As a sonographer, you play an important role in the lives of your patients. You’re with them as they hear their baby’s heart beat for the first time. You help the physicians diagnose and treat disease. And you provide support during what can be very emotional circumstances.
The Ultrasound Technician: A Closer Look
There are numerous medical imaging techniques used to diagnose and treat health disorders and abnormalities, including X-rays, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and ultrasounds.
Sonographers use imaging equipment that non-invasively emits sound waves directed towards internal organs, blood vessels, tissues and other structures. An ultrasound technician job description entails using this specialized technology but can also include interpreting these images and assisting the rest of the healthcare team.
Ultrasound technician job duties vary across specialties, from monitoring the development of a fetus in utero to evaluating the passage of blood throughout a patient’s vascular system. Some sonographers will also assist with interventional or minimally invasive procedures for either diagnostic or therapeutic purposes, from ultrasound-guided surgeries to biopsies.
According to Image WiselyTM, approximately 159 million ultrasound exams are performed in the United States each year.
Source: Image WiselyTM Fact Sheet http://www.imagewisely.org/~/media/ImageWisely%20Files/Image%20Wisely%20Fact%20Sheet%2011%202010.pdf
General Sonography Job Description
An Ultrasound tech does more than just operating imaging equipment. A diagnostic medical sonographer job description often balances patient interaction and technological performance with a firm knowledge in anatomy and pathology and working cohesively with a healthcare team.
Ultrasound technicians may work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, diagnostic laboratories, outpatient care facilities, universities and other healthcare sites. Some general ultrasound technician job duties include:
- Explain the ultrasound procedure to patients and answer any questions they may have.
- Maintain ultrasound equipment and sterilize the room in which the procedure takes place.
- Spread the ultrasound gel on the surface of the patient’s body covering the internal area being imaged.
- Perform the ultrasound ensuring the transducer (probe) is capturing images of every angle/section that must be assessed.
- Evaluate the images for their quality, but also to interpret what was captured in the image.
- Present images and preliminary findings to physicians and the healthcare team.
- Maintain patient records and add medical notes related to the ultrasound procedure.
- OB/GYN (Obstetrics and Gynecology)
- Echocardiography (Cardiac Ultrasound)
- Vascular Technology
Sample Job Postings
There are numerous ultrasound technician job descriptions, as there are various employers, and also various ultrasound specialties. As follows is an excerpt from an Indeed.com job posting describing the professional tasks of the ultrasound
technician to be hired:
Seeking ULTRASOUND TECHNICIAN
“The sonographer is responsible for performing all ultrasound procedures including those within the department, at the bedside, and in the OR.”
“Works closely with the radiologist and other licensed physicians presenting images and data for interpretation and assisting with interventional procedures.”
“Must show independent judgment when performing procedures and when addressing difficult or unusual situations.”
“Responsible for evaluating images for technical quality.”
“Utilizes PACS (picture archiving and communications system) with accuracy.”
“Accepts additional assignments and tasks as needed for the department.”
“Provide Ultrasound department coverage after hours participating in ‘ON-CALL’ rotation.”
“Assess patient to determine ability to undergo requested examination.”
A number of ultrasound staffing agencies offer opportunities for sonographers to take their vocation on the road.
Traveling ultrasound technicians generally work on short term contracts, filling in for sonographers who go on maternity or sick leave, vacation or away for other reasons. It’s a great experience for ultrasound techs to see different parts of the country and a variety of workplaces. Reputable staffing agencies should cover travel, housing and per diem expenses, and traveling sonographers often earn more during their contract than they would working the same period as a permanent employee.
To discover more about being a traveling sonographer, check out Stephanie Eisler’s The “Nanny McPhee” of Ultrasound Part 1 and Part 2, and our interview with President of SonoTemps Inc., Dave Felix.
