Becoming an Echo Technician: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an echo technician? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary information to see if becoming an echo technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Echo Technician Career

Echo technicians, also known as echocardiographers or diagnostic medical sonographers, use special equipment to create images of internal organs. Learn about the pros and cons of becoming an echo technician in order to make an informed career decision.

Pros of a Career as an Echo Technician
Quickly growing job field (30% increase for cardiac technicians from 2012-2022)*
Varied daily tasks (interaction with patients, image analysis, equipment maintenance)*
Good median salary ($54,000 for cardiac technicians and $67,000 for diagnostic sonographers as of May 2014)*
Minimal academic requirements (most technicians hold associate degrees)*

Cons of a Career as an Echo Technician
Potentially high-stress work environment*
May work irregular hours, including nights and weekends*
Possibility for injury due to frequent bending, stooping and lifting*
Long periods of standing (up to 80% of the day)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Diagnostic medical sonographers usually specialize in one or more areas of the body. These professionals use ultrasound equipment to create images of interior body parts, including the abdomen, liver, pancreas, breast tissue, muscles, joints, brain, nervous system or the female reproductive system. Echocardiographers use ultrasound to obtain images of the valves, vessels and walls of the heart.

In general, echo technicians should be detail-oriented; they also need a good understanding of complex medical equipment. Because patient contact is part of the job, interpersonal skills are important. Medical work can be stressful, particularly during emergency situations, so calmness under pressure is essential.

Salary Information and Job Prospects

How much you can expect to make depends on a variety of factors, including where you work and your specialty. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cardiac technicians made a median salary of about $54,000 as of May 2014. During that time, diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median salary of roughly $67,000. Technicians working in colleges or universities, outpatient care centers or specialty hospitals made higher wages than those working in general medical hospitals or medical and diagnostic laboratories.

Like many other jobs in the medical field, you can work just about anywhere. Demand for your services should remain high due to a growing number of aging adults and an increasing reliance on non-invasive technologies, such as echocardiograms. The BLS estimated job growth of 30% for cardiac technicians and 46% for diagnostic medical sonographers from 2012-2022.

What Are the Requirements?

While some echo technicians learn their skills on the job, most hold a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography or echocardiography. These programs are available through hospitals, colleges and universities; common courses include human anatomy, fundamental ultrasound techniques, proper equipment use and maintenance, medical ethics and patient interaction. Most programs require completion of hands-on training in a medical facility.

After graduating from an accredited training program, you're eligible to take certification tests through professional organizations, like Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). While certification is voluntary, many employers prefer job applicants who hold professional credentials.

What Employers Are Looking For

In addition to formal training and experience, employers also look for applicants who have strong critical thinking skills and the ability to work well independently or as part of a team. Job postings usually specify the exact skills that employers want, along with the type of work environment you can expect to find. The following are some examples of real job postings from March 2012:

  • A hospital in Tennessee sought an echocardiographer with a 2-year degree and five or more years of experience to fill a full-time position recording the size of patients' heart chambers, the motion of heart valves and blood flow. Additional requirements included ARDMS certification in adult or pediatric echocardiography.
  • An ARDMS-registered diagnostic sonographer with experience in abdomen, obstetric, vascular and adult echocardiograms was sought by a Wisconsin community hospital. The position required a set number of on-call hours.
  • A Wyoming-based medical center looked for an echocardiographer with 1-2 years of experience to perform echocardiograms, maintain equipment and perform procedures according to guidelines set by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission (ICAEL).

How Can I Stand Out?

According to the BLS, technicians who can work irregular hours or relocate may have an edge on the competition. You can also stand out by specializing in more than one area of sonography. The ARDMS offers specialty exams in fetal echocardiography, neurosonology and obstetrics. Similarly, CCI offers specialty exams in phlebology sonography and congenital cardiac sonography. You need to meet experience and education requirements before taking certification tests.

Alternative Career Paths

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technician

If you like the idea of working in the medical field but want less patient interaction, perhaps a career as a medical or clinical laboratory technician would be a good fit. Technicians primarily analyze bodily tissues and fluids; they also set up equipment and record data. Education requirements vary, but most technicians earn a certificate or an associate degree in order to fulfill training requirements. Some states also require licensure for lab technicians. The BLS predicted average job growth for this field from 2010-2020 - about 15%. As of May 2011, medical and clinical lab technicians earned a median salary of $37,000.

Radiologic Technologists

If you're interested in a medical imaging position that doesn't involve ultrasound technology, consider becoming a radiologic technologist. These professionals use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) or X-ray machines to create images of specific body parts. Additional duties are very similar to those of echo technicians, including equipment maintenance. Most radiologic technologists hold associate degrees, although certificates and bachelor's degrees in the field are available. It's important to note that most states require licensure or certification for radiologic technologists.

Similar to cardiac technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers, job prospects should be excellent in this field. According to the BLS, the number of employed radiologic technologists is expected to grow 28% from 2010-2020. These professionals earned median wages of about $55,000 as of May 2011, so earnings are comparable to those of echo technicians.