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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 can 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. They specialize in operating an ultrasound machine to produce images that a physician can 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, the journey to becoming 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 will 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 can 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 can specialize in 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 will 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 Become an Ultrasound Tech?
Ultrasound technicians, like a lot of other medical professions, are in high demand. Once you earn your degree and certification, you should be able to find a job at a hospital, doctor’s office, or diagnostic laboratory. Most people can become eligible for certification after 2-4 years of study.
The majority of the courses required in your studies are science courses since you will have to know about the human body in order to use the sonogram machine. Once you finish your studies, you will be able to sit the certification exam.
Education, Training & Certification
Ultrasound certification requires only a two-year associate of Applied Science degree, so you will be able to enter the workforce quickly. If you already hold a position in the medical field, you can fast-track your studies and earn your ultrasound technician certification in only one year.
If you want more training, you can pursue a four-year Bachelor of Science degree and specialize in sonography. Because you studied longer than an associate and had specialty training, you will have more job options and a higher salary.
For the associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, you will 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.
In addition to being educated in a classroom, your studies will include hands-on experience in a supervised internship. The internship can last anywhere from 3 to 6 months.
After you earn your degree, you can take the certification exam and become certified by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Once certified, you are ready to enter the medical field as a sonographer.
How Much Does an Ultrasound Technician Make?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the median annual salary of an ultrasound technician at $75,920 as of May 2020. The top 10% of ultrasound technicians make a salary of over $105,340. Sonographers hold one of the top-paying jobs you can get with just a four-year degree.
The BLS projects the overall employment of ultrasound technicians will increase by 12 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average growth rate of other occupations. This is likely because the baby-boomer generation is getting older and requires diagnostic tests for various cardiovascular problems.
Who Makes More Money: RN or Ultrasound Tech?
According to the BLS, the median yearly salary for a registered nurse was $75,330 in May of 2020. This is about $600 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 can 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 can also discuss treatment.
Ready to Get Started?
As an ultrasound technician, you will 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. Sonographers are in high demand in 2021. You’ll have a salaried job in the medical workforce in no time.