Becoming a Medical Sonographer: Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
What are the pros and cons of becoming a medical sonographer? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to decide if becoming a medical sonographer is right for you.
View available schools

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

Job Description

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

Education

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.

Skills

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

Registered Nurse

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.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    2. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS in Health Care Quality
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
      • MS in Nursing
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    4. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Health Care Administration
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
      • B.S. Healthcare Administration
    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Health Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    10. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Healthcare Management

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Health Care Quality
  • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Healthcare Admin
  • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)

Which subject are you interested in?

University of Delaware

  • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Concentration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Technology Management
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Business Administration - Health Care Administration
  • B.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
  • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • RN to BSN
  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?