How to Become a Medical Sonographer
Learn how to become a medical sonographer and launch your medical diagnostic imaging career with a medical sonography job in two years.
- The need for medical sonographers continues to grow, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 19% increase in employment from 2020-30.
- Becoming a medical sonographer requires completing an associate degree or certificate program in medical sonography.
- Medical sonographers earned a median salary of $75,920 in May 2020.
Medical imaging helps physicians diagnose and treat illnesses and diseases early. These technologies include X-rays, MRI scans, and CT scans. Ultrasound technology uses no radiation, making it among the first choices for physicians who need to examine organs, tissues, and blood vessels.
Medical sonographers operate ultrasound machines. They undergo specialized training to work with patients to capture high-quality images that help the medical team. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 19% employment increase for diagnostic medical sonographers from 2020-30, with about 12,000 job openings each year.
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What Are the Requirements to Become a Medical Sonographer?
Becoming a medical sonographer typically requires about two years of postsecondary study. Many sonographers earn an associate of applied science degree from a community college, career college, or university. Other educational paths include one-year associate degrees offered by hospital training programs or colleges, or four-year undergraduate degrees in sonography.
Individuals need good technical skills to work and maintain the equipment they work with. Performing an ultrasound requires good hand-eye coordination and attention to detail to ensure images capture what the physician needs to see. Interpersonal skills help put patients at ease in what can be uncomfortable circumstances.
Only four states require licensing for medical sonographers: New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon. However, many programs prepare graduates for professional certification by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). This credential requires documented education and clinical experience. Candidates must also pass an exam.
What Does Medical Sonography Training Look Like?
Your education to become a medical sonographer will include a combination of classroom study and hands-on learning. Coursework covers anatomy and physiology, physics, sonographic instruments, and procedures for various types of ultrasound imaging. You also study how to document findings and write medical reports.
Clinical rotations ensure you can apply the principles and theories covered in the classroom in a real-world setting and allow you to gain experience working with patients. Medical sonographers must position patients for exams, monitor video displays, adjust equipment settings, and create required images.
You can choose from certificate programs or associate degree programs. Be sure the program you choose holds accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and prepares you for ARDMS examinations. Some schools may offer elective courses in specialized ultrasound technology, like breast or musculoskeletal sonography. You can find programs offering on-campus, online, and hybrid learning opportunities.
For example, State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Missouri, offers a hybrid associate of applied science in medical sonography that combines online classes with hands-on clinical training. Students can graduate in 22 months with options for general sonography or a sonography specialization.
Additionally, Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, offers a one-year diagnostic medical sonography certificate program. Students choose from a general medical sonography track or specialize in cardiac or vascular sonography. Applicants must already have an associate degree in a healthcare program before starting the certificate program. The online program coordinates with clinical sites across the country.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Sonographer?
If you already have an associate degree in a related healthcare field, you may only need 12-18 months to complete a certificate program in medical sonography. A certificate program offers a career-focused curriculum that prepares you for medical sonography jobs and provides hands-on learning opportunities.
However, keep in mind these certificate programs typically require you to already have an associate degree in a healthcare field. This means you'll already have completed some courses in science, math, and English, as well as anatomy and physiology.
Many schools offer an associate degree in medical sonography. Full-time students may complete their degree in 24-28 months. The curriculum incorporates general education courses and provides comprehensive instruction in ultrasound imaging and clinical rotations.
Medical imaging professionals who wish to expand their career opportunities may choose to continue their education with a bachelor's degree in radiology technology. This four-year degree incorporates various types of medical imaging, including CT scans, PET scans, and MRI scans.
Schools may offer programs in online or hybrid formats to help students accommodate work schedules or other needs. Students can work with their schools to find clinical site locations near their homes. However, many programs require students to spend 20-30 hours on-site each week during clinical rotations.
What Are the Types of Sonographer Specializations?
While many students may prefer to be a medical sonography generalist, the field offers opportunities to specialize. Specialization allows you to focus on a specific type of ultrasound imaging, like the abdomen or cardiac. You can also prepare to work with a particular population, like pediatric patients.
Some specializations may require additional training or continuing education. ARDMS offers certification in the specialties listed below. You must pass the Sonography, Principles, and Instrumentation exam and a specialty exam to earn the professional credential.
- Fetal echocardiography
- Obstetrics and gynecology
- Pediatric sonography
- Adult echocardiography
- Pediatric echocardiography
- Vascular technology
- Musculoskeletal sonographer
ARDMS previously offered a neurosonography credential but discontinued the exam in 2017. According to the organization, components of the certification exam complement the content of the pediatric certification exam . While the organization does not currently offer the certification to new applicants, it does allow registrants to maintain their neurosonography certification.
Frequently Asked Questions About a Medical Sonographer's Career
Do medical sonographers have good salaries?
The median medical sonographer salary in May 2020 far exceeded the median wage for all workers in May 2020. Sonographers reported median earnings of $75,920. Wages ranged from less than $53,790 in the bottom 10th percentile to more than $105,340 in the 90th percentile.
Hospitals employ the most medical sonographers, staffing about 60% of the workforce. They paid sonographers an average salary of $77,510. Where you live also impacts your earning potential. Medical sonographers in California made the most in May 2020, with an average salary of $108,400.
Is medical sonography a good career?
Medical sonography jobs offer good pay and job security. The BLS projects 19% growth in the employment of diagnostic medical sonographers from 2020-30. As medical imaging evolves, sonographers trained in cardiac, vascular, or muscular sonography may find increased career opportunities in hospitals, physicians' offices, and other healthcare settings.
Are ultrasound tech and sonography the same?
Many employers use the terms ultrasound technician and medical sonographer to identify similar positions. However, education requirements can vary. Medical sonographers typically need an associate degree from a school accredited by CAAHEP. Once you complete your training, you can seek certification from ARDMS.
While only four states currently require licensing for ultrasound technologists or medical sonographers, professional certification can enhance career opportunities and salary expectations.
Feature Image: Nikola Ilic / E+ / Getty Images
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