How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

Explore the steps to become an ultrasound technician, the typical salaries they earn, and which specializations to choose for your career.
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Updated on March 8, 2024
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If you see a bruise or a gash, it's easy to assess the problem and find a solution. But what about the things we can't see?

Ultrasound technicians are healthcare specialists who can look beneath the surface. Using special equipment, they create noninvasive images of the insides of bodies to detect medical conditions, such as blood clots, pregnancies, and enlarged spleens.

Ultrasound technicians, also called sonographers, are generally paid well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they're among the highest-paid healthcare jobs that don't require med school, earning a median annual salary of $81,350 as of May 2022.

4 Steps for Becoming an Ultrasound Technician

Wondering how to become an ultrasound technician? There are four essential steps to follow. Most students need anywhere from 1-6 years to complete their ultrasound technician education, depending on their level of education before beginning the process and how extensive an educational pathway they choose.

For professionals who are educated and trained in another healthcare field, one-year certificate programs in sonography are available.

  1. 1

    Earn a High School Diploma or GED Certificate

    Earning a high school diploma or GED certificate is an important step toward gainful employment in almost any field. A high school education is your gateway to college and creating a career, and you absolutely need one in order to become an ultrasound technician.

  2. 2

    Earn an Accredited Associate in Sonography Degree

    An associate in sonography degree covers important subjects like anatomy, physiology, and math. Degrees from accredited institutions improve potential transfer opportunities and continuing education paths, and can be more appealing to employers.

    Not sure if your chosen program is accredited? Use the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation database to look up the status of any school. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation database allows you to check the validity of any accrediting organization.

    Once you choose a school, it's time to apply.

  3. 3

    Get Licensed if Required by Your State

    At this time, only New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon require medical sonographers to hold a license. In every other state, the requirements to practice are limited to successfully completing sonographer education and, in most states, becoming certified through a professional organization.

  4. 4

    Take an Ultrasound Technician Certification Exam Through a Professional Organization

    The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) administer a certification exam and award professional credentials for medical sonographers and ultrasound technicians.

    Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) offers additional specialized certifications related to cardiology.

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What Is an Ultrasound Technician?

An ultrasound technician performs noninvasive imaging tests (sonograms or ultrasounds) to create pictures of a patient's organs and tissues. Doctors, surgeons, radiologists, and other healthcare workers view these images to assess and diagnose medical conditions.

Ultrasound technicians often work in hospitals, doctor offices, medical laboratories, outpatient centers (e.g., ambulatory surgical centers and women's health practices), and university and college health centers.

What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

The basic duties of an ultrasound technician include:

  • Preparing patients for exams
  • Preparing exam rooms and maintaining equipment in good working order
  • Operating diagnostic imaging machines and analyzing images for sonography exams
  • Communicating directly with doctors and surgeons to capture images of organs and body tissues
  • Informing patients about procedures
  • Documenting patient records, noting results, and completing billing forms

The American Society of Radiologic Technologies (ASRT) publishes the "ASRT Practice Standards for Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy" on its website. This document is a helpful resource for students and professionals in related fields.

Ultrasound Technician Certification Process

The ultrasound technician certification process gives you the opportunity to prove you've met all education requirements and mastered the necessary skills to be a successful ultrasound technician.

Once you graduate from an accredited program, you can sit for the certification exam administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Later, you can seek additional specialized cardiac-related certifications from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI).

There are many sonography certifications you can earn. While these additional certifications will make your journey longer, they also provide specific expert knowledge and skills. These certifications include:

  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS)
  • Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS)
  • Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
  • Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS)
  • Midwife Sonography Certificate (MW) — for midwives only

Available sonography-related cardiac certifications from CCI include:

  • Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS)
  • Advanced Cardiac Sonographer (ACS)
  • Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS)
  • Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS)
  • Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT)
  • Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS)
  • Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS)
  • Registered Vascular Specialist (RVS)
  • Certification: When a professional certifying organization certifies that a technician has met all requirements of knowledge and competency; this certification is valid nationwide.
  • Licensure: Individual states issue licenses, which grant you, the technician, the ability to legally practice in that state under its specific regulations. The only states that require licensure for ultrasound technicians are New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon.

