What do Medical Sonographers do?
Sonography is the use of sound waves to generate an image for the assessment and diagnosis of various medical conditions. Though it is most commonly associated with obstetrics, sonography is used as diagnostic aid in many circumstances.
A sonographer is the technician who operates the equipment, called a transducer, and records the results for interpretation by a physician. The process begins with the sonographer talking with the patient and recording any medical history that may be relevant. The sonographer then ultimately uses imaging technology to project a live view of a patients' internal tissue.
Though sonographers are not qualifed to diagnose, they do make preliminary judgments based on the images and select which of these images to show to a physician.
Many sonographers also have clerical duties such as preparing work schedules, evaluating equipment purchases and/or managing a sonography/ultrasound department.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 59 percent of sonographers are employed in hospitals, while the rest work in physicians' offices or diagnostic laboratories. Some sonographers also travel with imaging service providers.
Are There Different Types of Medical Sonographers?
Because sonography is used on so many different areas of the body, most sonographers choose to specialize in one or more areas. These include: obstetric/gynecologic sonographers, who study the female reproductive system; abdominal sonographers, who inspect organs such as the gallbladder, bile ducts, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen and the male reproductive system; neurosonographers, who study the nervous system and the brain; breast sonographers who aid in mammography in order to detect breast cancer, track tumors, monitor blood supply conditions, and assist in biopsy of breast tissue; and vascular and cardiac sonographers, who study the heart and blood vessels.
How do I Become a Medical Sonographer?
test There are multiple avenues to becoming a medical sonographer, including formal education from a college, university, or hospital; technical training at a vocational school; or training in the armed forces. No state requires formal certification for medical sonographers; however, certifying bodies exist, most notably the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), and many employers prefer certified sonographers because they have been held to a regulated standard. A sonographer can qualify to sit for the exam through formal education or work experience.
If you choose formal education, the types of programs available are:
Associate Degree - These two-year programs are offered at various colleges, and are the most prevalent degree. They also make up the majority of the 150 accredited programs nationwide. Coursework includes anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, physics, patient care, and medical ethics.
Bachelor's Degree - A few four-year sonography training programs exist at colleges and universities, but they are much less common than associate programs. These programs are also accredited.
Vocational Certificate - Some vocational/technical schools offer one-year training programs in sonography, and some employers accept this as sufficient education. This avenue is mainly recommended for professionals who are already employed in the health field and seeking training in ultrasound to increase their marketability. A certificate may not be the best way to get started in the field.
How do I Choose a Program?
Accreditation - The accrediting body for medical sonography programs is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health/Education Programs (CAAHEP). The CAAHEP has accredited 150 programs, including those offered by colleges and universities, as well as some hospital training programs. Find the complete list of accredited programs by searching here http://www.caahep.org/Find-An-Accredited-Program/. Though attending an accredited program is not the only way to become a medical sonographer, it does automatically qualify graduates to sit for the certifying exam and is universally recognized by employers.
Admissions Requirements - Make sure to research the admissions requirements of programs that interest you. Vocational, associate and bachelor's programs may specific courses in math, health, and/or sciences.
Career Goals/ Specialization - Because specialization is so common in sonography, be sure that your program of choice offers your desired specialty. Vascular and cardiac sonography are two particularly specialized programs that not all schools offer.
Curriculum - Look over the program curriculum and make sure that yours provides plenty of hands-on experience. Because sonography is a very hands-on, technical profession, this might be the most important part of your education.
What is the Job Outlook for Sonographers?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical sonography jobs should grow 18 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than average. This is due to an aging population and the increased use of ultrasound technology as a safe alternative to radiological procedures. Uses for ultrasound technology are also expected to expand in the future.
Salary - According to the BLS, the median salary for medical sonographers is $61,980. This salary is higher than the average for allied health professionals with similar training.
Career Advancement - Advancement TESTING testing testing testing is possible by adding sonography specializations in order to increase your marketability. Also, taking on administrative duties, such as managing a department, can increase your earning potential. Also according to the BLS, the top 10 percent of sonographers make over $83,950.
Ultrasound Technician Training Options
In a nutshell, you have two paths when comparing ultrasound technician programs: Adding a certificate on to your existing healthcare education, or earning an associate's or bachelor's in ultrasound. No matter what, be sure you enroll in a program that is recognized by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Even though many states do not have specific regulations for ultrasound credentials, employers widely recognize this organization as the main avenue to nationwide ultrasound certifications.
Certificates in Ultrasound Training
Earning a certificate in ultrasound can be the quickest way to go if you're already working in the field or have some allied health experience. These short-term programs are sometimes offered at hospitals and other healthcare settings. Medical assistants, registered nurses, and other professionals can take advantage of these opportunities to expand their qualifications.
Graduate certificates in ultrasound can also be found at some diagnostic medical sonography accredited schools. These programs can take anywhere from 6-12 months, depending on your schedule. If you already have your Bachelor's degree, this can be a great option for specialization. Graduate certificates in ultrasound can help you specialize in a variety of areas. Be sure to see what area of ultrasound your program focuses on.
Associate's Degrees in Ultrasound Technology
An Associate's program can prepare you for a career as soon as you pass your ARDMS exam. It typically takes two years to earn your AAS in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Ultrasound technician programs should cover the spectrum of this practice, including: Abdominal; obstetrics and gynecology; cardiac and other areas. Associate's programs should include a clinical portion, so you can apply your education in a real setting.
Bachelor's in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
For those who already have their Associate's and want to go further in this field, consider a Bachelor's in diagnostic medical sonography program. Some of these programs can be taken mostly online, as long as you have access to a properly equipped laboratory where you can complete your hands-on coursework and clinical requirements. Many ultrasound technician schools require students to already have their ultrasound certification to enter this type of program.
Areas of focus for ultrasound technician training
It's just as important to consider the curriculum when looking at accredited sonography programs, because some programs focus on specific areas that may or may not align with your goals. You might also consider other areas, such as MRI and radiology when choosing schools.
All of these options give you a chance to hone your skills in a particular area of the human body. As this imaging technology continues to be applied to more areas of healthcare, look for even more career opportunities for skilled workers.
The ARDMS offers two kinds of certifications for sonographers, along with specialty examinations: RDMS (Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer) and RDCS Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer. For both certifications, students must take the Sonography Principles & Instrumentation (SPI) examination.
Career Outlook for Ultrasound Technicians
Job growth for diagnostic medical sonographers
If you already work in the field of healthcare, then you know how rapidly this field is growing overall. The BLS expects healthcare jobs in general to grow at a 19% rate from 2014-2024. That's almost three times the national average.
The BLS expects opportunities for ultrasound technicians to increase 24% during the same time period. A big reason for this growth is the expansion of ultrasound technology to diagnose many types of health conditions.
Ultrasound technician salary potential
Like all students seeking accredited sonography programs, you are probably curious about the ultrasound technician salary potential. According to the BLS, diagnostic medical sonographers earned an average wage of $63,630 in 2015. This salary is higher than many other fields for people who have an associate's level education.
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