Anyone who’s been in the position of asking themselves “Now what?” after graduation, or who is considering changing the career that they’re already in, knows it can be a very stressful time. There is much to consider, from personal interests and strengths, to training, education, and potential income.
The healthcare sector has been an employment standout, with consistent growth across the board over the past few years. Within the industry, medical imaging and diagnostic medical sonography have been a popular career choice for the relatively short educational and training period, paired with strong job growth and salary potential. For these reasons and more, ultrasound technicians are in high demand.
Sonography Career Outlook
We’ve been hearing for some time that the healthcare industry is on the rise for various reasons, from the aging baby boomer generation to advancements in health-related technology. Projections suggest that 2020 could be even better than 2019 for healthcare professions.
In fact, a recent article in U.S. News ranked diagnostic medical sonography #4 in terms of best healthcare support jobs. For future sonographers, that translates into an expected 21,000 jobs opening up by 2026; a growth rate of 17%.
Finding Success in a Growing Industry
Proficiency as a sonographer requires a technical and scientific skill set. Most ultrasound technicians have, at minimum, a two year associate’s level degree, or a certificate in sonography if they hold an associate’s in another field. The technical training in the classroom is accompanied by training in the field, typically in a clinical or hospital setting.
Most sonographers work in hospitals, where long shifts are typical. !2 hour days, nights, or swing shifts aren’t for everyone, and something a prospective sonographer should consider. Other physical requirements include:
- Ability to work in a fast-paced environment
- Strong attention to detail
- Ability to work in a high-stress environment, dealing with potentially ill and scared patients
- Must be able to lift up to 80 pounds
- Stand and walk for hours at a time
- Reach and hold arm positions for long periods of time
A field that has emerged from the potential injuries associated with repetitive movements is that of ergonomics as it applies specifically to the ultrasound technician. A pioneer in the field, Dr. Joan P. Baker, talked with us recently about ways that a sonographer can use proper scanning techniques in order to mitigate injury. Learn more from her in our interview with Dr. Baker.
The term “soft skills” refers to the ability of someone to interact effectively with others. Technical skills can be trained, but good soft skills are more ingrained naturally. Compassion, effective communication, listening, and the ability to put others at ease are essential to being a good sonographer. Good people skills can be hard to come by, and can set a job applicant apart from the rest. A lack of soft skills is what many employers are discovering and offer the largest area of opportunity.
Tatym Schneider, RDMS and author of the blog Smart Sonographer, has a post titled “How to Treat Patients Like People Again” where she describes how she has incorporated a “five-step kindness routine” every time she meets a patient.
The steps encompass things like genuine smiles, welcoming gestures, body language, encouraging patients to be as comfortable as possible and walking them in and out. “I have found that these five things make each scan a pleasure,” writes Schneider. “…We’ve connected, sometimes deeply and sometimes fleetingly but by the end of the scan they are no longer patients, they are people.”
Why are sonographers in such high demand?
Advances in imaging technology are leading facilities to increase the utilization of ultrasound and other similar tests as they are often less expensive and invasive than traditional methodologies. An initiative by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) called Ultrasound First touts ultrasound as Safe, Effective, and Affordable and promotes its effectiveness in enhancing patient care.
Use of ultrasound specifically is growing, as it can be used for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. While ultrasound may be better known for its diagnostic functions (such as in pregnancy), its therapeutic capabilities predates its imaging capacities.
Some examples of how ultrasound is applied to treatment plans include:
- HIFU (High Intensity Frequency Ultrasound): HIFU is a form of ultrasound that targets damaged or diseased tissue and directs high-intensity sound waves towards it in order to heat and destroy it.
- Sports injuries: Some physical therapists, chiropractors and occupational therapists employ ultrasound when treating their patients with problems such as tendinitis or plantar fasciitis; circulating the ultrasound probe over the damaged area is said to help relieve pain and soften scar tissue. Core ultrasound is a tool that is being successfully used to help prevent chronic back pain and injury. Separate from ultrasound, MRI’s are also playing an important role in diagnosing sports injuries.
- Ultrasound as a Guide: Ultrasound assists with treatments where a needle needs to be inserted into a hard-to-see location, such as when an abscess needs to be drained or during a catheterization or biopsy. The ultrasound acts as a surgeon’s or physician’s eyes.
Diagnostically, ultrasound is in increasingly high demand and can be used for many purposes, including:
- Female Reproductive System: In obstetrics, a pregnant woman’s ultrasound is performed to assess the health of her fetus, determine the gender, approximate age of conception and to determine if there are any complications or abnormalities. As part of a gynecologic ultrasound, a female’s reproductive system is imaged to look for signs of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts and other complications.
- Male Reproductive System: Ultrasounds are done on the male’s reproductive system, such as his testicles and prostate, to detect abnormalities and injuries, possible signs of infertility, cancer and more.
- Musculoskeletal System: Ultrasounds may also be performed on the musculoskeletal system to identify tears, signs of arthritis, hip dislocations in infants, fluid build-up in joints and more.
- Breast:Ultrasounds are usually performed on breasts if an abnormality (i.e. potential tumor) was caught on a mammogram. For younger females, an ultrasound may be more effective than a mammogram because their breast tissue tends to be denser.
Refining your soft skills, working hard in school on your technical skills and training, and learning about the physical skills required can help set you on the path to becoming a successful member of the in-demand medical sonography field.