Vascular Technician Programs in Illinois

Like most parts of the country, Illinois is grappling with the healthcare-related challenges that accompany a rising senior population with age-related diseases. For example, heart disease and stroke are the first and third leadings causes of death in the state, respectively. As of 2017, there were more than 25,000 deaths due to heart disease and more than 6,000 deaths due to stroke statewide.

These and other diseases and conditions of the vascular system require the expertise of vascular technicians who are trained to capture the images critical to making early, life-saving diagnoses.

Choose this specialized field of sonography and you’ll have the opportunity to put your training to work quite literally saving lives in some of Illinois’ leading hospitals like the University of Chicago Medicine, a leading vascular health center and home to one of the top vascular programs in the country. UChicago Medicine has surgery centers located in Hyde Park, Orland Park, South Loop, and Harvey (Ingalls Memorial), where they provide state-of-the-art care for all conditions related to the circulatory and lymphatic system, including carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and thoracic aortic aneurysm, among others.

How to Become a Vascular Technician in Illinois

Vascular sonography is a highly technical allied health field that requires highly specialized training. Depending on your background, you can complete the required education and training through an associate or bachelor’s degree or a post-degree certificate program.

Programs in vascular sonography, whether they’re specific to vascular sonography or general diagnostic medical sonography, radiation sciences, medical or medical imaging with a concentration/specialization in vascular sonography, can earn accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program and you’ll be automatically qualified to take national certification exams from any of the three national certifying bodies.

It’s important to check out the school’s clinical placement sites to ensure they are conveniently located near you. Other points to pay close attention to when you’re searching for a vascular sonography program include:

  • Attrition rate (how many students failed to graduate from the program)
  • Job placement rate (how many graduates were employed in vascular sonography following graduation)
  • National certification pass rate (how many graduates passed a national certification exam)
  • National certification exam preparation: Many schools offer exam prep courses to prepare you for one or more national certification examinations; in many cases, you can take these exams up to 60 days before you graduate.

Just getting started in the field of sonography…

If you don’t have a background or education in the allied health field, an associate’s degree in vascular sonography or diagnostic medical sonography with a specialization/concentration in vascular imaging is the easiest route to this profession. Fortunately, you’ll find a nice selection of these programs offered through junior colleges, allied health schools, and four-year colleges and universities.

Some of the courses found in a vascular sonography program include:

  • Ultrasound physics
  • Abdominal vascular disease
  • Vascular procedures
  • Abdominal vascular ultrasound procedures

All programs in vascular technology include clinical experiences in a variety of settings that total 1,000-1,250 hours. Just some of the leading vascular centers in Illinois where you may satisfy your clinical requirements include:

  • UChicago Medicine, Heart and Vascular Care
  • Advocate Health Care, Vascular Disease Program
  • Northwestern Medicine Vascular Surgery
  • AMITA Health, Heart & Vascular Institute

Already working in sonography or another area of healthcare…

If you have a background and education in one of the allied health fields, a bachelor’s degree in an area like medical imaging, radiation sciences, or diagnostic medical sonography with a concentration in vascular imaging may be a good fit for you. Most of these programs are aimed at individuals already in an allied health field and therefore come with strict admission requirements, including prior allied health training, clinical work experience, and college credits in areas like anatomy and physiology, math, the life sciences, and the physical sciences.

If you’re already working as a diagnostic medical sonographer, a certificate program can give you the education and training you need to focus your career on vascular sonography. Most certificate programs only accept students who hold a national credential in diagnostic medical sonography and who are currently working the field. Frequently offered entirely online, these programs allow working sonographers to complete the clinical requirements of the program right where they work.

Earn National Certification in Vascular Sonography

While national certification remains an optional pursuit in vascular sonography, you’ll quickly find that most employers now require at least one national designation as a condition of employment. Also, Medicare in nearly all states requires even non-invasive vascular diagnostics to be performed by a technician who is certified in vascular technology.

There are three, main professional certifications in vascular sonography, and while all three provide a number of pathways that’ll qualify you for national certification, all recognize the completion of a CAAHEP-accredited program as meeting the requirements to sit for the appropriate certification examination.

American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)

The Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) designation through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) tests your knowledge in the areas of anatomy and hemodynamics (blood flow) of cerebrovascular, venous, peripheral, and abdominal blood vessels.

To earn the RVT credential, you must take and pass the Sonography Principles & Instrumentation (SPI) exam and the Vascular Technology (VT) exam (you must complete both exams within five years, or you’ll have to retake both exams).

