Are you looking for promising careers that don’t require you to invest a decade of your time before you can get started? Today’s featured career can be attained in less than two years, and the average salary is over eighty thousand dollars per year.
Today’s post focuses on how to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. In this article, we’ll cover education, working conditions, salary, job outlook, and more. Let’s get started!
What do Medical Sonographers Do?
Diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as ultrasound technicians, use imaging equipment to help doctors and other healthcare professionals diagnose and treat their patients.
Sonographers use technology that creates an image of the inside of your body using high-frequency soundwaves. Much in the same way that some animals use echolocation, these machines send out soundwaves and garner information from how the sound moves through tissues and bounces back. The computer uses this information to create an image on the screen that can then be used for diagnostic purposes.
The word sonogram refers to the picture taken with the imaging equipment, whereas the word ultrasound refers to the tool used to create the image.
Perhaps the most commonly known use of ultrasounds is fetal imaging, which provides information about the viability and growth of babies in utero. But this technology is also used in a wide variety of other ways.
Ultrasounds can help medical professionals distinguish a cyst from a tumor. They can provide information that indicates whether a tumor is benign or malignant. Abdominal ultrasounds are used to scan for liver disease, gallstones, and kidney stones. Sonograms can also be used to assess joints for fluid and inflammation and may be used in conjunction with x-rays to rule out skeletal fractures.
Because there are so many uses for ultrasounds, many sonographers specialize in a particular type of sonography such as prenatal ultrasounds. Here are some other specialties as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Abdominal sonographers specialize in imaging abdominal cavities and other organs like the spleen, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, or kidneys.
- Breast sonographers focus on imaging breast tissue in order to find cysts and tumors.
- Cardiac sonographers specialize in imaging hearts, chambers, valves, and vessels.
- Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in imaging joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
- Pediatric sonographers perform imaging of infants and children.
- Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers analyze imaging for female reproductive organs and unborn babies.
- Vascular technologists or vascular sonographers work with imaging to examine blood vessels and measure blood pressure and volume to detect blood clots.
Medical sonographers work as part of a healthcare team that often includes physicians, surgeons, and registered nurses. Over half of all diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals. Nearly a quarter of them work in physicians’ offices. Ten percent work at medical and diagnostic laboratories, and about four percent of medical sonographers work in outpatient care centers.
Here are some common daily tasks of medical sonographers:
- Explaining ultrasound diagnostic imaging to patients
- Following approved procedures with diagnostic equipment
- Reviewing images for clarity and coverage
- Detecting the presence or absence of medical conditions
- Distinguishing between normal and abnormal results
- Recording patient histories and new findings
Diagnostic medical sonographers work indoors in dimly lit rooms, and watching a screen all day can take a toll on their eyes. Depending on their specialty, sonographers may need to be able to help patients lift or turn their bodies. The repetitive nature of their work puts sonographers at risk for work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
Most sonographers work full time and receive excellent benefits, though part-time employment is fairly common as well. Sonographers who work in medical facilities that are always open may need to work shifts that include nights and weekends.
So, that’s the job. But how do you know if it’s the right job for you?
Well, you’ll want to be comfortable working in medical settings and spending your workday indoors. Being comfortable with technology and with the human body is important. You should also enjoy interacting with other people all day long, as interfacing with patients and communicating with coworkers are two crucial parts of the job.
Here are some other important qualities if you’re considering a career as a sonographer:
- Communication skills: You must be able to convey information clearly when discussing images with physicians and other members of the healthcare team.
- Detail oriented: You’ll need to follow precise instructions to operate medical equipment and be able to distinguish subtle differences in images.
- Hand–eye coordination: You’ll need a steady hand to operate ultrasounds.
- Team player: You should enjoy working closely with other professionals.
How to Become a Medical Sonographer
A formal education is required to become a diagnostic medical sonographer, but you don’t necessarily need to earn a four-year degree. An associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate will suffice. Depending on where you want to work, you may also need professional certification.
When you set out to become a medical sonographer, you can choose to pursue a four-year degree or opt for a shorter and more focused program.
Some sonography programs give their students the opportunity to focus on specialized fields – such as abdominal sonography, breast sonography, or cardiovascular sonography – from the beginning. Other programs focus on providing a broad knowledge of all applications in ultrasound technology rather than limiting their coursework to a specific field.
General coursework includes applied sciences, anatomy, and medical terminology. Students also need to achieve a prescribed number of supervised clinical hours in physicians’ offices, hospitals, or imaging laboratories.
Let’s start with the four-year option. Here are some of the top-ranking schools that offer Bachelor’s degrees in Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
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School, Location, Tuition
Bellin College, Green Bay, WI $21,050
Bryan College of Health Sciences, Lincoln, NE $15,867
Concordia University, Mequon, WI $30,060
Kettering College, Kettering, OH $13,392
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL $33,270
Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT $46,790
Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY $44,049
Seattle University Seattle, WA $45,765
Bellin College allows students to complete most of their coursework online and helps them to meet their clinical requirement hours at approved placement sites. The other schools require students to attend classes on campus.
