Ultrasound Vocational and Trade School Program Information

Training programs for ultrasound technicians, known as diagnostic medical sonographers, are available at the professional certificate or associate's degree levels from trade and vocational schools.

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Essential Information

A professional certificate or associate's degree may be sufficient for a career as an ultrasound technician, provided the program is accredited. These programs prepare students to pass the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) credentialing exams. Degree programs are for students with no previous training, while certificate programs are designed for individuals who already have degrees and want to become ultrasound technicians. Both types of programs combine classroom and clinical experiences to train students in several types of sonography.

Associate's degree programs typically require students to have a high school diploma or equivalent, and some may require current CPR certification. Most professional certificate programs in diagnostic medical sonography require either an associate's degree in another allied health field or a bachelor's degree. Prior coursework in physics, biology, algebra, anatomy and physiology might be required for admission. For both programs, clinical practicum may be required.

The CAAHEP accredits certificate programs as well as associate's degree programs. Employment information, licensing and certification requirements for students completing a certificate program are the same as for those completing an associate's degree.

Associate Degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Associate's degree programs in diagnostic medical sonography generally require two years to complete. Programs with limited space may require students to complete introductory coursework, such as anatomy and physiology, physics and healthcare principles before being admitted to the program. Associate's degree programs include some general education coursework, but focus on the skills necessary to become an ultrasound technician. Most programs require an average of 120 hours of coursework. Topics include:

  • Abdominal sonography
  • Sectional anatomy
  • Physics of ultrasound
  • Obstetrical and gynecological sonography

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Professional Certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

These programs generally require four semesters and a total of 50-60 credit hours. Coursework is similar to that of an associate's degree program listed above, but focuses on the technical information and requires less general education coursework. The curriculum covers the technical skills and theories related to ultrasound technology. Courses might include:

  • Sonography instrumentation
  • Abdominal sonography
  • Obstetrical and gynecological sonography
  • Physics of ultrasound

Popular Careers Options

Most ultrasound technicians or diagnostic medical sonographers work for public or private hospitals. Others work for physicians' offices, laboratories or other imaging services. Technicians often pursue an area of specialty, such as obstetrics or vascular. Common job titles include:

  • Vascular sonographer
  • Cardiac sonographer
  • Obstetric sonographer
  • Neurosonographer
  • Abdominal sonographer
  • Breast sonographer

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), www.bls.gov, expects employment of diagnostic medical sonographers to grow 26%, a much faster than average rate, from 2014-2024. A combination of the increasing elderly population along with the use of this technology as a substitute for more invasive procedures is creating a higher demand for skilled technicians. As of May 2015, the BLS reported a median annual wage of $68,970 for these workers.

Licensing, Certification and Continuing Education Information

While licensing is not currently required, most employers prefer candidates who have been certified, according to the BLS. Certification is offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, www.ardms.org. Ultrasound technicians are required to participate in continuing education opportunities in order to maintain their credentials.

Associate's degrees in diagnostic medical sonography are intended for students who want to become ultrasound technicians but have no formal training, while professional certificate programs are for students who already have an associate's degree. Both programs prepare graduates to pass the CAAHEP certification exam to become professional ultrasound technicians.

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