Sonographer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A sonographer earns a median salary of about $68,000, but is it worth the education and training? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if a career in sonography is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Sonographer Career

Sonographers, also referred to as diagnostic medical sonographers, use high-frequency sound waves to aid in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of medical conditions. Read the pros and cons of being a sonographer to help you decide if this career is right for you.

PROS of Being a Sonographer
Faster-than-average job growth (46% between 2012 and 2022)*
Can work in various medical settings*
Advancement opportunities*
Specialization options (at least 7 recognized specializations)**

CONS of Being a Sonographer
May require lifting or turning heavy patients*
Occasional evenings and weekends on-call*
Long hours standing on feet*
May require additional training for advancement*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a sonographer, you explain the procedure to patients and add any pertinent information to their medical records. You may spread a gel on patients' skin to help promote the transmission of ultrasound waves. During the test, you'll go through scans to look for any irregularities and decide which ones need review by a doctor. Although ultrasounds are often associated with obstetrics and pregnancy, sonography is also used for other parts of the body, such as the abdominal system, nervous system and breasts.

Besides working with patients, you may also maintain and adjust equipment, monitor inventory and fill out patient records. Sonographers typically work 40-hour weeks, but weekend, evening or holiday hours are sometimes required. While many sonographers are employed by hospitals, some work in other healthcare facilities. Some also work with mobile imaging providers and travel to different sites.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median salary of about $68,000 as of May 2014. During this time, the top paying industry for sonographers was specialty hospitals at an average of about $76,000 per year. The number of employed sonographers was expected to increase by 46% from 2012-2022, and the states with the highest employment levels included California, Florida, Texas, New York and Ohio.

Education Requirements

You may become a sonographer by completing a hospital-based training or postsecondary program. Employers typically prefer to hire applicants who have formal training through an accredited school. Diagnostic medical sonography programs can be found at community colleges and technical schools and usually lead to associate's or bachelor's degrees. The curriculum often includes medical terminology, Doppler procedures, superficial structures, sonographic principles and instrumentation, physics of medical imaging, obstetrical pathology and adult echocardiography. Most programs offer hands-on training and internship opportunities as well.

Top Skills for Sonographers

Formal training and certification is important for a career as a sonographer, but it's crucial to possess other skills as well. Additional qualifications for sonographers may include:

  • Good hand-eye coordination
  • Good dexterity
  • Communication skills
  • Ability to stand for long periods
  • Compassion and interest in people
  • Critical thinking

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers typically seek experienced sonographers that can work within a specific setting. While the list below doesn't provide a panorama of the job market, here are a few job postings for sonographers found on in March 2012:

  • An experienced sonographer is needed at an obstetric consultant company in Jacksonville, FL. Applicants must have high school diplomas, CPR certification and at least six months experience working as ultrasound technicians in obstetrical or perinatal settings. The prospective applicant must have completed a 2-year program and be certified as a diagnostic sonographer.
  • A Rochester, NY, university is seeking an experienced sonographer to work in their healthcare facility. Candidates must be registered or eligible for ARDMS registration and must have at least two years experience working within sonography, including vascular sonography.
  • A Wisconsin hospital is seeking a diagnostic sonographer/echocardiographer with experience in various types of sonography, including OB/GYN, abdomen, vascular and adult echocardiograms. Candidates must be ARDMS-certified. This position also has an on-call requirement.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Get Certified

While licensure in the field isn't required, voluntary certification demonstrates proficiency and can help you get an edge in the field. In fact, many employers prefer to hire sonographers who are certified or registered. Eligible applicants can obtain the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential by passing an examination through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). To be eligible, you must meet education and work experience requirements. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) also offer certification. Sonographers can also obtain specialty certification through these organizations.

Get Specialized

One way to maximize your skills is to become specialized and certified in various areas of sonography. Areas of specialization may include the following:

  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonography - images of the female reproductive system
  • Neurosonology - images of the brain and parts of the nervous system
  • Abdominal sonography - images of the liver, kidneys, spleen, gallbladder and pancreas
  • Breast sonography - images of the breast
  • Vascular sonography - images of the body's veins and arteries
  • Cardiac sonography - images of the heart

Continuing Education

Continuing education is typically required in order to maintain certification. Sonographers may also take continuing education courses as a way to keep up with changes in the field or to help with career advancement. Typically, sonographers who have studied more than one specialty and keep up with training often have better advancement opportunities. Some advance to supervisory or managerial positions.

Other Fields to Consider

Radiologic Technologist

Would you like to perform diagnostic tests but aren't sure if ultrasound equipment is for you? You can become a radiologic technologist. These professionals perform diagnostic imaging examinations using x-rays, mammography, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Radiologic technicians and technologists earned a median salary of around $55,000 as of May 2011. The BLS projected 17% employment growth for these workers between 2008 and 2018. To become a radiographer, you need to complete a postsecondary training program and obtain licensure and certification.

Clinical Laboratory Technologist or Technician

If staying in the medical field interests you, but you'd prefer less patient contact, you may enjoy a career as a clinical laboratory technician or technologist. These professionals spend most of their time in a laboratory but play a large role in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. An associate's degree is usually required in order to work as a technician; most technologists hold bachelor's degrees. You may need to obtain licensure and certification in order to work in this field.

According to the BLS, clinical lab technicians earned a median salary of roughly $37,000 as of May 2011. During this time, clinical lab technologists earned a median of $57,000 per year. These professions were expected to see combined employment growth of 14% between 2008 and 2018.

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