The pursuit of a career in diagnostic medical sonography begins with the successful completion of an ultrasound technician training program.
Ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging technique that employs sound wave technology to examine organs and other interior body parts for diagnostic, monitoring and therapeutic purposes. An ultrasound technician, also referred to as a diagnostic medical sonographer, is a vital member of a healthcare team, whether it be at a hospital, outpatient facility, doctor’s office or medical laboratory.
Training Programs for Entry Level Sonographers
Most sonographers start with an associate in science degree in diagnostic medical sonography at a community college, medical training school or hospital, or 4-year institution. Certificate programs are also available to individuals who already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
The training program allows students to learn the theory and practice of sonography in the classroom, laboratory and during clinical rotations. There is also ultrasound training in the form of professional development so that practicing sonographers can upgrade their skills and further specialize.
Sonographers entering the job market can expect good opportunities, with some areas of the country being especially strong due to the shortage of sonographers and other medical professionals. Nation-wide, jobs for ultrasound technicians are expected to grow by 19% by 2030. Salary and employment figures are based on a national average and may vary by location.
Choosing Your Ultrasound Technician Training Program
There are many factors that go in to choosing a program. It’s important to find a school that is near where you live, is affordable, has a good reputation, and whose prerequisites and entrance requirements you can meet.
But arguably one of the most important things to consider is the accreditation of the program. In order to be accredited, a school or program must pass a review by an independent accrediting agency. If they are able to pass that review, it’s a testament to the quality of the education that the school is providing.
For diagnostic medical sonography, the primary accrediting agency is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Graduating from a program that has been accredited by the CAAHEP is desirable or even required by many employers, and it’s also the easiest way to become certified.
Obtaining Certification Through a Sonography Training Program
To be certified means that you have passed an external exam by a licensing agency, most commonly the ARDMS for sonographers, which is evidence of the quality of knowledge and education that the sonographer possesses.
Certification or licensure of sonographers is not typically mandatory by state regulators, but it’s preferred by many employers.
Graduating from an accredited sonography training program is the easiest way to meet the testing requirements that have been set forth by the ARDMS, though there are others.
Ultrasound training delves into all important features of the profession. Some of the coursework common to most training programs include:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Patient Care in Diagnostic Sonography
- Ultrasound Imaging
- Ultrasound Case Studies
- Clinical Pathology
Ultrasound technicians also learn about patient care, communications, physics (particularly as it pertains to sound wave technology), health law and other relevant disciplines. Ultrasound training consists of lectures but also hands-on experiences (through lab work and placements) so that the prospective sonographer knows exactly what is required in a real-world career scenario.
Further Your Sonography Training with Specialization
For more specialized ultrasound training, individuals can further educate themselves in a number of areas, from echocardiography and Doppler sonography to neurological ultrasounds and interventional sonography. The specialty exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) are:
Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS)
- Fetal Echodardiography
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Pediatric Sonography
Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS)
- Adult Echocardiography
- Fetal Echocardiography
- Pediatric Echocardiography
Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS)
Are There Online Sonography Training Programs?
Normally as part of a degree or certificate program, the ultrasound technician training must be done in person, particularly when it comes to using ultrasound equipment. However, if a student has already done all of the required clinical hours, he or she may have the option to complete some ultrasound courses online.
For example, if you have already completed an Associates degree in ultrasound and wish to take Bachelor degree completion courses, some schools will offers these online. You can request information from various colleges and universities to find out which offer ultrasound training programs partially or fully online.
Additionally, if you wish to take professional development courses (i.e. in order to maintain ARDMS or other credentials or to further specialize and upgrade your career), several organizations offer ultrasound courses online or by correspondence, such as the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) and the Institute for Advanced Medical Education (IAME).
Online training resources such as those provided by the MDCT provide real life e-learning case studies that can be a supplement to your educational program.The goal of MDCT.com.au is “…to provide FREE education to ALL with more than 20,000 cases online…See (their) latest conferences as (they) have a proven track record with more than 3000 attendees to date”.
Are Internships Available as Part of a Training Program?
As part of a sonography degree or certificate program, there is almost always at least one clinical internship included in the ultrasound training; in many cases, depending on the length of the educational program, you will have the opportunity to complete two or more internships to gain experience in various work settings and specialties of ultrasound. Clinical internships are an essential component of ultrasound tech training as individuals finally get to put all they’ve learned into practice.
What are the Next Steps?
Once you complete an Associates or certificate program, you will have gained the experience and skills that can help you gain entry-level employment in the field of sonography. It’s a good idea to apply for ARDMS and other certifications as soon as possible as this will make you a more competitive job candidate and in some cases employers require it.
Look for employment at hospitals – according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals – and also physicians’ offices, diagnostic or medical laboratories, outpatient centers and other healthcare facilities.
If you’ve graduated with higher levels of education and/or already have experience working as an ultrasound technician, it’s time to update your resume and add all your recent ultrasound training. Depending on the training you received, you may be eligible to apply for managerial, department head or consulting positions or for more specialized jobs, such as echocardiographer or neurosonographer positions.