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What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?
Ultrasound technicians, also known as medical sonographers, use sound waves and machines to produce image of internal tissue and use said images to diagnose healthy and unhealthy areas. Individuals working in the field typically work in hospitals, providing non-invasive imaging that provides physicians and other healthcare professionals the ability to identify internal growths, tissue damage, and other ailments within the human body. Ultrasound technology has improved significantly over the last decade, allowing for the technique to become more prominent and of higher value, and in turn creating a high demand for technicians.
Ultrasound technicians are ultimately responsible for the maintenance and functionality of the operating equipment used to produce sonograms. Images created by the technology used by an ultrasound tech are used by a medical team to establish a medical diagnosis and to treat patients. The most common association of a sonogram is related to pregnancy but that is only a small portion of the totality of a sonograms application in the medical world. In fact, sonograms are used to examine brain tissue, heart valves, muscles, tendons, organs, prostate, thyroid, blood flow, ligaments, spinal cord, breast tissue, and musculoskeletal disorders.
In addition to becoming proficient with the usage and capabilities of medical equipment, an ultrasound tech will often be patient-facing. Diagnostic medical sonographers will engage directly with patients to provide education and comfort leading up to a medical procedure or medical imaging activity. With keen attention to detail, an ultrasound tech will be able to detect abnormal images and effectively communicate those findings to physicians and patients. In terms of work setting, an ultrasound tech can be found in the office of a physician, lab, hospital, medical facility, college, university, or outpatient care center.
Degree Programs for an Ultrasound Technician
The degree options for an ultrasound tech include professional certificate programs, associate degrees, and bachelor degree programs. We have detailed each below to help you better understand the differing elements of each type of program. Read each carefully and then reach out to programs below to learn more about each type of program that may be best for you.
Ultrasound Tech Certificate Programs
A certificate program for an ultrasound tech is a 1-2 year program designed to provide students with the essentials of a diagnostic medical sonographer. Classes in the certificate program typically include: anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, obstetrics, gynecology, physics, vascular studies, and an externship. Unlike many other certificate programs, the ultrasound tech certificate program requires students to have already earned a college degree. Current requirements allow for students to have any type of bachelor’s degree or an associate degree from an approved allied health field of study.
Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree
The associate degree program is typically a 2-year program that is an entry-point into the ultrasound tech vocation. Students earning an Associate of Science degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography will be exposed to a comprehensive curriculum and diagnostic imaging skills. Most accredited programs balance necessary academic work with hands-on lab experience and valuable clinical rotations. After graduating from an accredited college or university with an associate degree, students will be equipped to step into a vocational opportunity in the healthcare field.
Ultrasound Tech Bachelor Degree
The Bachelor of Science (BS) degree for an Ultrasound Technician is a 4-year program designed for students who are working in the healthcare field or have previous college credits and are part of a professional registry such as the ARDMS. Like many of the bachelor degree programs around the country, core degree curriculum and general education courses are required by the college or university. General education courses such as math, English, and psychology help students think differently about the world around them and process information more effectively while core courses allow students to specialize in a particular area of study. Core curriculum for ultrasound techs will often include healthcare systems, medical equipment, musculoskeletal sonography, pediatric sonography, and other sonography specialties plus substantive lab time. The bachelor’s degree program is culminated with an externship or clinical rotation at an approved medical or healthcare facility.
Sonography training is typically offered at hospitals, vocational schools, as well as two and four year institutions. Though bachelor's degrees are available, the most common education level received is the associate's degree. Short programs are also offered but are typically taken by medical professionals looking to increase their skill set rather than work in the specific field of medical sonography.Courses will be divided between practical and classroom settings, allowing for the familiarization of with equipment, standard practice and methodology,
Some classes may include:
- Basic Physics
- Patient Care
- Medical Ethics
Top Schools for an Ultrasound Tech
The top schools for an ultrasound technician or diagnostic medical sonographer will have a common set of traits and characteristics. In fact, the best ultrasound tech programs stand out from others based on three primary drivers: program quality, facilities, and clinical experience. We will unpack each below to help you better understand what makes a top college for an ultrasound tech.