The Ultrasound Technician’s Role in Telemedicine
Simply put, telemedicine involves two or more healthcare professionals, who are in different geographic locales, sharing medical information via electronic or telecommunications.
“Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology,” states the American Telemedicine Association. “Starting out over forty years ago with demonstrations of hospitals extending care to patients in remote areas, the use of telemedicine has spread rapidly and is now becoming integrated into the ongoing operations of hospitals, specialty departments, home health
agencies, private physician offices as well as consumer’s homes and workplaces.”
Ultrasound technicians can play an important role in telemedicine. At a rural hospital or health centers, for example, there may be only limited times when a specialized physician, like a cardiologist or gastroentologist, is actually on site. In these situations, medical imagers, like sonographers, can work directly with patients at the facility and communicate their findings with the appropriate physician.
“The benefits of telehealth were immediately apparent,” described AuntMinnie.com contributing writer, Doug Wuebben, about working as a pediatric echocardiographer in South Dakota. “I was able to plug my ultrasound machine into the telemedicine unit, which in turn allowed my study to be reviewed remotely; whatever was seen on the ultrasound machine’s screen was also seen by the pediatric cardiologist on the other end. A pediatric cardiologist would remotely view my study ‘live’ and see things exactly how I saw them in real-time… Because information was obtained “live,” decisions could be made quickly about the clinical course for the patient.”
Between 2012-2022, diagnostic medical sonographer jobs are projected to increase by 46%.
This growth is much faster than the 11% average growth projected for all occupations as a whole.
: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
Ultrasound technicians aren’t just some pretty faces waving a transducer around.
They are highly-skilled, intelligent professionals with a firm knowledge base in science and technology. And when it comes to technology, ultrasound techs are not necessarily using the same old machine or mode, day after day.
For example, a vascular ultrasound technician will probably be working with several modalities, like 2D, Spectral Doppler, Color Doppler and others. There’s a good chance a high-risk OB sonographer will not only be performing 2D ultrasounds but also 3D and 4D sonograms.
Additionally, ultrasound technology is constantly advancing. In fact, it is quite possibly evolving faster than any other medical imaging procedure.
One trend has been ultrasound equipment becoming smaller and more portable, like GE Healthcare’s Vscan and MobiSante’s MobiUS. Enhancements to image and contrast qualities and now the availability of 5D ultrasound are other examples of advancements in the sonography world. Ultrasound technicians continuously learns throughout their career, and using new equipment is an important part of that.
To learn more about ultrasound technology advancements, read our article: Making ‘Supersonic’ Strides
Day in the Life of an Ultrasound Technician
An Ultrasound Technician Job Description varies depending on where they work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2012, the majority of diagnostic medical sonographers worked in hospitals. In these cases, a typical day for an ultrasound technician may alternate between going to patient rooms to take ultrasounds and having patients come to their particular department in the hospital. Also in a hospital environment, sonographers may work closely with other imaging professionals, such as radiologic technicians, in addition to doctors, internists and surgeons.
Ultrasound technicians differ from radiologic technicians who perform X-rays, MRIs and CT scans in that their equipment employs sound waves instead of radiation. Like radiologic technicians, nuclear medicine technologists do not use sound wave technology either – they administer radioactive drug compounds to their patients for imaging purposes. While an ultrasound tech job description differs from that of other medical imaging professionals, their work often compliments one another. For example, a radiologic technician will often take a mammogram of the breast in conjunction with a sonographer performing an ultrasound.
It must not be forgotten that an ultrasound technician job description goes beyond job duties. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education, a sonographer must possess certain values and abilities, including social perceptiveness, critical thinking, clear communication, active listening and patient problem sensitivity.
If you are interested in a career in sonography, numerous colleges and universities offer ultrasound degree programs that will provide you with the theory and practice (through labs and clinical internships) you need to be a successful ultrasound technician. Before applying for a program, ensure it will qualify to you to become certified through the ARDMS (American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography), a credential heralded by the American and global medical community.