🖐 Hand washing can help prevent illness. Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

≡ Menu

Ultrasound Technician and Sonographer – Career, Salary, and Education Guide

How to Become a Sonographer in 2020

sonographer and patient

Ultrasound technicians, sonographers, and ultrasound technologists are terms used to describe a highly specialized and trained allied health professional. Often, an ultrasound technologist is associated with performing pregnancy ultrasounds, but career opportunities are vast— including abdominal, small parts, cardiovascular, gynecologic, and musculoskeletal sonographic imaging.

Ultrasound technologists use specialized equipment that emits high frequency
sound waves. These sound waves travel into the body and reflect back to the
machine. The sound wave reflections have different appearances depending
on the type of tissue being imaged.

If a career as a sonographer interests you, we’ve provided you with the tools to get started.  In our free Ultrasound Technician Guide, we’ll give you a step by step process on how to become an ultrasound tech. Below you will learn:

  • Education requirements
  • Estimated length of time to complete degree
  • Job settings
  • Earning potential

Also, you’ll get the chance to explore the specialties available within the
sonography field. We wish you success in your journey to becoming a
sonographer!

Why Choose Diagnostic Medical Sonography?

First, it’s important to consider why sonography might be a good choice for you. You’ll want to learn the requirements, benefits, and challenges of any potential career path and sonography is no different!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),  jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to increase by 17% in the next decade, which amounts to roughly 21,000 new sonographers.

Sonographers need to be able to make hypothesis of a possible diagnosis and know how to carry out their job to test that hypothesis. Being able to contribute as much as possible to patient care is what made me decide to become a sonographer.” -Brooke A., sonography student, Southern Illinois University of Carbondale
⚠️ Class schedules and program availability may be affected by COVID-19. Please check school websites for updates.

 


Ultrasound Technician Skills and Abilities

Healthcare professions and other service industry related careers often require both hard and soft skills. Hard skills represent the abilities a professional must be able to do to accomplish a job. Soft skills are the abilities a professional possesses in carrying out the hard skills.

The Makeup of a Well-Rounded Sonographer

Hard Skills Soft Skills
Hand-eye coordination Compassion
Ability to lift, push, pull over 50 lbs Empathy
Dexterity to operate equipment Excellent people skills
Knowledge of anatomy/physiology Ethical conduct
Knowledge of pathophysiology Independent work ethic
Reading, writing, and communication
of technical findings from exams
Ability to function as part of a team

 

Ultrasound Technician Requirements

An associates degree in diagnostic medical sonography is the minimum education required to become a practicing sonographer. In addition, people with strong listening and communication skills, as well as the ability to connect well others, will be preferred candidates for jobs.  Certification by the ARDMS is required by almost all employers.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Ultrasound Technician?

Certificate Program

  • Approximately 1 year
  • Typically designed for current healthcare professionals or those
    who have already completed some type of higher education

Associate Degree

  • Approximately 2 years
  • Typically results in an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree
    with a specialization in diagnostic medical sonography
  • Prepares students to become a practicing sonographer
    o Choosing a program that is accredited through CAAHEP is
    important to be eligible to take examinations through the ARDMS
    or CCI organizations

Bachelor’s Degree

    • Approximately 4 years
    • Typically results in a Bachelor of Science Degree with a
      specialization in diagnostic medical sonography
    • Prepares students to become a practicing sonographer
    • Choosing a program that is accredited through CAAHEP is
      important to be eligible to take examinations through the ARDMS
      or CCI organizations
    • May provide students with more job opportunities due to the
      additional length of education and specialty training, allowing
      them to be eligible for various specialty registry examinations

Whether you choose a two-year or four-year program, it is crucial that you do
your research before starting a program. CAAHEP accredited programs have
distinguished their quality in educational resources through a rigorous external
review process. Choose wisely to ensure you have a successful start to your
career as a sonographer!

