Sonography Degrees: Associate's, Bachelor's & Certification Info

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An associate's or bachelor's degree in sonography can lead to a career as a medical sonographer. Get the truth about requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your training.
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Study Sonography: Degrees at a Glance

Sonographers use ultrasound equipment to image internal organs and other structures of the human body. Degree programs in this field are offered at community colleges, universities and other educational facilities. Most degree programs are offered under the title of diagnostic medical sonography, though programs also are offered as general and vascular sonography or just sonography.

Job opportunities in this field were expected to increase faster than average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that positions for diagnostic medical sonographers would increase 44% between 2010 and 2020.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People who want to help assess and diagnose medical conditions People interested in furthering their career
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Vascular technologists ($52,000)**
- Diagnostic medical sonographers ($66,000)*
Same as associate's
Time to Completion 1-2 years 2-4 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Coursework
- Clinicals
Same as associate's degree
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED - Certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
- Previous sonography coursework
- Prerequisite courses
Online Availability Rare Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **BLS (May 2011 figures, includes cardiovascular technologists and technicians).

Associate's in Sonography

Associate's degree programs in sonography often take 1-2 years to complete. They tend to be offered at community colleges and other training centers. Often, associate's degree programs offer concentrations, such as obstetrics and gynecology, cardiac or vascular sonography. An associate's degree program can prepare you to take ARDMS credentialing exams, which are required for licensure by some states. Associate's degrees programs tend to be hands-on and include many clinical courses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Potential earnings are above-average for level of education*
  • Ability to work in many health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors' offices and labs*
  • Courses tend to be limited to a small class size

Cons

  • May spend long periods of time standing*
  • Programs are designed to be full-time and offer little flexibility in schedule
  • Some states require licensure for employment*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Training Requirements

Associate's degree programs typically require between 69 and 104 credit hours to complete, though programs around 75 credits are the most common. These hours are broken up between lectures, labs and clinicals, which may take place at a nearby health care facility. If an associate's degree program offers concentrations, the courses will be different between the different degree paths. For example, where a student on a general sonography path may take pelvic sonography, one learning cardiac sonography would take a course on heart disease, and one learning vascular sonography might take a course on vascular techniques.

Some states require licensure, and some require certification as a requirement of licensure. Additionally, you might need to complete on-the-job training once you're employed.

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree programs in sonography are very limited due to the hands-on nature of the field. Additionally, some online programs are not accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education (CAAHEP), which may lead to an inability to receive licensure. Even if an associate's degree program is online, it usually includes in-person clinicals that must be taken at a local facility.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Certification is not required, but is preferred by most employers and may be required for licensure. ARDMS offers Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) and Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) credentials. All applicants take the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Examination; specialty exams vary according to the credential you're going for. To maintain certification, you must earn 30 continuing medical education (CME) credits within a 3-year period. CMEs are randomly audited.

Bachelor's in Sonography

Bachelor's degrees in sonography are typically 2-year programs that assume applicants have either previous sonography or patient care education. Some programs require that applicants be ARDMS-certified, while others just require prerequisite courses, such as anatomy and physiology, biology or psychology. A bachelor's degree in this field might help you gain employment over competitors with an associate's degree, or it might allow you to further your career in a supervisory, educator or administrative role.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Potential careers are in a high-growth area*
  • May be able to use as continuing education credentials for certification
  • Useful for advancing career

Cons

  • May be competing for positions against those with associate's degrees*
  • May need to lift or turn patients*
  • May need to work nights or weekends*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Training Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in sonography often include a mix of clinical labs and lectures. Some programs offer concentrations, such as general, cardiac or vascular sonography. The courses offered in a concentration may be different, or you may complete different clinicals instead. Some programs offer classes in the evenings or on weekends for added flexibility.

Courses you might take include:

  • Sectional anatomy
  • Patient care
  • Health care ethics
  • Ultrasound physics
  • Clinical practice

Online Degree Options

There are online bachelor's degree programs in sonography. These 2-year programs are designed for those who already have some education in sonography. Some programs can be completely online, while others require you to complete clinicals in person. If a school offers both on-campus and online degrees, the courses typically are the same, though they may not be offered in the same order.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Aside from pursuing certification if you don't already have it, you might consider joining a professional organization. For example, the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) offers many levels of membership, including those for students and professionals. Each level has different education, experience and certification requirements. Benefits of membership include access to publications, CME opportunities, career and leadership development, insurance services and educational resources. Some organizations offer free trial memberships.

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Virginia College

  • Associate - Diagnostic Medical Sonography/Ultrasound

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