Before you can sit for any ARDMS exam, you must choose a prerequisite that qualifies you to take the exam. Currently, there are five ways to qualify to take both the VT and SPI exams:

  • Prerequisite 1:
    • Graduate from a two-year allied health education program in a patient-care field such as diagnostic medical sonographer, radiologic technologist, respiratory therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and registered nurse; AND
    • Have at least 12 months of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
  • Prerequisite 2:
    • Graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program that specifically conducts programmatic accreditation for diagnostic medical sonography/diagnostic cardiac sonography/vascular technology
  • Prerequisite 3A:
    • Graduate from a bachelor’s degree program in any field; AND
    • Have at least 12 months of full-time clinical ultrasound/vascular experience
  • Prerequisite 3B:
    • Graduate from a bachelor’s degree in sonography or vascular technology
  • Prerequisite 4 (has been removed)
  • Prerequisite 5: Must hold one of the following active credentials:
    • RCS, RCCS, or RVS through Cardiovascular Credentialing International
    • Sonography, Vascular Sonography, or Breast Sonography through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)

Once you are approved to take the VT or SPI exam, you’ll schedule with and take the exam through a Pearson VUE testing center near you. Learn more about preparing for and taking an ARRT exam here.

American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARTT)

The American Registry of Radiologic Technicians (ARTT) offers two credentials for vascular technologists: The Vascular Sonography credential and the Vascular Interventional Radiography credential.

The Vascular Sonography (VS) credential serves as the primary designation for radiologic technologists.

To take the VS exam and earn the VS credential, you must first qualify through either the primary eligibility pathway or the post-primary eligible pathway:

  • Primary Eligibility Pathway: Complete an associate’s degree or higher and an ARRT-approved educational program in vascular sonography (may or may not be part of your degree program)
  • Post-Primary Eligibility Pathway:

The ARRT also offers the Vascular Interventional Radiography (VIT) credential, which is designed specifically for vascular interventional radiographers who assist physicians with minimally invasive, image-guided vascular procedures, such as angioplasty, stenting, and more. You must meet the Post-Primary Eligibility pathway to achieve eligibility to take the VIT exam.

After qualifying to take the VS or VIT exam, you’ll schedule with and take the exam through a Pearson VUE testing center near you. Learn more about registering for, preparing for, and taking an ARRT exam here.

Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)

Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers the Registered Vascular Ultrasound (RVU) designation for technicians working in the area of vascular ultrasound. To qualify to take the RVU examination, you must meet ONE of the following eligibility requirements:

  • Have at least two years of full-time work experience in vascular ultrasound, which includes at least 600 vascular ultrasound studies at the time of application. It is recommended, but not required, for applicants to have experience in:
    • Carotid duplex ultrasound
    • Transcranial doppler
    • Peripheral arterial physiologic
    • Peripheral arterial duplex
    • Venous duplex ultrasound
    • Visceral vascular duplex ultrasound
  • Graduate from a diploma, associate, or bachelor’s program in a health science field, such as cardiovascular technology, ultrasound, radiologic technology, respiratory therapy, or nursing; AND have at least one year of full-time work experience in vascular ultrasound, which includes at least 600 vascular ultrasound studies. It is recommended, but not required, for applicants to have experience in:
    • Carotid duplex ultrasound
    • Transcranial doppler
    • Peripheral arterial physiologic
    • Peripheral arterial duplex
    • Venous duplex ultrasound
    • Visceral vascular duplex ultrasound
  • Graduate from a programmatically accredited program in vascular ultrasound
  • Graduate from a non-programmatically accredited program in vascular ultrasound that includes at least one year of specialty training and at least 800 clinical hours in vascular ultrasound
  • Active ultrasound credential holders with at least six months of full-time work experience in vascular ultrasound, which must include at least 100 vascular ultrasound studies

Once CCI has determined your eligibility to take the exam, you will schedule with and take the exam at a Pearson VUE testing center near you.

Pearson VUE Testing Centers

All three national credentialing organizations use Pearson VUE to administer their exams. In Illinois, there are about 10 Pearson VUE testing centers located in cities like:

  • Chicago
  • Peoria
  • Springfield
  • Buffalo Grove
  • Schaumburg

Once the appropriate testing agency has approved your application to sit for the national certification examination, you’ll schedule your exam with Pearson VUE at a testing site that’s most convenient for you.

Career Outlook for Vascular Technicians in Illinois

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), diagnostic medical sonographers, which include vascular technicians, earned an average salary of $75,420 as of May 2019 – that’s slightly higher than the national average of $74,320 for this profession.

The top earners in the field (top 10%) earned more than $100,970 during this time, revealing an impressive earning potential in the field of vascular sonography here in Illinois.

As of 2019, there were approximately 3,020 medical sonographers in Illinois. This number is projected to increase by about 3% by 2021, rising to 3,110.

Opportunities for Illinois’ Vascular Technicians

With a field as large as diagnostic sonography, there are plenty of opportunities for vascular technicians who want to take on greater responsibilities and land jobs in management, HR, and education. It’s becoming more and more common for vascular technicians to advance their education by earning a bachelor’s degree, which not only opens up more professional opportunities but also serves as the ideal precursor to a master’s degree.

Most recently, a number of schools have developed bachelor degree completion programs in vascular sonography for vascular technicians who are already nationally certified in vascular sonography and currently employed in the field. These programs can often be completed online, with the didactic courses and clinical requirements completed at your place of employment.

Becoming involved in a professional association is a great way to stay current with the latest happenings in the profession, network with colleagues, and earn the continuing education credits you’ll need to keep your national certification current:

 

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which diagnostic medical sonographers work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

All salary and employment data accessed October 2020.