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Ultrasound Technician

Ultrasound technicians, also referred to as diagnostic medical sonographers, play an essential role in helping identify, monitor and sometimes treat medical conditions and diseases. It is a fulfilling career that continues to increase in demand.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for ultrasound technicians are expected to increase by 46% in the next decade.

Sonographer with patient

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

What Does an Ultrasound Technician do?

Ultrasound technicians image organs and other structures inside a patient’s body using equipment that relies on sound wave technology. The ultrasound images or scans they capture are used to diagnose and monitor medical conditions, abnormalities or diseases. Ultrasound techs work in concert with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and radiologists. They also help prepare patients for procedures, maintain ultrasound equipment, record patient history and present findings to the medical team. As diagnostic medical sonographers, they help interpret ultrasound images.

In her 10th year as an ultrasound technologist, Regi Branter shared with StarTribune what she likes about her profession: “It’s challenging and I get to interact with five to 15 different patients every day. It’s nice to know that you’re an integral part of the whole process. It’s not like you just push a button. You really help in the diagnosis”.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Ultrasound Technician?

Most employers require an associates degree in sonography, which is typically a two-year program.  Some ultrasound technician programs, however, offer certificates that can be obtained in 12-18 months.

What’s the Job Market Like?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for diagnostic medical sonographers/ultrasound technologists looks very promising. The projected job growth between 2012 and 2022 is 46% in the United States. (The average job growth projection for all occupations in the U.S. is 14%). This equates to over 23,000 new ultrasound tech jobs within this decade.

Where can I Expect to Work After I Complete my Degree?

Ultrasound technicians and medical sonographers work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, medical/diagnostic labs, outpatient centers and other healthcare facilities. In 2010, the BLS stated that 61% of ultrasound technologists worked in hospitals. This includes working in the emergency room, the sonography department and also performing ultrasounds in patient rooms.

There is also an emerging job market for traveling or temporary sonographers, which we explore in an interview with Dave Felix, founder of SonoTemps, Inc.

What’s a Typical day Like for an Ultrasound Technician?

New graduates will typically work in hospital settings. Shifts are normally eight hours, and in that time you could expect to perform 10-15 ultrasounds, with paperwork and documentation required for each. During that time, you will interact with patients, physicians, and other technicians, along with various other personnel. Much of the workday is spent on your feet, and emergency situations may require extended hours. Schedule changes are not unusual.

Ultrasound Technician Salary

In 2013, the median salary for medical sonographers was $66,410/year, according to the BLS. The BLS adds that the bottom 10% of ultrasound technologists made $44,8400/year, whereas the top 10% made $92,070/year*.

Numerous factors contribute to an ultrasound tech’s salary. Naturally the more experience you have, generally the more you will make. Certifications and higher education also lead to more advanced or specialized job positions which lead to higher compensation. Where you work also plays a role. For example, the BLS stated that in 2013, ultrasound technologists working in outpatient care centers made more than those in doctor’s offices, labs and hospitals. Finally, geographic location is also a factor. In May 2013, the BLS reported that California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Rhode Island provided the highest salaries to their sonographers.

Ultrasound Licensing/Certification Requirements

In certain states, such as New Jersey, New Mexico, West Virginia and Oregon, mandatory licensing laws for ultrasound technologists have either been passed or proposed. Where ultrasound certification is not legally required, still many employers either prefer or require medical sonographers to be licensed or credentialed. Generally speaking, those who are certified have a competitive advantage over those who are not when looking for employment.

The ARDMS (American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography) is a leading accrediting organization recognized across the United States and the world. You can become certified in numerous specialties of ultrasound through meeting educational and experiential pre-requisites and writing a certification exam.

Other licensing or certification organizations that offer credentials relevant to ultrasound technology include the ARRT (American Registry for Radiologic Technologists), CCI (Cardiovascular Credentialing International) and JCAHPO (Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology).

Ultrasound Technician Roles and Specializations

There are numerous specializations within the field of ultrasonography, and they all play an essential role in today’s healthcare.

Here is an overview of some of the more popular specialties within medical imaging.

*Salary information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2013 Data: www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292032.htm.

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