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Ultrasound Technician – Career, Salary, and Specializations Guide

Learn How to Become a Sonographer in 2018

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Do you want to become an ultrasound technician?  If so, there’s a lot to learn and prepare for. In our guide, we’ll let you know how long your education might take, where you might work, and how much you can earn. Also, you’ll get the chance to explore the specialties available within the field. We wish you lots of success!

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 diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to increase by 46% in the next decade.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Ultrasound Tech?

It typically take two years to complete a Sonography certificate, with more advanced degrees or specializations taking up to four years.  Most Sonographers hold an Associates Degree in Applied Science with a specialization in diagnostic medical sonography. This is a program that includes both classroom and laboratory instruction. One year certificate programs are also available to those already working in the field, holding positions such as radiology or cardiovascular technician.

Get some great advice from Sonography Professors and program directors from around the country!

Bachelor’s degrees, which are four-year programs, are also available for those who want to advance their career in to management, or specialize in one of the more technically advanced fields in Sonography.

What Does an Ultrasound Tech 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.

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 do Most Sonographers Work?

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.

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”.

There is 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 2015, the median salary for medical sonographers was $68,970/year, according to the BLS. The BLS adds that the bottom 10% of ultrasound technologists made $48,720/year, whereas the top 10% made $97,390/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 2015, 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 2015, the BLS reported that California, Washington D.C.,  Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts 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).

Which Sonography specialization is the Best Match for you?

There are numerous specializations within the field of medical sonography, 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.