Ultrasonographer Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an ultrasonographer career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming an ultrasonographer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Ultrasonographer Career

Ultrasonographers take images of the human body using sound wave technology. Here are a few of the pros and cons of an ultrasonographer career:

Pros of an Ultrasonographer Career
Above-average median salary (about $68,000 in 2014)*
Excellent expected job growth (46% between 2012 and 2022)*
Help doctors identify different pathologies using minimally invasive technology*
Job opportunities in a variety of environments*

Cons of an Ultrasonographer Career
Most jobs require certification in addition to education requirements*
May be at risk for work-related muscle injuries**
May have to work some nights and weekends or overnight*
Must be able to stand for long periods of time*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Ultrasonographers, also called diagnostic medical sonographers, use complex machines that emit high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) in order to create medical images. Ultrasonographers are trained to direct the ultrasound waves to organs and other areas inside the body. The machine then turns the echoes from the sound waves into pictures that can be used for medical diagnosis and assessment. Ultrasonographers work under the supervision of physicians who are in charge of the using the equipment and reading the ultrasound images.

Ultrasonographers prepare patients for the ultrasound, take information about the patient's medical history and answer questions about the procedure. They apply a special gel to the area being examined to aid sound wave transmission and then use a hand-held ultrasound transducer to aim the waves in the right direction. Sonographers do preliminary readings of the ultrasound, as well as make sure the images are of sufficient quality to be read by the physician. Other job duties include maintaining the equipment and keeping records.

Career Paths and Specializations

Ultrasonography of each different organ or body area is under a separate specialty within the field. According to the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), a professional credentialing organization, the specialties in ultrasound include:

  • Abdomen
  • Breast
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Neurosonography
  • Vascular technology
  • Fetal echocardiography
  • Pediatric echocardiography
  • Adult echocardiography
  • Musculoskeletal sonography

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), expected job growth is 46% for medical sonographers and 30% for cardiac and vascular technologists, which includes sonographers, between 2012 and 2022. The average salary in 2014 for diagnostic medical sonographers was $68,390. Those working in hospitals averaged $68,860, while those working in outpatient clinics earned $72,930. Cardiovascular technologists, the subgroup of sonographers who specialize in cardiology, made a median annual salary of $54,330 during this same time period, according to the BLS.

Education and Training Requirements

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers generally require an associate or a bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography. If you are in high school, both the BLS and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recommend that you take physics, algebra and general science, anatomy and physiology coursework in order to qualify for an accredited school. Once admitted, you should have strong grades in communication skills, algebra, biological sciences and general physics. Most programs offer concentration areas that correspond to a particular certification exam such as cardiovascular or abdominal.

Certification

The ARDMS and the CAAHEP also recommended that you attend a school with an accredited program. Accredited program graduates are more likely to meet all of the requirements for sitting for the registration/certification exams as well as the requirements of most employers. You can sit for the ARDMS exam without a degree or certificate from an accredited program if you have 12 months clinical experience at a paying job. However you might not be able to get hired and gain experience without certification. Attending an accredited program is the easiest way to avoid this 'Catch-22' scenario.

If you already have a degree in the health sciences, such as an RN, MD or another area of diagnostic imaging, you can earn a one-year certificate in sonography that will qualify you to sit for the certification exams. Certification is not mandatory, but it will increase your job prospects.

Job Listings From Real Employers

Employment opportunities for ultrasonographers are in hospitals, clinics, private practices and vascular laboratories. However, most employers want someone who is registered by one of the three certifying organizations. Also be prepared with your resume and, for some jobs, cover letter and references. Here are some of the job listings that were posted in April of 2012:

  • A private radiology medical group in Washington State was looking to hire an ultrasonographer perform ultrasounds related to women's health. The successful candidate would be ARDMS certified, proficient in obstetrics /gynecology, breast and fetal ultrasound and interested in general anatomy, as well as vascular ultrasound. Some of the job duties included making preliminary reports, distinguishing normal from abnormal findings on ultrasounds and being familiar with radiology computer software.
  • A cardiology clinic in Maryland advertised for a Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or ARDMS certified echocardiographer. Applicants needed to supply a resume, three professional references and a cover letter to be considered.
  • A hospital in Texas was looking for an ultrasonographer to work evening shifts and other shifts as needed. Persons applying should have graduated from an accredited school and have ARDMS certification in abdomen, plus a current certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The employer also requested someone with good leadership and communication skills. Bilingual candidates were preferred.

How Can I Stand out?

Ultrasonographers need good interpersonal skills because they work closely with patients. They also must pay careful attention to details in order to follow the instructions of the physician, as well as notice which findings on the screen are normal or abnormal. Having the best technical skills possible to understand and operate high-tech machinery will also help you stand out.

Get Certified

While certification is not absolutely required to work as an ultrasonographer, most employers will want you to have it. There are three organizations that are able to certify an ultrasonographer based on meeting their educational requirements and passing an exam:

  • CCI tests and certifies persons for vascular (blood vessel) sonograms and in cardiac (heart) sonography.
  • American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) examines and certifies in sonography, breast sonography and vascular sonography.
  • ARDMS certifies in each of the nine specialization areas.

All three organizations offer online resources for test takers including educational requirements, ethical standards and recommendations for study. They also require periodic continuing education credits in order to maintain certification.

Alternate Career Paths

Nuclear Medical Technologist

If working with high-tech medical equipment appeals to you, but you want something a little less dependent on the manual dexterity needed by ultrasonographers, you might want to consider a career as a nuclear medicine technologist. Persons in this career operate large scanning machines that make images of the body to help doctors diagnose various types of illnesses. As a nuclear medical technologist, you will explain the procedure to patients, as well as prepare and give patients the radioactive drugs necessary to perform the scan. While doing the procedure, you'll observe the patient in the event that they have any problems or drug reactions.

Nuclear medical technologists need an associate or a bachelor's degree similar to ultrasonographers. You may also need a license to practice, depending on your state. Certification, while not required, can help you meet requirements for state licensure. The average salary for nuclear medical technologists was $69,960 in May 2011, and job growth is expected to grow at a 19% rate between 2010 and 2020.

Radiologic Technologist

Becoming a radiologic technologist (also called an X-ray technician) is another area of diagnostic imaging that you might be interested in. Radiologic technicians operate standard X-ray machines, as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines and computed tomography (CT) scanners. X-ray technicians help prepare patients for imaging, position patients and answer patient questions about the procedures, as well as keep accurate patient records.

Most people in this field have an associate degree, although some have a bachelor's degree or have completed a certificate program. Most states require licensing or certification, but requirements vary by state. The average salary for radiologic technicians was $56,760 in May 2011. Expected job growth is twice the national average at 28% between 2010 and 2020.

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Kaplan University

  • Master of Healthcare Admin
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Virginia College

  • Associate - Diagnostic Medical Sonography/Ultrasound

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Trident University

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  • Health Sciences (BSHS)
  • Health Administration (BSHA)

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Altierus

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

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Abilene Christian University

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  • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Administration

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Regent University

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  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
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