Ultrasound Licensing/Certification Requirements

In certain states, such as New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon, mandatory licensing laws for ultrasound technologists have either been passed or proposed.

Where ultrasound certification is not legally required, most employers prefer or require an ultrasound technician to be licensed or credentialed. Generally speaking, those who are certified have a competitive advantage over those who are not when looking for employment.

ARDMS:  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).

What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

When most people think of ultrasounds, the image of the unborn baby is the
first to come to mind. Obstetric sonography is one very small part of the
profession!

Sonographers image organs and other structures inside a patient’s body using equipment that transmits high frequency sound waves. The ultrasound images obtained are used to detect and monitor medical conditions, abnormalities or diseases.  Several cancers, such as testicular, prostate and breast, use ultrasounds as a crucial tool in diagnosis.

Ultrasound technologists 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.

Physical requirements include:

      • Standing for long periods of time
      • Focus and attention to detail in a fast-paced environment
      • Able to lift 80 pounds or less
      • 12 hour shifts are often required, especially in hospital settings

As new technologies have emerged, so have new fields within medical imaging.  Whether it be telemedicine, Point of Care Ultrasound (POCUS), or new markets for a traveling sonographer, the field is changing rapidly.  You can learn much more about what a sonographer does by visiting our ultrasound technician job description page.

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 2018, the BLS stated that 77% of ultrasound technologists worked in hospitals. This includes working in the emergency room, the medical imaging department and also performing ultrasounds in patient rooms.

There is an emerging job market for traveling or temporary sonographers, which we explore in an interview with Dave Felix, founder of SonoTemps, Inc.  Traveling as an ultrasound tech is an appealing option for many due to the more flexible schedule, variety in the workplace, and often higher compensation.  Is it a dream job?  Find out in this 2-part interview with Stephanie Eisler, RDMS, where she chronicles the ups and downs of traveling for a living.

How Much Does a Sonographer Make?

In 2018, the median salary for an ultrasound technician was $72,510/year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS adds that the bottom 10% of ultrasound technologists made $51,430/year, whereas the top 10% made over $100,000.

Diagnostic medical sonography is frequently categorized as one of the top paying jobs available without a 4-year degree. In a recent article, Monster.com ranked Sonography #8 out of 10 of high paying fields available to Associates Degree holders, with 3 other medical imaging fields making the list as well.

Experience, certifications, specialized/advanced roles, and work setting, shift
differentials and on-call work, and geographic location all contribute to the
salary of an ultrasound technologist.

Naturally, more experience in the field results in higher compensation. the
more experience you have, generally the more you will make. Certifications
and higher education may lead to more advanced or specialized job roles.

Sonographers work in various settings—hospital, outpatient facilities, mobile
imaging companies, travel contractors, etc. and these all have varying
compensation potential. For example, the BLS stated that in 2018, ultrasound
technologists working in outpatient care centers were paid more
than those in doctors’ offices, labs and hospitals.

Sonographers and ultrasound services are a necessity for healthcare delivery
in acute care settings. Many hospital sonography departments have several
shifts—1st , 2nd , 3rd and may also use on-call coverage to ensure imaging
services are available when a patient needs it. Healthcare professionals
working shifts and schedules outside of the traditional Monday – Friday 8:00 –
4:30 schedule may be compensated additionally through shift differential.

For example, a day shift sonographer may have a base wage of $32.00/hour
working normal business hours. A night shift sonographer may have a base
wage of $35.00/hour because they provide a medically necessary service in
“off hours”.

On-call coverage compensation varies from department to department, but it
is common for a sonographer to receive an on-call base rate (for example,
$5.00/hour) to be on standby. Once called in to work, they may be
compensated at their base wage as well as receive some type of additional
incentive for being utilized during off hours.

Last, geographic location is also a factor. Hawaii, Alaska, California, the
District of Columbia, and Washington provided the highest salaries to their
sonographers. In order to understand whether or not a salary is considered
“high” or “low”, cost of living must be taken into account.