Ultrasound Technician Salary

According to the BLS, ultrasound technicians earn a competitive average annual salary of $84,410, or an average hourly wage of $40.58. Comparatively, the average American worker earns $61,900 per year, or an average hourly wage of $29.76.

The bottom 10% of ultrasound technicians earn an average of $61,430 per year, or an hourly wage of $29.54. The top 10% of ultrasound technicians earn $107,730 per year, or $51.79 per hour.

The BLS reports that the top-paying states for diagnostic medical sonographers are:

  1. California: $114,480
  2. Hawaii: $105,850
  3. Washington: $103,700
  4. Oregon: $101,850
  5. Rhode Island: $96,400

Types of Ultrasound Technicians

Patients need internal imaging for different reasons. Each type of ultrasound technician specializes in helping doctors detect conditions in various areas of the body.

Ultrasound Technician Jobs
Job Title Job Description
Diagnostic cardiovascular sonographers Diagnostic cardiovascular sonographers use ultrasounds to take images of the heart and help doctors find abnormalities in valves and heart chambers.
Abdominal sonographers Abdominal sonographers take images of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and spleen to diagnose pain or detect problems.
Musculoskeletal sonographers Musculoskeletal sonographers use ultrasounds to examine muscles, bones, and nerves to detect broken bones, hernias, and tears.
Neurosonology sonography Neurosonology sonographers perform ultrasounds on the brain and nervous system and use these images to diagnose conditions such as strokes and aneurysms.
Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers use ultrasounds to detect the presence of a fetus and examine the fetus's condition, anatomy, and growth.
Pediatric sonographers Pediatric sonographers focus on children's health, examining them as they develop in the womb and after birth. They also look for fetal abnormalities and congenital disabilities.

Career Advancement for Ultrasound Technicians

Certification in any field demonstrates competence, knowledge, and expertise. Initial certification for ultrasound technicians is a requirement for being able to practice professionally in most states.

As noted above, there are a number of specializations from ARDMS, ARRT, and CCI that can increase your earning power and ability to find a well-paying job.

In order to remain competitive for top jobs in well-known facilities and popular cities, advancing your education as an ultrasound technician can be a smart move. A bachelor's degree in medical sonography may increase opportunities for positions like ultrasound department manager, while a master's degree can open the door to positions in executive leadership (e.g., chief director of an ultrasound department), teaching at the college level, or becoming involved in research.

There are currently no doctoral programs in sonography, but a Ph.D. in a related health sciences field could lead to a senior position in a medical research facility or as dean of a university sonography program.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Ultrasound Technician

Is it hard to become an ultrasound technician?

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It depends. You need a college education and, in many cases, certification to become an ultrasound technician. The time it takes to become an ultrasound technician ranges from 1-6 years, depending on your education level.

According to the Cambridge College of Healthcare and Technology, sonography programs can be challenging due to the technical nature of the courses, which include anatomy, physiology, and ultrasound physics.

What degree is best for an ultrasound technician?

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An associate degree is a satisfactory place to begin for an entry-level ultrasound technician or sonographer. A bachelor's or master's degree can open doors to increased marketability and earning power, as well as to opportunities in management, leadership, academia, and research.

How long does it take to become an ultrasound technician?

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Earning an associate degree in sonography takes around two years. After you get your degree, certification and licensure might take an additional few months.

What classes will you take while earning an associate in ultrasound degree?

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While earning an associate degree in ultrasound technology, you can expect to take classes covering subjects like anatomy and physiology, sonographic anatomy, principles of sonography, medical terminology, echocardiography, biochemistry, pathophysiology, and radiographic anatomy and patient positioning. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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