Becoming a Sonogram Technician: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a sonogram technician career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a sonogram technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Sonogram Technician Career

Although sonograms are most commonly associated with pregnancy testing, sonogram technicians also work with other types of patients, including cardiovascular and neurological patients. Find out the pros and cons of a sonogram technician career to see if it's the right career for you.

PROS of a Sonogram Technician Career
High-growth field (46% job growth expected from 2012-2022)*
Many options for specialization (10 different credential options)**
Little postsecondary education required (certificate or associate's degree)*
Can work in nearly any geographic location*

CONS of a Sonogram Technician Career
Potentially stressful work environment due to large volumes of patients who may be ill or in need of medical attention***
Need to operate complicated medical equipment with extreme preciseness*
May be required to irregular hours (weekends, holidays, evenings or short notice)***
Must work for long stretches of time on your feet*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, ***Oregon Institute of Technology.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Sonogram technicians - also called ultrasound technicians - use equipment that produces high frequency sound waves to create images of a patient's internal organs. Part of the job includes following precise medical instructions to capture the types of images that physicians need to properly diagnose and treat patients. Other technician duties include getting patients ready for the procedure, maintaining equipment, answering patient questions, adjusting the patient's position for optimal results, operating the sonography equipment and making sure that the images are clear enough for the medical team to diagnose possible abnormalities and medical conditions.

While most sonogram technicians work a 40-hour work week, you may be asked to work evenings, weekends, holidays or on-call with little notice. Many sonographers specialize in capturing images of particular regions of the body; for example, you might work as an obstetric and gynecologic sonographer, an abdominal sonographer or a neurosonographer.

Career Prospects and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a rapid job growth of 46% from 2012-2022 for diagnostic medical sonographers (www.bls.gov). This is largely due to evolving technologies that have allowed ultrasounds to replace more expensive or invasive procedures. The BLS predicted that employment would grow most rapidly at medical laboratories, diagnostic laboratories and physician offices due to the industry's preference for outpatient care.

The median annual salary for sonogram technicians was about $68,000 as of May 2014. Most of these workers were employed at general medical and surgical hospitals. The highest-paying industry for sonogram technicians was specialty hospitals, where sonographers earned yearly salaries over $76,000 on average.

Education and Training Requirements

According to the BLS, most employers prefer to hire sonogram technicians with an associate's degree or a certificate in sonography from an accredited program. Courses can teach you how to use specialized equipment and usually offer students a chance to specialize in a specific area of the human body.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Some states require diagnostic medical sonographers to receive licensure. Check with your region to see if you must get licensed by the state before working in the field. Certification is not mandatory for employment, but many employers request it. Some states also allow you to gain licensure by passing a professional certification exam. After successful completion of a sonography program, you can apply for the certification examination offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and earn a national credential as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (www.ardms.org).

What Do Employers Look For?

Because sonogram technicians are in demand at most medical facilities and hospitals, the main requirements to earn a job are the successful completion of a training program and a credential from the ARDMS. Other skills that employers like to see in job applicants include strong communication skills, empathy for patients and knowledge of potential hazards and safety precautions. The following are a few examples of what real employers looked for in March 2012.

  • A not-for-profit healthcare organization in California sought an ultrasound technologist with certification from the ARDMS. The ultrasound technologist would be charged with performing ultrasounds, providing information to the lead technologist about daily department operations and keeping accurate records. The ideal candidate should have knowledge of cross-sectional anatomy, ultrasound instrumentation and quality control.
  • A Florida-based pediatric medical group looked for a sonographer with a 2-year degree and three years of experience. Job duties included providing diagnostic ultrasound testing for patients and working with the entire team to offer care to pregnant patients. The group wanted candidates who held CPR certification and were either working toward or maintaining an existing ARDMS certification.
  • An Arizona staffing company posted for an ultrasound technologist to prepare imaging equipment, ready patients for their exam and make sure the images are of sufficient clarity. Job requirements included having Basic Life Support and ARDMS certifications and earning a certificate or degree in medical sonography.
  • A health network in Missouri looked for a cardiac sonographer with 2-5 years of experience to administer diagnostic tests, record findings, support quality improvements and complete other tasks as requested. Requirements included two years of recent experience and ARDMS certification.

How to Stand Out

Find a Specialization

Having a broad range of skills, multiple specialties and a willingness to work all hours may give you a competitive edge as a sonogram technician, reported the BLS. According to job postings on Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com in March 2012, employers prefer to hire candidates with CPR or Basic Life Support credentials. Certification is often available through hospital programs or the American Red Cross.

According to the BLS, sonogram technicians who specialize in more than one area of ultrasound technology may have more job options and opportunities. The ARDMS offers certification exams in the following sonography specialties:

  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Abdomen
  • Breast
  • Neurosonology
  • Fetal echocardiography

Other Careers to Consider

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive medication to patients before using imaging technologies to scan patients' bodies and identify any abnormal areas. Additional duties include maintaining accurate records, answering patient questions and monitoring patients for any adverse reactions. You must typically graduate from a nuclear medicine technology associate degree or certificate program. Some states also require you to earn licensure.

According to the BLS, nuclear medicine technology jobs were estimated to rise 19% from 2010-2020, or about as fast as the average for other jobs. Although job growth was projected to be slower for nuclear medicine technologists than sonogram technicians, the median annual wage for nuclear medicine technologists was higher, with these professionals taking in a median wage of about $69,000 as of May 2011.

Cardiovascular Technologist

Cardiovascular technologists use imaging technology such as electrocardiograms or ultrasounds to create images of patients' hearts and monitor electrical impulses to identify any abnormalities. Completing an associate's or a bachelor's degree program is standard. Although it isn't necessary to get certified, the BLS reported that most employers prefer to hire technologists who receive a credential.

According to the BLS, this was another medical job with strong expected job growth (29% from 2010-2020). The median annual wage for cardiovascular technologists was approximately $51,000 as of May 2011.

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