So you want to be a sonographer…
Would you enjoy…
- Providing one-on-one care to a variety of people ranging from healthy to critically ill?
- Using high-tech instrumentation to create and interpret images from inside the human body that are used by physicians to make a medical diagnosis?
- Working as a key member of a health care team?
- Committing to life-long learning in order to maintain knowledge and expertise in a rapidly growing health care profession?
If so…we'd like to tell you about a career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
What is sonography?
Ultrasonography, commonly called sonography, is a diagnostic medical procedure that uses high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to produce dynamic visual images of organs, tissues, or blood flow inside the body. This type of procedure is often referred to as a sonogram or ultrasound scan. Sonography can be used to examine many parts of the body, such as the abdomen, breasts, female reproductive system, prostate, heart, and blood vessels. Sonography is increasingly being used in the detection and treatment of heart disease, heart attack,
and vascular disease that can lead to stroke. It is also used to guide fine needle, tissue biopsy to assist in taking a sample of cells from an organ for lab testing (for example, a test for cancer in breast tissue). Unlike X-rays, sonography is a radiation-free imaging modality.
The non-physician professionals who perform these procedures are known as sonographers and vascular technologists (who are sonographers specializing in imaging and tests of blood vessels).
There are several areas of specialization in the field of sonography. These specialty areas are:
Abdomen - evaluation of all the soft tissues, blood vessels and organs of the abdominal cavities (for example, liver, spleen, urinary tract, pancreas)
Breast - frequently used to evaluate breast abnormalities that are found with screening or diagnostic mammography
Obstetrics/Gynecology - evaluation of the female reproductive system
Echocardiography - evaluation of the anatomy and hemodynamics (blood flow) of the heart, its valves and related blood vessels
Vascular Technology - evaluation and analysis of the hemodynamics (blood flow) of peripheral and abdominal blood vessels
Neurosonology - evaluation of the brain and spinal cord
Ophthalmology - evaluation of the eye, including orbital structures and muscles
What does a diagnostic medical sonographer do?
A diagnostic medical sonographer is a highly-skilled professional who uses specialized equipment to create images of structures inside the human body that are used by physicians to make a medical diagnosis. The process involves placing a small device called a transducer against the patient's skin near the body area to be imaged. The transducer works like a loudspeaker and microphone because it can transmit sound and receive sound. The transducer sends a stream of high frequency sound waves into the body that bounce off the structures inside. The transducer detects sound waves as they bounce off the internal structures. Different structures in the body reflect these sound waves differently. These sounds are analyzed by a computer to make an image of the structure(s) on a television screen or that can be recorded on videotape.
Sonographers have extensive, direct patient contact that may include performing some invasive procedures. They must be able to interact compassionately and effectively with people who range from healthy to critically ill.
The professional responsibilities include, but are not limited, to:
- obtaining and recording an accurate patient history
- performing diagnostic procedures and obtaining diagnostic images
- analyzing technical information
- using independent judgement in recognizing the need to extend the scope of the procedure according to the diagnostic findings
- providing an oral or written summary of the technical findings to the physician for medical diagnosis
- providing quality patient care
- collaborating with physicians and other members of the health care team.
Sonographers must also be knowledgeable about and limit the risk from possible exposure to blood and body fluids. Many sonographers also assist in electronic and clerical scheduling, record keeping, and computerized image archiving. Sonographers may also have managerial or supervisory responsibilities.
What are some of the technical standards?
Sonographers and Vascular Technologists must be able to:
- Lift more than 50 pounds routinely
- Push and pull routinely
- Bend and stoop routinely
- Have full use of both hands, wrists and shoulders
- Distinguish audible sounds
- Adequately view sonograms, including color distinctions
- Work standing on their feet 80% of the time
- Interact compassionately and effectively with the sick or injured
- Assist patients on and off examining tables
- Communicate effectively with patients and other health care professionals
- Organize and accurately perform the individual steps in a sonographic procedure in the proper sequence
What are the career opportunities?
Sonography is a dynamic profession that has grown significantly over the past 20 years. With rapidly developing new technologies and increased use of diagnostic ultrasound procedures, growth is projected to continue in the future with employment opportunities for qualified sonographers in both urban and rural areas nationwide. Sonographers and vascular technologists can choose to work in clinics, hospitals, private practice physician offices, public health facilities, laboratories, and other medical settings performing examinations in their areas of specialization. Career advancement opportunities exist in education, administration, research, and in commercial companies as education/application specialists, sales representatives, technical advisors, etc.
What are the salaries for sonographers?
In addition to excellent career opportunities, salaries for sonographers are competitive with or higher than other professionals with similar levels of education. According to the SDMS Salary and Benefits Survey report (released March, 2005), the median salary for sonographers is $61,984. This income includes: 1) hourly salary, 2) overtime and, 3) on-call pay. The typical hourly pay rate is $29, and the number of overtime hours worked per week by sonographers is 3. The typical on-call pay rate is $3.00 per hour, and the call-in rate of pay is $42 per hour. Note: The SDMS Salary and Benefits Survey report is available for free to all SDMS members.
Salaries vary depending on years of experience, number of specialties practiced, as well geographic location. There are opportunities for full-time and part-time employment.
How long does it take to become a diagnostic medical sonographer?
Comprehensive Diagnostic Medical Sonography programs vary in length from one to four years depending on the degree or certificate awarded. Prerequisites also vary among programs from high school diploma or GED to specific qualifications in a related allied health profession.
The SDMS recommends that prospective students select a reputable program that follows minimum curriculum and clinical education standards recognized by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS.) The SDMS does not recommend training programs that provide limited opportunity for students to apply classroom instruction and technical skills in patient care settings (clinical rotations). When seeking a reputable program, candidates might wish to consult the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) which accredits diagnostic medical sonography programs in the United States. A list of accredited programs is available on CAAHEP's web site, www.caahep.org.