Coursework, Internships and Externships

A wide range of coursework is included a Sonography program. While specific classes vary by institution, there are some commonalities.

Examples include:

      • Anatomy and Physiology
      • Medical Terminology
      • Principles of Sonography

See complete list

Hands on learning, both in the form of internships and clinical externships, are an important part of the training process. When considering which program to attend, find out what they offer their students in this important area.

“The student needs to determine what area of the body is of most interest to them. Don’t look at the job market – it fluctuates, as do salary ranges and job responsibilities.

“Each student should research, job shadow/observe and speak with professionals or other sonography students – learn how they determined their specialty area. But honestly, from most educator perspectives, you can’t make a bad decision. The bottom line is that the foundation of all the specialties is sonography. They are all interesting, ever-changing and challenging.”Tricia Turner, DMS Program Director at the South Hills School of Business and Technology.

Specialties in Sonography

Which Specialization is the Best Match for you?

The ARDMS offers 5 different credentials in sonography, with 10 different corresponding specialty exams.

Main Exam Specialty Exam Credential Earned
Sonography, Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Exam
  • Abdomen (AB)
  • Breast (BR)
  • Fetal Echocardiography (FE)
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN)
  • Pediatric Sonography (PS)
RDMS
Sonography, Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Exam
  • Adult Echocardiography (AE)
  • Pediatric Echocardiography (PE)
  • Fetal Echocardiography (FE)
RDCS
Sonography, Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Exam
  • Vascular Technology Exam (VT)
RVT
Sonography, Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Exam
  • Musculoskeletal Sonographer Examination (MSKS)
RMSKS
Midwife Sonographer Examination
  • No special examination needed
Midwife Sonographer Certificate

Obstetric and Gynecologic Sonography, OB/GYN

This is the function that most people probably think of when they hear the word “ultrasound”.  An obstetric sonographer performs ultrasounds to determine the presence of a fetus inside the uterus of a woman and performs certain examinations to assess fetal anatomy, growth, and fetal well-being. During the anatomy scan (sometimes called a 20-week scan) a sonographer may be able to visualize the fetal genitalia to determine the sex of the baby.

A diagnostic medical sonographer specializing in obstetric ultrasounds must
possess the same foundational knowledge all sonographers require—detailed
knowledge of anatomy, sonographic physics, pathophysiology. Obstetric
sonographers must also be excellent with patients and family-centered care
as they are caring for two patients’ needs at once—mother and baby.

Gynecologic ultrasound involves performing diagnostic examinations of the
female pelvic anatomy through transabdominal (the transducer is on the
abdomen) and transvaginal (transducer is inserted into the vaginal canal)
ultrasound methods. Transabdominal imaging provides an overview of the
pelvis while transvaginal imaging provides higher resolution, detailed images
of the pelvic organs. These ultrasounds are performed on the female

reproductive system for reasons unrelated to those related to pregnancy.
Common indications for a gynecologic ultrasound include pelvic pain and
abnormal bleeding. Gynecologic ultrasound can detect pathology, such as
ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids. Ultrasound can even be used to guide
procedures like the placement of an intrauterine device.

Cardiovascular and Vascular Technologists, RDCS

Cardiovascular technologists play a critical role in evaluating the heart and
vascular system to assist doctors in managing the overall health of their
patients.

Cardiac sonographers perform transthoracic echocardiograms. The
transducer is placed in various locations on the chest and abdomen to
evaluate heart structure and function in patients of all ages. They play an
important role in procedures such as stress testing, transesophageal
echocardiograms, and ultrasound guidance during several types of cardiac
surgeries.

Common indications for having a cardiac ultrasound completed
include chest pain, murmurs, heart valve disease, heart attacks, etc.
Sonographers working in cardiac ultrasound can further specialize, with
appropriate training and credentials, into fetal and pediatric echocardiography.
More recently, there is an Advanced Cardiac Sonographer (ACS) credential
that is awarded to sonographers from Cardiovascular Credentialing
International (CCI).