Other schools offer degree programs that can be completed in under two years.
Center for Allied Health Education (CAHE) in Brooklyn, NY offers a 22-month program in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Clinical rotations are included, and students earn an Associate’s degree as well as a certificate from CAHE. The total cost of tuition is $56,700.
San Joaquin Valley College offers an Associate of Science degree in diagnostic medical sonography that can be completed in as few as 16 months. The program is not available online. Students attend classes in-person at the school’s Bakersfield, CA campus. Students learn:
- Fundamental elements and professional aspects of sonography.
- Ultrasound principles and instrumentation.
- Abdominal ultrasound imaging.
- Obstetrics, gynecology (OB-GYN), and vascular imaging.
- How to collect patient history and supporting clinical data.
- Facilitate optimum diagnostic results.
- Perform ultrasound scanning procedures.
- How to record and perform anatomic, pathologic, and physiologic scanning procedures.
- General Psychology
- Introduction to Sociology
- Professional Aspects of Sonography
- Physical Principles & Instrumentation of Ultrasound
- Orientation to Ultrasound Imaging Seminar
- Abdominal and Small Parts Ultrasound Imaging
- Fundamentals of Sonography
- Obstetrics and Gynecology Ultrasound Imaging
- Patient Care for Sonographers
- Introduction to Vascular Ultrasound Imaging
Students at SJVC also earn certification in CPR/First Aid, which is required by some employers. You can get an estimate on college costs and financial aid here.
Here are some other schools that offer Associate’s degrees in Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
School Location/ In-State Tuition/ Out-of-State
Bellevue College Bellevue, WA / $3,958 / $9,349
El Centro College Dallas, TX/ $4,050 / $6,000
Keiser University Fort Lauderdale, FL/ $21,008 / $21,008
Orange Coast College Costa Mesa, CA/ $1,188 / $7,812
Valencia College Orlando, FL/ $2,474 / $9,383
As you can see, tuition varies significantly from one program to the next. There are dozens of other options, so try searching on your own to discover what’s available near you or in your dream location.
Depending on where you want to work, you may or may not need a professional certification. Certification is available from several organizations, including the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International.
Most states don’t require sonographers to be licensed. Speak to practicing sonographers in your state (or in the state you’re interested in working in) to learn more.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Sonographer?
It can take as many as four years to earn a Bachelor’s degree, but with the right program it’s possible to become a medical sonographer in under two years.
Career Outlook for Medical Sonographers
The career outlook for diagnostic medical sonographers is excellent. Projected career growth is fifteen percent over the next decade, which is triple the national average. There will be thousands of jobs available each year to newcomers in the field.
How Much Do Medical Sonographers Make?
The median annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers in May 2021 was $77,740.
Compare this to radiologic and MRI technologists, who averaged $61,980 that year. Sonographers earn significantly more than clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, who usually have a bachelor’s degree. Sonographers even earn more than registered nurses, despite the fact that RNs require significantly more schooling and generally have more demanding jobs.
Most diagnostic medical sonographers make over sixty thousand dollars a year even when they’re fresh out of school. Over ten percent of medical sonographers earn six-digit salaries.
Here are the top-paying states for medical sonographers along with the average hourly and annual wage for medical sonographers in each place:
California /$52.57 / $109,350
District of Columbia / $48.01 / $99,860
Hawaii / $47.79 / $99,390
Washington / $46.15 / $95,990
Oregon / $45.88 / $95,420
Medical sonographers working in outpatient care centers (fewer than five percent of all sonographers) command the highest salaries, averaging over one hundred thousand dollars per year. Sonographers working in hospitals and physicians’ offices each earn an average of eighty thousand dollars per year. Those working for medical and diagnostic laboratories earn slightly less, averaging under seventy-five thousand dollars annually.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers: An Overview
Training to become a diagnostic medical sonographer is an excellent investment of your time and money. Because this is such a specialized field, relatively little training is required to attain an above-average salary. The work is less demanding and more lucrative than many other careers in medicine, making it a sound career decision.
Still, it’s not for everyone. You need to be content working in a medical environment and working one-on-one with patients all day, every day. As the profession continues to evolve and grow at a rapid rate, you need to be committed to lifelong learning to keep up with technological advancements.
Here are some pros and cons to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer:
- Qualify in less than two years
- Salaries are significantly higher than average
- Excellent job prospects and stability
- Long, irregular hours
- Risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders
All in all, this career path is an excellent choice if you want to work in the medical field and you’re looking to achieve a good salary sooner rather than later. If you’re interested in this profession, consider contacting medical sonographers and ultrasound technicians in your area to ask about the possibility of shadowing them to learn more.
If you’re interested in other careers within the medical profession, take a look at our recent articles on becoming a radiology technician or an MRI technician. Check back in the coming weeks for more articles on promising careers.