When we hear the word "ultrasound," we typically imagine a pregnant woman getting her first glimpse of her unborn child on a little screen. An obstetric sonogram is a procedure we are most familiar with, but an ultrasound may be used to examine the internal workings of pretty much any part of the human body.
Ultrasound technicians, or sonographers, work mostly in hospitals, doctor's offices, and diagnostic laboratories. According to O*Net, they operate an ultrasound machine to produce images that a physician may use to diagnose a patient.
It's a job that requires technical savvy, detailed knowledge of human anatomy, and the interpersonal skills necessary to make a patient feel at ease during the procedure.
Being an ultrasound technician may seem like a daunting job, but it only takes a minimum of two years to complete the schooling necessary. Compared to other medical fields, pursing a career as a sonographer is not a long one at all.
What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?
An ultrasound machine uses high-frequency sound waves to capture images of a patient's internal organs and tissues. As an ultrasound technician, you would operate the equipment that conducts the ultrasound. Once you have captured the images, a physician may look at them and make a diagnosis.
We are most familiar with the use of ultrasound to monitor a mother during pregnancy, but the ultrasound machine has other uses. You may use a sonogram machine to analyze breast tissue, examine the brain and spinal cord, and examine organs in the abdominal cavity.
Some diagnostic medical sonographers may focus on a certain kind of imaging, like cardiac sonographers, who focus on taking sonograms of the heart.
As an ultrasound technician, you don't just have to be able to operate the machine. You are the one who could interact with patients and walk them through the procedure. The patient might be nervous or self-conscious, and it is your job to put them at ease. For this reason, you have to have interpersonal skills as well as technical know-how.
Is It Hard to Pursue a Career as an Ultrasound Tech?
If you're considering a career as an ultrasound tech, two important factors to consider are your ability to earn a degree and the profession's job growth rate. The number of ultrasound technician jobs, like a lot of other medical professions, are growing at a fast rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 14% increase in ultrasound technician jobs between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than the average growth rate for all jobs. This is likely because the baby-boomer generation is getting older and requires diagnostic tests for various cardiovascular problems.
Once you earn your degree and certification, you may be able to pursue a career in a hospital, doctor's office, or diagnostic laboratory. Many people may earn a certification after 2-4 years of study.
The majority of the courses required in your studies are science courses since you may have to know about the human body in order to use the sonogram machine. Once you finish your studies, you may be able to sit the certification exam.
Education, Training & Certification
Program completion times may vary depending on specific program requirements, but ultrasound certification usually requires only a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree, so you could be able to enter the workforce quickly. If you already have a college degree, you could fast-track your studies and enroll in an ultrasound technician certification program.
If you want more training, you may pursue a four-year Bachelor of Science degree and focus on sonography. Because you studied longer than an associate and had specialty training, you may have more job options and a higher salary.
For the associate's and bachelor's degrees, you may take the core science courses: biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and physics. There are also more specific subjects that relate to sonography, such as the physiology of the heart, obstetrics and gynecology ultrasound, ultrasound physics, and medical terminology.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary of an ultrasound technician is $75,920. Sonographers hold one of the top-paying jobs you could get with just a two-year degree.
Who Makes More Money: RN or Ultrasound Tech?
According to the BLS, the median yearly salary for a registered nurse was $75,330. This is $590 less than the median wage for sonographers during that same time. Like an ultrasound technician, an RN has to earn either a bachelor's or associate's degree. They also have the option to attend an approved nursing program.
Once licensed, a registered nurse may begin practicing. The career paths of RN and sonographer are very similar in salary and time spent in school. Your choice of career really depends on where your passion lies.
Why Can't Ultrasound Techs Tell You the Result of an Ultrasound?
If you've ever had an ultrasound, you've probably wondered why the tech operating the machine won't tell you anything about what they're seeing. Your ultrasound tech should not tell you about your results or even react to what they see since this might influence the patient's decisions about treatment.
That is not to say that your tech has no idea what she's looking at. An ultrasound tech should know their anatomy well enough to perform the procedure, but they are not doctors. Only a doctor is qualified to share test results with the patient since they could also discuss treatment.
Ready to Get Started?
As an ultrasound technician, you could be on the front lines of diagnostic medicine. A specialization in sonography requires only an associate's or bachelor's degree in science and a certification from the ARDMS.
Program outcomes may vary depending on each institution's specific curriculum and employment opportunities are not guranteed.