Medical Sonography Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a medical sonography degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of associate's and bachelor's degrees and potential careers.
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Study Medical Sonography: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Sonographers perform and do initial analysis of ultrasounds. Ultrasounds send high frequency sound waves to the part of the body being examined and record the echoes that are sent back. As patients look to decrease their exposure to radiation, medical sonography, which is non-radioactive, is expected to become an increasingly popular diagnostic technique. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of sonographers to grow 44% from 2010 to 2020.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs will train you in multiple areas of sonography and prepare you for an entry-level position as a diagnostic medical sonographer. Bachelor's degree holders may be able to advance to supervisory and management positions after gaining several years of job experience, and there may be advancement options for associate's degree holders with significant work experience. Sonographers are expected to periodically update their knowledge through continuing education courses.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? - Individuals with no healthcare background who want to qualify for entry-level sonography positions - Individuals with no healthcare background who want to qualify for entry- to mid-level sonography positions
- Allied healthcare professionals with an associate's degree who want to gain additional skills in sonography
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Diagnostic medical sonographer ($65,200)*
- Echocardiograph technician ($62,000)**
- Diagnostic imaging supervisor (requires 3-5 years of experience) ($78,600)**
- Chief diagnostic imaging operations technologist (requires at least 7 years of experience) ($86,500)**
- Diagnostic imaging manager (requires at least 5 years of experience) ($93,600)**
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Clinical practicum Clinical practicum or internship
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED certificate
- Placement test
- Some general education and introductory science classes
- High school diploma or GED certificate
- College entrance exam
- Usually two years of prerequisite coursework are required before being admitted to the professional curriculum
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (May 2012 figures).

Associate's in Medical Sonography

An associate's degree in medical sonography requires two years of general education and clinical sonography classes. Sonography coursework covers the various specialties of sonography and pairs in-class work with a clinical practicum to train you in applying your knowledge to real-world situations. Specialties include echocardiography, abdominal sonography, vascular sonography, neurosonology, and obstetrics and gynecology sonography. If you know which specialty you'd like to pursue, you may want to look for programs that offer substantial training in that specialty and have professionals on staff that are knowledgeable in that area.

For most associate's programs, some general education prerequisites are required that could take 1-2 semesters to complete. After your requirements are met, you can begin to take clinical coursework that pertains specifically to sonography. Most associate's programs in sonography require a full-time commitment, although you may find some programs that offer evening and weekend classes for working professionals. In order to earn advancement opportunities in the field, you may need to continue your education in a bachelor's degree program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An associate's degree is a common education choice for this career and will prepare you for entry-level positions.
  • If you decide later that you want to complete a bachelor's degree program, coursework from an accredited associate's program should transfer to your bachelor's program.
  • You will be entering a field that is in high demand.

Cons

  • You may be limited in the number of advanced courses you can take.
  • You could be competing with bachelor's degree holders for similar positions.
  • You may not have the same career advancement possibilities that a bachelor's degree holder will have.

Courses and Requirements

Associate's programs in sonography typically require prerequisites such as college algebra, medical terminology, English composition, chemistry and physics. You may have additional general education requirements in the humanities and social sciences. It could be to your advantage to take courses such as communication, public speaking or cultural awareness that could help you succeed in the workplace. Your clinical training could include the following courses:

  • Sectional anatomy
  • Introductory echocardiography
  • Neurosonology
  • Sonographic principles and technology
  • Abdominal sonography

You will also complete several clinical experiences that will put your coursework into practice. In a practicum, you will be observed by advanced sonography professionals who will train you to work in real-world settings such as hospitals and out-patient care facilities.

Online Degree Options

Online associate's programs in sonography are available for students who do not live close enough to attend on-campus lectures full-time. These programs allow you to take all of your didactic coursework online. However, program administrators will help you find a suitable practicum location for you to complete your in-person clinical experience.

Get Ahead With This Degree

Licensure is required in only a few states; however, the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) expects that licensure will become an increasingly common requirement. To become licensed, you often need to become certified, which requires you to complete an accredited sonography program and pass a national examination. To ensure that you will be ready for certification, attend a program that has a proven track record of preparing students for certification exams. Programs should publish or otherwise make available the pass rates of previous graduating classes.

Certification exams are divided by specialty, so choosing a specialty during your academic career will mean you have more time to take advanced coursework or complete additional work experience in that specialty. You must understand how to use the technology involved in each specialty, because it may require the use of different machines and equipment.

Bachelor's in Medical Sonography

Bachelor's-level students are usually required to complete general education requirements and introductory-level healthcare courses during the first two years of the degree program. The professional coursework for a bachelor's degree in sonography is similar to that of an associate's degree program. Both didactic coursework and clinical experiences are required.

Bachelor's programs allow students to take advanced coursework in the various sonography specialties, and some programs offer the option to major in one specific area. Since you'd be completing more general education requirements in a bachelor's degree program than in an associate's degree program, you may also have time to develop other useful skills in management and administration that could help you find employment opportunities. Even with a bachelor's degree in the field, you may compete with associate's degree holders for entry-level jobs.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some higher-level management and supervisory roles in imaging departments require a bachelor's degree.
  • More opportunities to thoroughly develop one or more specialties.
  • Additional opportunities to take classes in leadership development or other areas that could help you prepare and qualify for supervisory roles.

Cons

  • Management positions can be stressful.
  • You will spend more in tuition than you would for an associate's degree.
  • Upon graduation, you may only qualify for the same entry-level work that an associate's degree holder would qualify for.

Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education requirements, some common sonography coursework requirements include:

  • Physics of sonography
  • Fetal echocardiography
  • Advanced obstetrics and gynecology sonography
  • Pathophysiology
  • Advanced cardiac sonography

You will also complete a clinical practicum each semester during your professional coursework. Your practicum will be done at nearby hospitals or other healthcare facilities under the observation of advanced professional sonographers. A senior project may be required by some programs. If you decide to major in a specific specialty, additional coursework in that area may be required.

Online Degree Options

Online bachelor's degree programs in sonography are available, but they are not as common as online associate's programs. Some coursework is completed online, and you will need to come to campus for some lectures and labs. Coursework is similar to traditional on-campus formats, and an in-person clinical internship is also required.

Stand Out With This Degree

Bachelor's degree program graduates will also want to become certified, since more and more employers will look to hire certified sonographers.

You may want to consider preparing for more than one specialty exam. Since you will have two years devoted to clinical coursework, you should have time to complete advanced classes in more than one specialty area. If you do this, you could become certified in multiple specialties. This could help you not only with immediate employment opportunities, but your varied expertise could also mean you'd be a good candidate for supervisory roles in imaging departments. As technology continues to become more advanced, you will need to take continuing education courses to learn new procedures. For example, ultrasound images are now using 3D and 4D images for obstetric diagnosis.

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