Diagnostic medical sonographers are defined by the technology they deploy. Sonograms, also known as ultrasounds, are procedures involving the specialized, non-invasive application of sound waves to generate medical images. Physicians use the images created by sonographers to make diagnoses and monitor fetal development.
Many people think of pregnant women when they hear the word 'ultrasound.' Obstetrics, however, is only one application of diagnostic sonography. The technology is used to evaluate and diagnose all kinds of patients. Sonography, or ultrasonography, can be found in every sector of the medical field, from obstetrics and cardiology to neurology and physical therapy.
Ultrasound technicians use complex instruments to project high-frequency sound waves into the body, creating echoes that reflect off of internal surfaces. The echoes are then translated by machines into live visual images of organs, tissues or a fetus in utero.
Even basic ultrasonography is highly operator-dependent. Moreover, ultrasonic imaging demands ever more advanced technology, and thus more skilled professionals to effectively manipulate it. This trend means the occupational outlook is good, and will be best for technicians who keep up with major technological innovations.
Ultrasounds are non-invasive, safe and relatively inexpensive for consumers, and have become the most common diagnostic tool in use today. While there are no known side effects, there are occasional invasive duties involved in ultrasound imaging. Probes, for example, are sometimes needed to create quality scans in areas like prostate imaging.
Apart from the use of technology, ultrasound technologists are also skilled professionals in patient care. They need to be able to do their job with a compassionate and nonjudgmental mindset. Excellent listening and problem-solving skills are critical. The field requires a well-rounded emphasis on science, medicine, business, administrative service and interpersonal communication.
Some ultrasound technicians are independent contractors and others work as employees. In either case, variable shifts and on-call weekends are common stipulations. Many ultrasound techs work on a per diem or 'PRN' - pro re nata, as needed - basis, usually involving higher hourly wages but no scheduling guarantees or benefits.
Ultrasound technician schools are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP. Graduating from a CAAHEP-accredited program is a good way to ensure you are prepared to sit for the ARDMS examination - although it's not the only way.
Graduates of otherwise-accredited or non-accredited programs, for example, may take the exam after a year of full-time paid clinical work. However, in the present job market, it is extremely difficult to find such a position without professional certification.
Until recently, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers were not licensed by the states. Now, some states are moving to regulate the discipline, and licensing laws have been passed in Oregon, New Mexico, West Virginia and New Jersey so far. The industry expects other states to follow suit in the coming years.
The education of a sonographer may last between one and four years, up to either the vocational, associate or bachelor level. The shortest programs are generally reserved for those who already possess credentials in a related allied health profession. Those without medical experience may enter two-year ultrasound tech schools provided they have a high school diploma.
Ultrasound technologists go to school to learn about the body and pathophysiology, imaging protocols and common techniques, ethics and legal issues in medicine, and basic patient care. Sonographers create and tweak scans before handing them off to physicians for medical interpretation. They must understand the kind and quality of images necessary for doctors to make accurate diagnoses, and that requires a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology.
After completing an accredited program with supervised clinical training, graduates then take a national examination to earn their credentials via the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, or ARDMS. Certification with the Registry is highly recommended as an active prerequisite for employment in most settings. Upon certification, new professionals may use the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer title, or RDMS.
Alternatively, ultrasound technicians may become certified with the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. This organization, which certifies a variety of medical imaging professionals, offers the ARRT-S - 'S' for Sonography - credential to students who successfully complete its national certification exam in this area.
Most jobs require current RDMS or ARRT-S certification. The RDMS implies knowledge of ultrasound applications in obstetrics/gynecology and breast sonography; abdomen and organ systems; small parts, including tissues and some glands; and basic neurosonography.
To become a diagnostic sonographer without previous experience in the medical field, it is necessary to acquire at least an associate's degree. Sonography certificates are available, but many of these programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree in any subject or an associate's degree in an allied health profession.
About half of the 200+ CAAHEP-accredited DMS programs in the country provide diplomas or certificates to successful students. A solid majority extend two-year associate degrees, while around 30 offer bachelor degrees in general sonography or one of its specializations, especially Vascular or Cardiac Sonography.
There is currently just one U.S. program that hosts a Master's program in Sonography. The University of Missouri has introduced a dedicated, CAAHEP-accredited Master of Science curriculum in Diagnostic Medical Ultrasound (DMU) through its School of Health Professions. It is the first degree of its kind in the United States.
Diagnostic medical sonography is one of the major subdisciplines of radiology. There are, in turn, several major specialties available within diagnostic medical sonography. Different types of sonography are known as "modes."
Certificates in this field are primarily useful as secondary credentials establishing a sonographer's modal expertise. Here are the three main speciality modes that are certified by ARDMS:
- Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
- Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS)
- Adult Echocardiography
- Fetal Echocardiography
- Pediatric Echocardiography
- Registered in Musculoskeletal (RMSK)
We found 105 schools offering ultrasound technician degree programs in the U.S.
|Volunteer State Community College||Gallatin||TN||6567|
|Weber State University||Ogden||UT||16050|
|West Kentucky Technical College||Paducah||KY||1518|
|West Virginia University Hospital School of Radiologic Technology||Morgantown||WV||27|
|Western Suffolk Boces||Northport||NY||130|