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Expectation vs Reality for Sonographers: What is it Like to be an Ultrasound Tech?

In the final article in a 3-part series, sonographer Adrienne Hardy, helps us understand the myths versus the reality of being an ultrasound tech.

Read the rest –

Often times I scroll Pinterest and see what a baked good is meant to look like if I follow the recipe, and then I attempt it and get a whole other looking creation, usually not as aesthetically pleasing. It is the whole “expectation” vs. “reality” phenomenon. As you consider a career in sonography it may seem a bit confusing as to what you may do in your daily work. I think the field is niche enough that it is still shrouded in a mystery. This article is an attempt to pull back the curtain and show what being an ultrasound technologist can actually look like.

So What Does a Sonographer Actually do?

Expectation 1:  I Only Work With Pregnant Women

AWWWW you get to look at babies all day. Not necessarily. While some places specialize in fetal ultrasound, the majority of ultrasound jobs are more generalized. Ultrasound is super! It can look at all types of soft tissue organs, and vessels. From muscles and tendons, breast, liver and kidneys,
scrotums, thyroids and even the heart there is a broad range of things to be scanned.

It is important to understand the field before entering and have accurate expectations to make sure it is a field that fits your career expectations.

Expectation 2:  I take grey pictures and have no idea what I’m looking at.

FALSE! Sonographers have an intricate knowledge of human anatomy, what normal looks like as well as different disease processes. While it is NOT their job to make a medical diagnosis for patients, it is important to give a true and
accurate picture of what is happening inside the patients to help radiologists arrive at a medical conclusion. This involves a LOT of critical thinking as well as an attention to detail and ability to see a big picture.

Expectation 3: I only take pictures all day.

FALSE. A big part of being a sonographer is taking patient history, piecing a story together from charts, communicating with Doctors and Nurses on a plan for the patients as an intricate member of the care team, as well as participating in interventional procedures. Which leads to the next point…

Expectation 4: If I’m a sonographer I won’t have to deal with body fluids.

FALSE. A big part of many sonography jobs is handling blood, mucus, abdominal and pleural fluid, as well as samples of tissue from all types of body organs. As a sonographer you help reach a diagnosis, sometimes this means leading an interventional radiologist’s needle to a mass and watching the sample be obtained. You may need to scrub into surgeries or just help clean up a patient who missed the urinal. Healthcare is dealing with sick people and this is not spared in imaging.

Expectation 5: Once you know ultrasound, you know what you are doing.

FALSE. Every day is different. Every person’s anatomy is different. This is a career you will never be able to sit back and say “I know everything.” It is a humbling profession, you are always learning, always trying to improve yourself. No two ultrasound techs scan the same. It is completely operator dependent so skill level can change the exam dramatically. This is a thing I love as a highly competitive person, I can always strive to be the best and work harder to be better than I was before.

Expectation 6: Ultrasound Technologists just want to progress into RNs or radiologists; it’s a stepping stone.

Not necessarily. Many many techs start and end their career as sonographers. While you can add on registries and specialties, there is no time to get bored of scanning and it is a prestigious career.

Expectation 7:  The job isn’t very physical.

Since it is a women dominated field you probably don’t need strength right? FALSE. There is an extreme level of hand-eye coordination as well as strength needed to move patients and push with the probe camera all day. In order to avoid injury, a workout regimen is recommended. Physical strength isn’t the only type required, you also need considerable emotional forbearance. You are with patients on the worst and best day of their lives and often you need to be unemotional and strong to be able to perform your job well. You will see heartbreaking things and need to stay clear minded in order to
perform the best exam possible for the patients.

Expectation 8: If I have a career in sonography I can’t have a family life.

OF COURSE you can! There are many avenues for you to practice ultrasound and some are more flexible to family life than others.

Expectation 9: If I’m not a woman I cannot be a sonographer.

FALSE. The career is traditionally women dominated, true, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some highly skilled and successful men in the ultrasound world. It does happen and it is an asset to any department to hire a man.

Read our interview with Carlos Reveles, a high-risk Ob Sonographer in West Texas

Expectation 10: Pay rates.

This depends largely on your region and the need in the economy at the time; it is a specialty and a skill not many people can perform so it is paid differently than other imaging. However, the cost effectiveness of the modality to the patient can cause the exams to be cheaper and thus less profit to the hospital, so consult your area for more specifics here.

In conclusion, Ultrasound is not what people think. It is a hard field to master, but very dynamic and flexible in application. It is unique and ever advancing. I believe it is only going to grow in need and popularity as technology continues to improve and as doctors see the benefit of imaging without harm to the patient with radiation. It is important to understand the field before entering and have accurate expectations to make sure it is a field that fits your career expectations.