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Ultrasound Technician – Career, Salary, and Specializations Guide

Learn How to Become a Sonographer in 2018

Sonographer with patient

If you’ve been considering a career as an ultrasound technician, also referred to as a diagnostic medical sonographer or sonographer, you’ve undoubtedly got questions as to how to get started. There’s a lot to learn and prepare for, and we’re here to help you get started.  In our Ultrasound Technician Guide, we’ll let you know what education you’ll need, how long it might take you to complete your education, 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!

Becoming an ultrasound technician is a great career choice for many reasons, including:

  • Education: Most sonographers hold just an Associate’s Degree, which typically takes 2 years to complete.
  • Income: Average salary for ultrasound techs is among the highest available for associate degree holders.
  • Jobs: Double digit job growth is expected over the next ten years.

It is a fulfilling career that continues to increase in demand.  According to Career OneStop and the U.S. Department of Labor,  jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to increase by 23% 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 Technician do?

When most people think of ultrasounds, the image of the unborn baby is the first to come to mind.
While sonographers play an important role in monitoring the health of an unborn fetus and the health of the mother, there is much more that they do on a daily basis.

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. Several cancers, such as testicular, prostate and breast, use ultrasounds as a crucial tool in diagnosis.

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.

How Much do Ultrasound Techs Make?

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.

In 2017, the median salary for medical sonographers was $71,410/year, according to the BLS. The BLS adds that the bottom 10% of ultrasound technologists made $50.760/year, whereas the top 10% made $99,840/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 can lead to higher compensation. Where you work also plays a role. For example, the BLS stated that in 2017, ultrasound technicians working in outpatient care centers made more than those in doctor’s offices, labs and hospitals. Finally, geographic location is also a factor. Sonographers that work in California, Washington D.C.,  Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii provided the highest salaries to their sonographers.

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, 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.

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).

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 2017, the BLS stated that 75% 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.

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.