From General DMS to Telemedicine, learn what Sonographers do every day
Sonographers play an important role in the lives of their patients. They’re with them as they hear their baby’s heart beat for the first time. They help the physicians diagnose and treat disease. And they provide support during what can be very emotional circumstances.
Ultrasound Technician Job Description
An ultrasound technician, also referred to as a sonographer or diagnostic medical sonographer, does more than just operate imaging equipment. They balance patient interaction and technological performance with a firm knowledge of anatomy and pathology, 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.
A Closer Look at Sonography
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. A sonographer’s 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.
Ultrasound technicians differ from radiologic technicians who perform X-rays, MRIs and CT scans in that their equipment employs sound waves instead of radiation. While an ultrasound technician’s 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.
Typical Day of an Ultrasound Technician
A sonographer’s job description varies depending on where they work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of diagnostic medical sonographers worked in hospitals. In a hospital setting, 12 hour shifts are not uncommon, and a sonographer can expect an average of 12-15 patients in a day. Sonographers will work closely the healthcare team, receiving referrals from physicians and reporting any concerns back immediately.
Ultrasound Technician Requirements
Ultrasound technicians have a variety of job duties, from patient care to equipment maintenance. Some of the responsibilities include:
- Performance of ultrasound procedures
- Use and maintenance of ultrasound equipment
- Interacting with the patient
- Working as part of a healthcare team
- Communicating concerns immediately with referring physician
- Charting ultrasound results when necessary
- Focus and attention to detail in a fast-paced environment
- Maintain CME credits as applicable
In addition, there are physical requirements that typically include:
- Capable of lifting 80 – 100 pounds or less
- Standing for long periods of time
- Able to work 12 hour shifts in a hospital setting, including nights and weekends
A sonographer must also possess certain values and abilities, including social perceptiveness, critical thinking, clear communication, active listening and patient problem sensitivity.
Sample Ultrasound Technician Job Postings
Job descriptions and postings vary, depending on the employer and specialty involved. As follows is an example of a typical job posting, describing the professional tasks of the sonographer to be hired:
Seeking Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
- 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.
New Opportunities Emerge
The field of medical imaging is constantly changing, with new technology bringing new opportunities. Here are just a couple of the emerging fields within diagnostic medical sonography.
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 extended leaves of absence. 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. Being flexible can have its benefits.
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
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 gastroenterologist, is actually on site. In these situations, sonographers and other medical imagers 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.”
Getting Started on a New Path
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.