnostic medical sonographers had a median annual income of $72,510 in 2018. Most medical sonographers work in hospitals, although some work in doctor's offices or dedicated medical laboratories. The BLS predicts a job growth of 19% over the 10 year period from 2018 to 2028, with much of this growth attributed to the medical needs of the aging baby boomer population. Those who hold certification are expected to have greater employment prospects, particularly if they are able to earn multiple specialties.

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