Pros and Cons of Becoming a Medical Sonographer
Medical sonography is growing in popularity because it avoids radiation exposure to patients by using sound waves instead of x-rays to assess and diagnose medical conditions. Read on for more pros and cons of this field to see if medical sonography is the right career for you.
|Pros of Becoming a Medical Sonographer|
|High earning potential (annual mean wage of $68,390 as of May 2014)*|
|Rapidly-growing field (expected employment growth of 46% from 2012-2022)*|
|Advancement available through management positions*|
|Jobs found in both rural and urban locations**|
|Full-time and part-time employment options**|
|Use high-tech equipment**|
|Cons of Becoming a Medical Sonographer|
|80% of sonographers experience pain from musculoskeletal injury (MSI) **|
|20% of injured sonographers eventually stop working due to injury**|
|May spend a lot of time on your feet*|
|Possible evening and weekend hours on-call*|
|Continuing education required to keep registration*|
|Work may be stressful, particularly when dealing with nervous patients*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS)
Essential Career Info
Sonography is a type of diagnostic imaging that guides high-frequency sound waves through special equipment. The echoes form an image that can then be interpreted by a doctor. Your job would be to explain the procedure to the patient and take his or her medical history. While performing the exam with a transducer, you would view the images on a screen and choose the best ones to show the doctor. In addition, you would take some measurements and make a preliminary analysis of results. Besides working with patients, you would also keep patient records and take care of the equipment.
Salary Info and Employment Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2014, medical sonographers had an annual mean wage of $68,390 and usually worked a 40-hour week. The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) notes that this is a profession with earnings that compete with other professions having similar education levels. The SDMS also adds that salaries can vary with experience, credentials held and location. Furthermore, the BLS predicted that the field would experience much-faster-than-average growth of 46% in the 2012-2022 decade, with the addition of an expected 27,000 medical sonography jobs.
Career Requirements and Job Skills
The most common way to become a medical sonographer is through an associate's or bachelor's degree program. These take from 2-4 years to complete. It's important to make sure that the program you choose is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP), since most employers prefer applicants who've graduated from these programs, according to the BLS. Accredited programs include clinical training and adhere to specific course requirements. If you're an allied health professional already working in the industry, you may be able to complete a certificate program in as little as one year.
If you're considering a career as a medical sonographer, it helps to be a good listener, have strong critical thinking skills, show steady arm-hand use and have basic knowledge of computers. Additionally, other important skills include: good hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, strong interpersonal skills and physical stamina.
What Do Employers Look For?
Growth in this industry is expected to continue, especially with quickly changing computer technologies. As a sonographer, you might work in a hospital, clinic, physician's office or other type of medical facility. Employers often seek experienced sonographers, and certification seems to top the list of important requirements. Check out the following excerpts from real job listings in February 2012:
- An obstetric/gynecology clinic, within a medical school in Texas, advertised for three different levels of sonographers. Experience required for the three levels ranged from zero to four years. These jobs required that you be a graduate of an approved program and registered with the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers or have the ability to gain registry within a year. These positions included performing sonograms and teaching others.
- A hospital in Wisconsin was looking for an experienced sonographer who had a certificate, diploma or degree from an accredited radiologic technology school and ARRT certification. This position involved performing general sonography and teaching imaging students. The hours varied and included weekends and on-call hours.
- A Minnesota hospital advertised for a certified vascular sonographer with three years of experience. The facility wanted someone who worked well independently, as this position involved working full time in a mobile outreach facility.
How to Stand Out in Your Field
According to the BLS, the majority of employers seek applicants that are certified. Although certification and licensing are not generally a requirement, a few states do make licensing mandatory, and certification helps with that process. Consequently, certification from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) may be quite beneficial to your job search. Furthermore, you can complete training for specialty areas, such as obstetrics and gynecology or neurosonography, and pass those registry exams. Many employers view the ARRT credential as a sign that an individual has fulfilled a national standard for medical imaging and intervention procedures.
Other Careers to Consider
After learning about medical sonographers, maybe you're interested in a career with more variety providing and coordinating patient care. If so, you might consider becoming a registered nurse. Nurses work in many settings, such as hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices and public health departments. They provide skilled medical care as well as emotional support and advice to patients and families. They also monitor vital signs, take health histories, administer medication, help with diagnostic tests and consult with doctors. The minimum education required is an associate's degree, though they must also obtain national licensure. The median annual pay in May 2011 was about $66,000, according to the BLS. The occupation was predicted to see employment growth of 26% from 2010-2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Perhaps you're looking for a similar career with a higher earning potential. In that case, you might be interested in becoming a nuclear medicine technologist. These professionals administer radioactive drugs to patients that cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different when scanned with special scanners. Nuclear medicine technologists make sure the machinery is working correctly and safely, operate the equipment, monitor the patient and keep accurate records of all procedures.
Typically, you'll need an associate's degree, but bachelor's degrees are also available. If you're already working in a related health field, a 1-year certificate program may be all you'll need. Some states require licensing, while others require certification. Voluntary certifications are also available. The BLS predicted that nuclear medicine technologists would see employment growth about as fast as the average, or 19%, from 2010-2020. The median annual wage in May 2011 was about $69,000.