Ultrasound technicians (often referred to as sonographers) are part of a growing field of medical diagnosticians. For a variety of reasons, the uses of sonography in the medical field have expanded over the past two decades and similarly, there are a number of educational options for those who are seeking ultrasound technician training. Educational levels vary from certificate programs to bachelor of science degrees. Most programs require some health-care related prerequisites.
In considering whether to embark on a career in diagnostic medical sonography, one should consider the range of job duties and responsibilities of an ultrasound technician, how to choose the best school for a prospective student and what coursework and training is involved in an ultrasound technician training program.
Like most health care professionals, ultrasound technicians have duties relating to the direct care of patients: helping patients on and off exam tables, explaining procedures and answering patient questions, frequently monitoring patient condition during ultrasound exams and ensuring a safe patient environment at all times.
Ultrasound technicians also have more profession-specific duties, including being able to independently operate the appropriate equipment such as choosing the correct transducer for a given test and patient, using sonography skills to be able to differentiate between normal and abnormal structures and organs, and knowing when further diagnostic sonography is needed. Diagnostic medical sonographers can expect to calibrate and maintain the sonography equipment and ensure a safe workplace environment for themselves and others in the sonography area.
As with many other health care professionals, ultrasound technicians can expect to keep and prepare a variety of records and reports, communicate results to physicians and other medical staff verbally and in writing, label films and maintain various other patient records.
Choosing the Right Ultrasound Technician Training School
There are many educational options for prospective ultrasound technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers. Here are a few items a prospective ultrasound technician student should consider:
Accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits nearly 200 traditional and online/distance learning programs in the United States. Some programs also receive accreditation from the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRC-DMS). Attending an accredited program helps ensure the quality and breadth of ultrasound technician training provided at the particular school.
Certification Level. In searching for the right ultrasound technician training school, a prospective student should think about the level of education desired. Some schools offer ultrasound technician certificates upon successful completion while others confer associate and/or bachelor degrees upon successful graduates. Commonly, the time it takes to complete the program is dependent upon the level of education.
Type of specialty. Students can choose a general sonography program or select one that specializes in cardiac, vascular, abdominal or obstetrics/gynecology sonography, neurosonography, or mammography. Other specialties may also be available, depending upon the school selected.
Type of school. There are a variety of organizations offering ultrasound technician training programs, ranging from community colleges and private vocational colleges to health care/hospital systems. Online/distance learning programs are also available. The type of school can sometimes determine the cost of a program, so prospective ultrasound technicians should investigate a variety of programs before selecting the one best suited to his/her needs.
Ultrasound Technician Training Requirements: Coursework and Certification
Training to be an ultrasound technician is a lot of work: most programs require that students already have two years of allied health care coursework before beginning an ultrasound technician training program. Anatomy/physiology and medical terminology are common prerequisites to ultrasound technician schools. Program length varies from 18 months to two years for most certificate programs and includes extensive hands-on clinical training and externships. Coursework often includes ultrasound physics, instrumentation, principles and protocols of diagnostic medical sonography and pathology.
Upon completion of an ultrasound technician training program, a ultrasound technician may want to consider other certification such as the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) designation offered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
Diagnostic medical sonography can be a rewarding career with abundant professional growth opportunities. Because of the many educational options available, prospective ultrasound technician students should research a variety of schools and speak with both professionals already working in the diagnostic medical sonography field and students currently attending an ultrasound technician training school.
Ultrasound Technician Salary
In 2008, the mean average income for a diagnostic medical sonographer was $61,980. 10% of ultrasound technicians earned less than $43,600, while another 10% earned in excess of $83,950.