Pros and Cons of a Career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Healthcare professionals in the field of diagnostic medical sonography capture images of the human body known as echocardiograms, ultrasounds or sonograms in order to help physicians correctly diagnose medical conditions. Diagnostic medical sonographers, radiologic technologists, and cardiovascular technologists are three types of professionals that use such medical imaging technology. Take a look below to compare these three careers:
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographer||Radiologic Technologist||Cardiovascular Technologist|
|Career Overview||Direct sound waves to patients' bodies for diagnostic purposes||Operate X-ray, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment||Use electrocardiogram technologies and catheterization techniques on the heart and surrounding blood vessels|
|Education Requirements||Associate's degree||Associate's degree||Associate's degree|
|Program Length||Two years||Two years||Two years|
|Certification and Licensing||Employers often prefer certification; some states require licensure||Licensure or certification is required in most states||Though not required, certification is preferred by employers|
|Experience Required||None; entry level||None; entry level||None; entry level|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||Much faster than average growth (46%)*||Faster than average growth (21%)*||Much faster than average growth (30%)*|
|Median Annual Salary (2014)||$67,530*||$55,870*||$54,330*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Diagnostic medical sonographers use transducers to direct high-frequency sound waves onto a targeted area, such as a patient's abdomen, muscles or reproductive system. The transducer then transforms the echoes into images that can be recorded or photographed. Diagnostic medical sonographers analyze and inspect the quality of these ultrasounds or sonograms before presenting them to physicians for diagnosis.
According to the BLS, you must complete an accredited training program's didactic and clinical requirements in order to work as a diagnostic medical sonographer. The most common educational programs lead to an associate's degree. However, you may elect to pursue a 1-year certificate if you already have work experience and a degree in the healthcare field.
Additionally, the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) reports that some states have recently enacted licensure requirements for these professionals. To qualify for a license, you must generally hold nationally recognized credentials in sonography. The ARDMS and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offer professional registration or sonography certification to applicants who pass an exam after completing an approved training program. Here are some sample job ads from employers in November 2012:
- A healthcare recruiting firm in Denver, Colorado, was looking for a diagnostic medical sonographer with at least one year of experience, preferably in echocardiography. Job candidates were to be eligible for professional credentials from such organizations as the ARDMS or the ARRT. Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) certification from the American Heart Association was also required.
- A medical group in Georgia was looking for a diagnostic medical sonographer to fill a full-time position at the group's maternal fetal medicine office. Applicants needed to hold CPR certification and either be certified or eligible to be certified by the ARDMS.
- A Missouri hospital was seeking a diagnostic medical sonographer with at least two years of work experience and an associate's degree. Candidates needed to be certified by ARRT or registered with the ARDMS.
As noted in the job posts, your chances of employment are often better if you've earned professional registration or certification in sonography. Additionally, the BLS explains that job candidates with multiple credentials could enjoy even better prospects. Applicants for the ARDMS' Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer designation can sit for specialty exams in such areas as neurosonology and obstetrics and gynecology. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recommends training programs of at least six months for each additional learning concentration.
As a radiologic technologist, you could capture and record images of patients' bodies with equipment that uses radiation, rather than sound waves. In addition to operating and maintaining CT, MRI or X-ray equipment, you'd be responsible for properly positioning patients and protecting them from undue exposure to radiation. Because patients might be in pain or under considerable stress, you should have good communication skills and be able to exercise compassion.
Though requirements vary, most states mandate that radiologic technologists be licensed or certified. Typical requirements include graduating from an associate's degree program that's accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). You must then sit for a state certification exam or an ARRT-administered certification exam in radiology. Here's what some employers were looking for in November 2012:
- A medical institute in Indiana wanted a radiologic technologist with at least five years of work experience and familiarity with multiple imaging technologies, including ultrasounds and CT scans. Candidates needed an associate's degree from an accredited radiologic technology program. ARRT certification and ARDMS registration were also required, along with Indiana licensure.
- A medical staffing firm in California was looking for a radiologic technologist with at least one year of work experience in the previous three years. Candidates also needed ARRT certification.
- A Texas medical center was in the market for a radiologic technologist certified by the ARRT. Applicants with 1-5 years of work experience were preferred.
As with diagnostic medical sonographers, the BLS expects employment opportunities to be optimal for radiologic technologists with multiple certifications. Once you've earned the ARRT's radiology certification, you can earn the organization's MRI credential after acquiring sufficient work experience and sitting for a certification exam.
Cardiovascular technologists diagnose health problems associated with the heart and blood vessels. If you pursue this career, you could specialize in non-invasive procedures, such as echocardiography, electrocardiography or vascular sonography. You may also use invasive diagnostic techniques, like inserting catheters into patients' arteries. Some technologists help prepare patients for open heart surgery and monitor the procedure.
The BLS states that some cardiovascular and vascular technologists complete on-the-job training or 1-year certificate programs designed for current healthcare professionals. However, most hold an associate's degree. Additionally, many employers prefer individuals who are professionally certified. Professional credentials are available through a few different organizations, including like the ARDMS. Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) also awards registration in both non-invasive and invasive procedures to applicants who've acquired the appropriate combination of work experience and education. The following are examples of what employers looked for in November 2012:
- A regional medical center in Texas was looking for a part-time cardiovascular technologist. Candidates needed a degree in cardiovascular technology. However, those with training in another allied health field were also invited to apply. Additional requirements included certification in cardiovascular technology and Basic Life Support. Applicants with two or more years of experience were preferred.
- A hospital in Pennsylvania was looking for a cardiovascular technologist with CPR, BCLS and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) credentials. Preference was given to candidates with at least two years of work experience and vascular ultrasound registration through the ARDMS or CCI.
- A regional hospital in Tennessee wanted to hire a cardiovascular technologist with at least two years of experience in a cardiac catheterization laboratory. Candidates were to be proficient in performing all invasive cardiac catheterization procedures. Registration through CCI was also required, as was Basic Life Support and ACLS certification.
According to the BLS, you could improve your employment outlook by gaining experience or training in both invasive and non-invasive procedures. Acquiring additional professional credentials might also work to your advantage. Some of the options available to you include CCI's Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist, Registered Cardiac Sonographer and Registered Vascular Specialist designations. Similarly, the ARDMS offers the Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer and Registered Vascular Technologist designations. A willingness to relocate and work evenings and weekends can also serve to enhance your employability, reports the BLS.