- Quality: The overall quality of a college or university’s ultrasound tech program is of utmost importance. How do you determine quality of a college program? The most predictable way to determine a program’s quality is via outcomes and accreditation. Data regarding student outcomes can be found by talking to alumni, professionals in the field, and independent third-parties. Accreditation is the other key component to determine the quality of an ultrasound tech degree program. Seek out colleges with regional accreditation, national accreditation, JRC-DMS, or CAAHEP designations. Without accreditation, programs may not meet academic standards, earn professional certificates, nor apply for federal financial aid.
- School Facilities: Understanding how a school invests in its surgical technician program can be performed via an interview or school tour. Be sure to take the time to understand the equipment used and student access to technology and labs on campus. High-tech facilities will provide students with the latest technology used in hospitals and medical facilities thus giving you real-world exposure to viable medical equipment.
- Clinical Experience: The quality of your clinical experience or externship is a valuable tool for any student looking to enter the medical field as an ultrasound tech. As the college or university what their externship program looks like and the partnerships they have established with medical providers in the community to enhance your clinical experience.
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Ultrasound technicians primarily work in hospitals, but are finding increasing work in private practices and medical facilities such as nursing homes. The role of a medical sonographer is to provide imaging and diagnosis for patients, assisting in the development of a proper treatment for a patient's ailment. Medical sonographers will use ultrasound or sonography machines to produce the images, then use their experience reading such images to confer with physicians about the results. Medical sonographers must have an understanding of human physiology and the various ailments one may be suffering, as well as how to identify such ailments accurately.
Ultrasound technicians have a variety of specialization they may choose to pursue, and certification is available for each specialization. Specializations allow sonographers to expand upon their practice, or focus on a given area of expertise in order to assist physicians. An individual who has pursued a specialization will be able to more accurately assist in the diagnosis of an ailment, particularly in areas considered difficult or complex to image and identify. Specialization is normally pursued after a certain number of years of experience have been accrued, demonstrating that the individual is qualified and capable as a medical sonographer prior to developing more complex skills.
These specializations are:
- Obstetric and gynecologic
Common Job Titles of an Ultrasound Technician
An understanding of common job titles of an ultrasound tech will help you understand the job titles abound in the medical community for the job. Either while looking for jobs or when seeking to upskill into a new career, it is important to understand the breadth of job titles associated with the ultrasound tech vocation. A sample of common job titles of an ultrasound technician include the following:
- Cardiac Sonographer
- Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS)
- Ultrasound Technician (Ultrasound Tech)
- Cardiac/Vascular Sonographer
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
- Medical Sonographer
- Staff Sonographer
- Ultrasound Technologist (Ultrasound Tech)
Top Job Responsibilities of an Ultrasound Tech
In a recent survey of ultrasound techs around the country, the U.S. Department of Labor gathered in-depth information about the job and daily activities. While not inclusive of all jobs in the field, we have culled a list of the top 5 most popular job responsibilities cited by ultrasound techs.
- Examine medical imaging screen during scans to ensure image quality is acceptable diagnostic purposes and adjust equipment accordingly
- Attend to patients throughout exam to provide for safety and comfort
- Communicate oral and/or written summary of sonogram findings to the medical team to be utilized for efficient medical diagnosis
- Selection of the appropriate equipment settings and patient position to get optimal imaging results
- Manipulate ultrasound equipment to produce requisite images of the shape and composition of blood, organs, tissues, or masses
Job Growth, Salary, and Related Fields
Diagnostic medical sonography is a growing field and as such job opportunities are expected to increase rapidly over the next decade at a projected rate of 24% which is 4 times the national average growth rate. This is primarily due to the low cost and less invasive nature of sonography versus similar tools which may put a patient at risk or expose them to dangerous levels of radiation. Additionally, as the population in the United States grows older, the need for qualified individuals to perform testing will increase. Technology in this field is also developing rapidly, producing better and more accurate results which will make the option for medical sonography in diagnosis all the more appealing. These factors combined are responsible for a near 50% growth rate in the field.
The average wage for an ultrasound technician is approximately $69,650 per year. The lowest ten percent earned less than $43,600 and the highest more than $84,000. Experienced and certified individuals will earn salaries in the upper end, with individuals having several certifications being able to performs several sonographic functions and thus be in higher demand.
States with the Highest Employment of Ultrasound Technicians
- California 5,640
- Texas 5,190
- Florida 5,120
- New York 4,730
- Pennsylvania 2,530
Top Paying States for Ultrasound Technicians
- California $93,350
- District of Columbia $87,750
- Washington $86,970
- Oregon $84,160
- Colorado $81,830