Explore Ultrasound Technician Degree Options
Degree Types & Requirements
The ultrasound degree that you pursue depends on your personal interests and job goals. In many cases, an Associate’s Degree is enough to secure a position in this rapidly growing field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for diagnostic medical sonographers is very promising. The BLS states that between 2010 and 2020, the number of positions for these professionals should increase by 44%.
Diagnostic medical sonographers (or ultrasound technicians) are multi-talented. They must combine technical expertise and an extensive knowledge of health and biological sciences with a deep compassion for their patients.
An ultrasound technician degree prepares you for a variety of job functions from introducing future parents to a first look at their baby to identifying abnormalities, such as tumors, growing inside a patient’s organs. As part of a diagnostic medial sonography degree, often you will have the opportunity to specialize in an area such as echocardiography, gynecology, vascular technology or abdominal sonography. An ultrasound degree will ultimately prepare you to complete certification exams through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), the leading credential that hospitals and clinics consider when hiring sonographers/ultrasound technicians.
What Level of Education Do I Need?
If you would like to become a diagnostic medical sonographer or ultrasound technician, ultimately your goal is to complete and pass the ARDMS exam. While not all states require such certification, the majority of clinics and hospitals prefer candidates to hold this professional credential.
In order to become eligible to take your ARDMS exam, you must hold a minimum of a two-year allied-heath related degree/diploma plus one year of clinical ultrasound experience or alternatively an actual ultrasound degree. Depending on which university or college you attend, relevant degrees may be called by different names including, Ultrasound Degree, Ultrasound Technician Degree, Diagnostic Medical Sonography Degree, Sonography Degree, Vascular Technology Degree and Ultrasound Technology Degree.
Depending on the school you select, you may complete an accredited ultrasound degree at the Associates or Bachelors levels.
Ultrasound Associates Degree
An ultrasound associates degree program typically takes two years to complete. Pre-requisites vary from school to school. In some cases the completion of several college-level biology and medical terminology courses are required; in other cases, schools require an Allied-health Associates degree in areas such as radiologic technology, physical therapy or nursing or a Bachelors degree in any major. An Associates Sonography Degree is a blend of coursework with hands-on clinical rotations. Many programs will offer the opportunity to specialize in one particular area of the ultrasound profession, such as General (abdomen, obstetrics and gynecology), Vascular or Cardiac.
Ultrasound Bachelors Degree
A bachelors degree in ultrasonography is a four-year program consisting of pre-professional and professional courses. Pre-professional courses consist of those required for any Bachelor of Science in areas of Biology, Math, Computer Science, Physics or Chemistry, plus Liberal Arts, Communications and Social Science classes. Professional courses delve into several areas of sonography (including gynecology, obstetrics, abdominal, vascular and cardiac) more specialized biology and physics courses (such as sectional anatomy, genetics, pathology and Doppler sonography) and patient-care classes. A Bachelor degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography also includes frequent clinical rotations/internships. In most cases, you will be able to specialize in a certain area of sonography in your final one or two years of the program.
When selecting an ultrasound degree program, make sure the school offers the specialization or courses in the area of sonography you are interested in pursuing as a career. Also make sure the program meets the guidelines for writing the ARDMS exam after graduation.
Online Ultrasound Degree Options
Important components of an ultrasound degree are the experiences working with imaging equipment in the lab and completing clinical rotations. However, some universities offer online programs either partially or fully, particularly at the Bachelors level. If you have already completed an Associates degree or certificate program, have some work experience and wish to advance your career, then you can complete courses online, to further specialize in a particular area of sonography, without disrupting your current professional and personal schedule. Some online programs only accept students who are already ARDMS-accredited – meaning they already have their clinical experience. Other schools will offer class work online but still require students to complete clinical rotations in person.
What Can I Do with an Ultrasound Technician Degree?
According to the BLS, there will be more job openings for diagnostic medical sonographers throughout the next decade, compared to the average for all other occupations. In 2010, the median salary for professional sonographers was around $64,000/year, adds the BLS.
There are various types of ultrasound careers you may pursue. Currently the ARDMS offers specialty exams for the following credentials:
- RDMS (Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer) – which includes ultrasounds of the abdomen and breast, neurosonology and obstetrics & gynecology.
- RDCS (Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer) – which includes adult, fetal and pediatric echocardiography.
- RVT (Registered Vascular Technologist)
Article by Wendy Fanello