Ultrasound Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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An ultrasound technician's annual salary is around $66,410. Is it worth the training and certification requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an ultrasound technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as an Ultrasound Technician

Ultrasound technicians, also known as diagnostic medical sonographers, usually work in hospitals, private facilities and clinics and help diagnose medical conditions using ultrasound technology. To ensure this is the right career for you, learn about the pros and cons.

Pros of an Ultrasound Technician Career
Strong projected job growth (46% between 2012 and 2022)*
Most jobs require only an associate's degree*
Multiple specializations within the field*
Decent pay opportunities (median salary around $68,000 as of May 2014)*

Cons of an Ultrasound Technician Career
Frequent time in low-lit rooms*
Long hours standing*
Work may require overtime*
Occasionally on-call*
Certification usually required*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Essential Career Information

Job Descriptions and Duties

An ultrasound technician operates a sonography machine that uses nonionizing, high frequency sound waves to collect reflected echoes that form an image. A physician then interprets these images and uses them to make a diagnosis. The technician also takes measurements, calculates values, analyzes images and decides which images should be examined by the physician. The ultrasound technician also keeps records and is responsible for maintaining the equipment. They also need to know how to recognize troubled areas to include in reports presented to physicians.

Career Outlook and Salary

According to the BLS, careers in this field are projected to grow faster than average, due to an aging population requiring additional healthcare monitoring (www.bls.gov). Additional positions may arise as advances in technology enable more procedures and treatment opportunities. As imaging equipment becomes safer and procedures lower in cost, procedures may open up for people who previously couldn't afford being scanned for maladies. If you would like a better chance at finding a career in this field, you may want to purse a position at a physician's office, where growth is expected to be highest. As of May 2014, the BLS estimated that ultrasound technicians earned a median salary of about $68,000.

Career Skills and Requirements

Education Requirements

There are several paths to becoming an ultrasound technician, including 1-year certificate programs and 2-year degree programs. Some ultrasound technicians also receive training on-the-job while employed in another capacity. Many ultrasound technicians complete a 2-year program culminating in an associate's degree. Most employers require the degree to be earned from an accredited diagnostic medical sonography (DMS) program. Bachelor's degrees in DMS are also available and sometimes even preferred by employers.

Certification and Training Requirements

Although not required, the BLS reports that most employers are searching for ultrasound technicians who hold professional certification. To become a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), you will have to take a certification examination offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). There are a number of training requirements you'll need to complete to become a RDMS.

What Do Employers Look For?

You may find that employers want to hire technicians who are well rounded and have more than one specialization. If you really want to increase your chances of finding a job, you may want to develop an understanding of fields related to radiologic technology and echocardiography. Employers are also looking for technicians who are physically fit and healthy enough to do the job, because the job may require heavy lifting and substantial periods of time working on your feet. Additionally, technicians may also be involved with ordering ultrasound equipment and supplies, so knowledge of office procedures is also helpful. The following information was gathered from job postings from March 2012:

  • A hospital in Indianapolis is looking for a certified ultrasound technician who holds cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.
  • A clinic located in Denver is searching for a certified obstetrics/ gynecology (OB/GYN) technician who can assist physicians with biopsies, follow physician instructions and explain procedures to patients.
  • An Arizona-based staffing firm seeks a certified ultrasound technician with an associate's or bachelor's degree.
  • A medical center in Atlanta is looking for an ultrasound technician who has the ability to print imaging results and recognize the best images for analysis.
  • A diagnostic imaging company in California is advertising for a certified ultrasound technologist with 2-3 years of experience who can attend to paperwork and balance multiple projects at one time.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

To increase your chances of standing out in this field, you may want to complete an associate's or bachelor's degree program in DMS. Your program can train you to operate sonography equipment, understand medical terminology, work with patients of various age groups, follow medical ethics, make machine adjustments and find the best imaging angles. Much of your training is provided through hands-on opportunities offered through internships, clinical work and laboratory courses.

Get Certified

To qualify to take the RDMS exam, you need to acquire a varying combination of education and experience. These requirements can typically be fulfilled through an associate's degree program, and most DMS programs are designed to prepare students for certification. You then need to pass a multiple-choice exam.

Get Specialized

In addition to getting certified, you may want to strive for additional specializations within the field. Much of the initial training can be earned through required courses in your first few years of education, but continued training is procured through your choice of clinical work. You may also take advanced courses focusing on your specialization when enrolled in a bachelor's degree program. In addition to taking the general RDMS exam, you could also take a corresponding exam in a specialty, including abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiography, neurosonology and OB/GYN.

Other Careers to Consider

If you would like to work in medical imaging, but you're more interested in the technical side of the field than the medical side, you may want to look into a career as a biomedical equipment technician (BMET). BMETs repair, maintain, adjust and calibrate machinery found in various types of medical environments. As preemptive measures, technicians attend to regularly scheduled equipment check-ups. Careers can be found with hospitals and specialized electronic repair companies. The BLS predicts that positions in this field may grow 27% between 2008 and 2018. As of May 2010, BMETs earned a median salary of $44,000.

If you are interested in other medical imaging fields, you might consider a career as a radiologic technologist or technician. Instead of using sonography technology, you would use radiation technology. Equipment you may use in this field includes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) x-ray and mammography machines. Except for x-ray machines, these machines are often used to produce 3-dimensional pictures the body. In 2010, the BLS estimated that technologists and technicians in earned a median salary of about $54,000. Radiologic technologist and technician jobs were expected to grow 17% between 2008 and 2018.

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