Cardiac Sonographer Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a cardiac sonography career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to decide if becoming a cardiac sonographer is the right career choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Cardiac Sonographer

Cardiac sonographers, or echocardiographers, are medical professionals who assist doctors in treating and diagnosing cardiac (heart) problems. Learning about the pros and cons of being a cardiac sonographer may help you decide if this career is a right fit for you.

Pros of Being a Cardiac Sonographer
Much faster-than-average employment growth (30% from 2012-2022)*
Decent wage potential ($54,000 as of May 2014)
Technical training or associate's degree programs sufficient for entry-level positions*
Work available in several healthcare settings (physician's offices, laboratories, hospitals, outpatient care centers, etc.)*

Cons of Being a Cardiac Sonographer
Work hours may include evenings and weekends*
May be required to spend long periods standing*
May work under stressful situations*
May perform tests that have potential for radiation exposure

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Cardiac sonographers assist physicians in treating and diagnosing patients with cardiac and peripheral vascular problems by using ultrasound equipment. You're responsible for preparing patients, taking medical histories, maintaining equipment and performing procedures. Cardiac sonographers also discuss the results with the physicians. Other duties may include explaining exam procedures to patients, monitoring patient heart rates and scheduling appointments. You may also perform Holter monitoring and stress testing. Career opportunities may include positions as adult and pediatric echocardiographers and non-invasive vascular ultrasound sonographers.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cardiovascular technologists and technicians were predicted to see increased employment opportunities from 2012-2022. Contributing to the fast growth is the aging population and the abundance of heart disease. Although cardiac sonographers may work in various medical settings, the majority work in hospitals. As of May 2014, the majority of cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including cardiac sonographers, earned from $28,000-$85,000, with a median annual wage of $54,000. The top paying industries were health practitioner offices, colleges, universities and professional schools, physician offices and outpatient care centers. Additionally, the states with the highest number of workers were Texas, Florida and California.

What Are the Requirements?

To become a cardiac sonographer, you'll usually need to complete a formal training program. Training programs are typically found at colleges, hospitals or medical centers. Candidates can often choose from 1-year certificate, 2-year associate's degree or 4-year bachelor's degree programs. Regardless of the program, the curricula typically include didactic studies, laboratory experiences and clinical education. You can participate in internships or externships to obtain hands-on training. Courses may include anatomy and physiology, ultrasound physics, cardiac principles, Doppler physics, pediatric echo, medical instrumentation and invasive cardiology. Sonographers should also possess mechanical aptitude, good communication skills and the ability to help patients relax and be comfortable during procedures.

What Employers Are Looking for

While some workers may receive training on the job, employers usually prefer employees who have completed training programs. Having work experience in cardiac sonography is also a plus. Licensure or certification may not be required to work, but is often required by employers. Although this is only a small glimpse into the job market, here are a few job listings for cardiac sonographers as of April 2012:

  • A Raleigh, NC, hospital is looking for a licensed cardiac sonographer with at least 1 year of experience performing adult/pediatric ultrasounds. Must be a graduate of an approved cardiovascular sonography program and have American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) certification. This position includes day, evening and weekend hours. Candidate must have knowledge of ultrasound equipment and recording images.
  • An Indiana hospital is seeking a cardiac sonographer to work in the intensive care unit. This full-time position will have the candidate working in outpatient and inpatient settings, performing diagnostic tests. Applicants must have Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) and BLS certification, knowledge of electronic medical records and least two years experience working as a cardiac sonographer.
  • A South Carolina hospital is looking for a qualified cardiac sonographer to work in an on-call position. Individuals must have the Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS) or RDCS credential. Candidates will perform non-invasive echocardiography procedures.

How to Beat the Competition

While some jobs may be attained with on-the-job training, completion of a degree program can boost your employment potential. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs provide you with advanced hands-on experience with equipment and patients through clinical rotations and internships. Additionally, most certification typically requires the completion of a postsecondary education program unless you have several years of experience in the field.

Get Certified

Although certification may be voluntary, most employers prefer credentialing in their cardiac sonographers. Some organizations that offer certification programs include Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), the ARDMS and the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS). Sonographers can choose from several different credentials. Eligible candidates can usually obtain certification by passing examinations. Continuing education is usually required to maintain certification.

Alternative Career Paths

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

If you want to work as a sonographer, but aren't sure if cardiac sonography is your area, you could become a diagnostic medical sonographer. Becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer typically requires completion of an associate's degree program - similar to what is required of cardiac sonographers. Diagnostic medical sonographers take images of the human body using ultrasound waves. In addition to completing training, graduates usually obtain certification. They also have the option of various specialized areas, such as abdominal sonography, obstetric and gynecologic sonography, breast sonography, neurosonography and musculoskeletal sonography. Additionally, the BLS predicted diagnostic medical sonographers are to see a 44% increase in jobs from 2010-2020, and they averaged $66,000 as of May 2011, which is higher than that of cardiac sonographers.

Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapist is a career choice you may enjoy if you want to work in a medical position where you can help others, as well as have patient contact. Respiratory therapists provide emergency care for patients suffering from respiratory problems and breathing difficulties. Although some therapists complete bachelor's degree programs, you can attain this position with an associate's degree. You'll also have to be certified and licensed to practice as a respiratory therapist. This is also a fast growing field with a projected growth of 28% between 2010 and 2020, and the average wages are very similar to cardiac sonographers at $56,000 as of May 2011, stated the BLS.

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