Sonographers obtaining this credential have a breadth of
experience, knowledge, and potential for career path advancement in
echocardiography.

Vascular sonographers perform a wide variety of exams in the non-invasive
vascular lab to evaluate the effectiveness of the peripheral circulatory system
through evaluation of arteries and veins. Common examinations performed in
the vascular lab include carotid duplex imaging, ankle brachial indices, lower
extremity venous evaluation, and direct arterial imaging of peripheral arteries.

Physicians may order vascular evaluation on patients with indications likecerebrovascular accident “CVA” (stroke) or transient ischemic attacks “TIA”
(mini strokes), uncontrolled diabetes, poor cardiac history, and other
conditions that may be attributed to a vascular problem.
Vascular sonography plays an important role in pre-operative and post-
operative evaluation for patients undergoing surgical interventions such as
dialysis fistula creation, bypass grafting for diseased native vessels, and
endarterectomy.

The vascular sonographer plays a crucial role in providing
the interpreting physician with accurate and diagnostic data.
Sonographers generally perform non-invasive ultrasounds and assist
physicians with making diagnoses based on the images they collect.

Breast Sonography, BR

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 266,000 new cases of
invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2018, resulting in
40,000 deaths.  Breast ultrasounds can be more comprehensive than mammograms and are often performed to evaluate suspicious findings from the mammogram or from an abnormal physical exam.

Breast sonographers are highly skilled professionals trained in evaluating the
normal and abnormal changes in breast tissue and relative areas close to the
breast tissue. High frequency, high-resolution imaging transducers and
machine settings are very important tools to help a breast sonographer detect
subtle abnormalities and variations in breast tissue.

They work closely with
radiologists and mammographers to thoroughly evaluate an area of suspicion.
Many breast sonographers provide ultrasound guidance for physicians
performing breast biopsies of suspected masses.

Abdominal Sonography, AB

Abdominal sonography involves performing ultrasound examinations of the
organs and soft tissues in the abdominal region. This often includes
evaluation of the liver, spleen, kidneys, pancreas, gallbladder, and biliary
system. Abdominal ultrasound can help detect and diagnose a variety of
conditions like gallstones, liver cirrhosis, pancreatic masses, and kidney
stones. Indications for abdominal ultrasounds are broad, but commonly
include reasons such as abdominal pain, abnormal laboratory testing, and
nausea/vomiting.

Like other specialties of ultrasound, sonographers in this practice area assist
physicians in the performance of procedures such as biopsies of soft tissue
structures and procedures to drain excess fluid from the abdomen
(paracentesis) or chest (thoracentesis).

Musculoskeletal Sonography, MSKS

Musculoskeletal (MSK) sonography is a rapidly evolving specialty of
ultrasound. The use of MSK sonography has increased in orthopaedic
medicine, sports medicine, and rheumatology. MSK ultrasound evaluates
muscles, connective tissues like ligaments and tendons, and nerves. MSK
sonographers assist in the diagnosis of musculoskeletal injuries. Ultrasound
can also be used to monitor musculoskeletal injury interventions like physical
therapy, occupational therapy, orthopedic surgery, and other minimally
invasive procedures such as steroid injections or nerve blocks.

*Salary information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016-17 Data: www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292032.htm.

Contributor and Technical Copy Editor, Samantha Callis MHA, RDMS, RDCS, RVT

linkedin

Sonographer Samantha Callis
Sam Callis is the clinical coordinator for the DMS program at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, IN. In addition to clinical coordinating duties, she teaches didactic and laboratory coursework in cardiac and general sonography. She maintains a clinical practice in cardiac and obstetric sonography in the Evansville area.


Keep In Touch!
Stay Connected. Enter your email to receive helpful sonography career & education updates.

PrivacyYour information will not be shared. We Value Your Privacy