Diagnostic medical sonographers often work with obstetricians, and ultrasound is commonly associated with assessing and diagnosing pregnancy. But this technology is widely used to diagnose and treat medical conditions throughout the body. Diagnostic medical sonographers explain procedures, review medical history, and place patients in proper positions. Using a transducer and special gels to transmit sound waves, sonographers observe the affected area on a computer screen. The sonographer then determines which images will work best for diagnosis and analyzes the preliminary results. Additional aspects of the diagnostic medical sonographer’s job may be updating patient records, adjusting and maintaining equipment, and scheduling work flow.
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Diagnostic medical sonographers typically specialize in one of several areas of sonography, like obstetric and gynecologic sonography, abdominal sonography, neurosonography, or breast sonography. Other areas of specialty are vascular sonography or cardiac sonography.
Sonographers Job Summary
- Most sonographers are employed by hospitals.
- Sonographers are trained in a variety of settings, including vocational institutions, colleges and universities, hospitals, and the Armed Forces.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), favorable job growth is expected for diagnostic medical sonographers.
- As sonography is increasingly used instead of radiology, employment will grow.
Work Environment for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers work in clean hospitals and other healthcare facilities, using diagnostic machinery in darkened exam rooms and at patients’ bedsides. There can be long periods of standing, plus lifting or turning patients.
Some diagnostic medical sonographers are contract employees, working for more than one facility. Others travel with mobile imaging service providers to areas lacking these facilities.
Most diagnostic medical sonographer jobs are 40 hours per week, with opportunities for overtime work and possible on-call requirements.
Education, Training, and Licensing
There are several paths to a diagnostic medical sonographer career. Employers often accept formal education, training, or a combination of the two. Most employers require sonographer education to be from an accredited program or through training at an accredited practice, and prefer to hire registered sonographers.
Some sonographers choose to attend a college or university, while others obtain their training from a vocational-technical institution, hospital, or military service. A number of training programs favor applicants with healthcare experience, or at least a high school diploma and previous math, health, and science courses.
Formal training can lead to either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a college or university, requiring two to four years for completion. Most common are the two-year training programs, which include courses in anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, physics, patient care, and medical ethics. Over 150 training programs have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP); they are offered by colleges, universities, and some hospitals.
Some employers accept a vocational certificate offered through a one-year training program – but these are usually pursued by healthcare workers who want to improve their job opportunities by training in sonography.
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While no states currently require diagnostic medial sonography licenses, most employers prefer to hire registered sonographers. Several professional certifying organizations offer this credential. To qualify for the examination, sonographers must complete the proper education or have sufficient training or work experience. The exam typically includes sections on physics and instrumentation in a sonography specialty. To maintain registration, sonographers usually must complete a certain number of continuing-education hours. The specific certifying organization can provide more details on credentials.
Sonographers who pass the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) exam receive the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) certification. Those specializing in the abdomen, breast, or cardiac, vascular, or nervous systems may obtain this credential. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offers credentials for breast and vascular sonographers, while Cardiovascular Credentialing International offers credentials for cardiac sonographers.
Sonographers need good interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to communicate well, since they often explain technical procedures to patients and families. Good hand-eye coordination is also helpful to obtain quality images. Sonographers should enjoy learning, because continuing education is vital to keeping ahead of the fast-changing diagnostic medical field.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook, and Earnings
How much do sonographers typically make? U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) findings show that diagnostic medical sonographers held about 50,300 jobs in 2009. Most of these positions were in hospitals, with the remaining in physicians’ offices, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and outpatient care centers.
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Employment in this field is expected to grow faster than other occupations, due to the aging of the population, increased use of ultrasound imaging, and ultrasound imagining technology advances. The best diagnostic medical sonographer career opportunities typically go to those who are willing to relocate, have multiple specialties, or hold a degree from an accredited educational institution.
The BLS reports that the average annual earnings for diagnostic medical sonographers were $63,640 in May 2009. The middle 50% of professionals earned between $53,110 and $74,400, while the lowest 10% earned $43,990. The highest 10% of sonographers earned $85,950 per year.