The Pros and Cons of Being an Echocardiographer
Echocardiographers, also called cardiac sonographers, are cardiovascular technicians who examine a patient's heart with the use of ultrasound equipment. Read the pros and cons of becoming an echocardiographer to decide if this is the right career for you.
|Pros of Being an Echocardiographer|
|Much faster-than-average job growth (30% growth between 2012 and 2022)*|
|Average to high salary range (between $46,000 and $79,000 in 2015)***|
|Can work in various medical settings (hospitals, physician's offices, medical labs and outpatients centers)*|
|Certificate or associate's degree programs sufficient for entry-level positions*|
|Cons of Being an Echocardiographer|
|May be required to be on call or work evenings and weekends**|
|May face stressful work conditions**|
|Heavy lifting and extensive walking and standing may be required**|
|May be at risk for disorders, such as carpel tunnel syndrome, eyestrain or neck strain**|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Sloan Career Cornerstone, ***PayScale.com
Essential Career Info
Echocardiographers fall in the category of cardiovascular technologists and technicians whose specialty is examining hearts to assist doctors in diagnosing and treating heart problems. Using ultrasound instruments, the technicians create echocardiograms (EKG or ECG) that examine the heart and ensure it is functioning correctly. Often working under the supervision of cardiologists, echocardiographers perform these tests on all ages, from infancy through adulthood. The tests they perform are categorized as noninvasive cardiology treatments because they do not require inserting probes, needles or other instruments into the patient's body.
In addition to performing the tests, echocardiographers help position the patient, explain the procedure to the patient, schedule appointments, select equipment and record patients' medical histories. Echocardiographers usually specialize in performing Holter monitoring procedures and stress testing. Although these two procedures are slightly different, they both involve putting electrodes on various parts of the patient's body and monitoring the patient's heart movement while they're inactive and active.
Job Growth and Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all cardiovascular technicians, which includes echocardiographers, were predicted to see an employment growth of 30% between 2012 and 2022. Echocardiographers work in physicians' offices, diagnostic imaging centers and medical and diagnostic laboratories; however, the majority work in hospitals. According to a PayScale.com report from 2015, most echocardiographers earned between $46,000 and $79,000, including salary and bonuses. Salaries may vary by region and demographics.
What Are the Requirements?
Although employers may provide training on the job, they usually prefer to hire individuals who are graduates of ultrasound or cardiovascular training programs. Having experience is also a plus because the employee requires less training. Training programs are offered in hospitals, technical schools and community colleges. Echocardiography programs may be offered as associate or bachelor's degree programs for those new to the career or as certificates for individuals with prior healthcare experience. These programs often have admission requirements, such as proof of CPR certification, liability and health insurance, current immunizations and a negative TB test. Submitting to a criminal background check is usually also required of applicants.
The curricula have students completing classroom instruction, laboratory studies and patient-based clinical instruction, which usually is in the form of internships or clinical rotations. Course topics may include pathology of the heart, Doppler physics, vascular technology, sonographic sectional anatomy, ultrasound physics and high-risk obstetrics sonography. Additionally, communications skills are gained since echocardiographers must communicate with patients and medical staff on a daily basis.
Job Postings From Real Employers
Although many of the requirements for becoming an echocardiographer are similar, specific requirements may vary by industry and employer. Education and certification are common requirements. Though the job postings below don't provide a full panorama of the field, you can get an idea of what employers were looking for in April 2012:
- A pediatric cardiac sonographer supervisor is needed to work in a South Carolina hospital and perform echocardiograms for evaluation and diagnosis by the pediatric cardiologist. Applicants must have an associate degree in a cardiovascular/ultrasound program or equal experience, at least five years experience with pediatric echocardiography and knowledge of physiology, cardiac anatomy and hemodynamics. The employer requires Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS) certification, as well as certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) or American Red Cross CPR/AED.
- An Indiana hospital is actively seeing a cardiac sonographer to work in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Candidates should have a degree from a cardiac sonography program, Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) or RCS certification, at least two years cardiac sonography experience in an acute hospital setting, CPR certification and familiarity with electronic medical records. Candidates must work 40 hours-per-week and rotate weekends and holidays.
- A South Carolina hospital is seeking an experienced cardiac sonographer to perform CT/MRI and ultrasound procedures. In addition to possessing good communication skills and professionalism, applicants must have RDCS or RCS certification. This is an on-call position.
How to Stand Out
In addition to earning a degree or certificate, you'll want to become certified so you and your resume stand out in the job market. Certification may not be a requirement for employment, but most employers prefer to hire echocardiographers who are certified. Certification not only demonstrates your knowledge and commitment to the profession, but it is also the standard in the ultrasound industry. As a cardiovascular technologist or technician, you may have various certifications available to you, depending on your area of interests. Two organizations offering certifications are the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARMDS) and the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). Echocardiographers can obtain certification in adult, pediatric and fetal echocardiography through the ARDMS. Additionally, they can obtain the Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT) or the RCS through the CCI. Continuing education is required for recertification.
Alternative Career Paths
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
If you want to work as a sonographer, but want a little more variety in your work, you could become a diagnostic medical sonographer. The training is similar to what is required of aspiring echocardiographers; graduates usually also obtain certifications. Diagnostic medical sonographers take images of the human body, using ultrasound waves. They also have the option of specializing in various areas, such as abdominal sonography, obstetric and gynecologic sonography, breast sonography, neurosonography and musculoskeletal sonography. The BLS reported that diagnostic medical sonographers were predicted to see a 44% increase in jobs from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, their annual wages averaged $66,000, which is similar to what echocardiographers earn.
Becoming a respiratory therapist may appeal to you if you want to work in the medical field in a position where you can help others and have hands-on patient contact. Respiratory therapists provide emergency care for patients suffering from respiratory problems and breathing difficulties. Although bachelor's degree programs are the typical avenue to becoming respiratory therapists, you can become a respiratory therapist by completing an associate's degree program and obtaining licensure and certification. The BLS reported that these workers have a projected employment growth of 28% between 2010 and 2020, and the average wages - $55,000 as of May 2011 - are similar to what echocardiographers earn.