How to Become an Ultrasound Technician
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- It takes an associate degree or certificate to become an ultrasound technician.
- Employers will add 14,400 ultrasound technician positions from 2020-2030.
- While not required, employers often prefer certified ultrasound technicians.
- Ultrasound technicians must be detail-oriented, technical, and have good hand-eye coordination.
- Only four states require ultrasound technicians to get licensed.
About 75,900 diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as ultrasound technicians, work nationwide in hospitals and physician offices. They can also work in outpatient centers and medical and diagnostic labs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positions for ultrasound technicians to increase by 19% from 2020-2030. Within that time, employers may add about 14,400 positions. The aging baby-boom population will fuel employment increases, along with increased demand for non-invasive imaging technology.
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Ready to Start Your Journey?
You only need an associate degree or certificate from a community college or vocational school to become an ultrasound technician. Learn more about how to become an ultrasound technician, what they do on the job, and what they make.
Step-by-Step to Becoming an Ultrasound Technician
- Earn a high school or GED diploma.
- Earn an associate in sonography degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
- Get licensed if it is state mandated.
- Take an ultrasound technician certification exam through a professional organization.
Types of Ultrasound Technicians
Patients need internal imaging for different reasons. Each type of ultrasound technician specializes in helping doctors detect conditions in various parts of the body.
- Diagnostic cardiovascular sonographers, who hold either an associate or bachelor's degree, help doctors by taking images of the heart. Cardiac ultrasounds allow doctors to find abnormalities in heart valves and heart chambers.
- Abdominal sonographers use equipment to take images of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and spleen. This type of ultrasound technician commonly has an associate degree, but some earn a bachelor's degree.
- Musculoskeletal sonographers often work in emergency rooms. They use musculoskeletal ultrasounds to take images of muscles, bones, and nerves. These images can detect broken bones, hernias, and tears.
- Neurosonology sonographers use transcranial Doppler machines to examine the brain and nervous system. Neurosurgeons and neurologists use these images to diagnose conditions such as strokes or aneurysms.
- Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers take images of the female reproductive system. These images document a baby's growth throughout a woman's pregnancy and check for abnormalities.
- Pediatric sonographers work with fetuses developing in the womb, infants, and children. They can detect fetal abnormalities and birth defects. This job requires working with parents and guardians.
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What Is an Ultrasound Technician?
Ultrasound technicians have specialized training to use ultrasound imaging equipment that can document organs, tissue, and blood flow. These tests allow doctors and surgeons to make a diagnosis. Through postsecondary schooling, ultrasound technicians specialize in areas such as gynecology, pediatric echocardiography, and neurosonology.
What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?
Patients rely on ultrasound technicians to prepare them for exams. Ultrasound technicians must know how to operate diagnostic imaging machines and analyze images to ensure quality and accuracy. The job also requires communicating directly through email and phone with doctors and surgeons to capture images of organs and body tissues.
Ultrasound Technician Responsibilities
- Perform diagnostic sonography exams.
- Maintain equipment, rooms, and patient logs.
- Document patient records, note results, and complete billing forms.
- Inform patients about procedures and communicate findings to physicians.
- Report and document equipment issues.
Requirements to Becoming an Ultrasound Technician
- Earn a high school or GED diploma.
- Attend an accredited college to earn an associate degree.
- Complete clinical supervised experience.
- Pass your state licensure exam, if required.
Certification Process for Ultrasound Technician
Most states only require professional certification to work as an ultrasound technician, sometimes called sonographers. Ultrasound technicians can voluntarily register for certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
Ultrasound technicians can get the registered diagnostic medical sonographer certification by passing the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation Exam. The exam offers specializations in neurosonography, breast sonography, or abdominal sonography. Depending on the specialty area, candidates may need to complete an additional exam. Employers often prefer ultrasound technicians who hold credentials.
How do certifications differ from licensure? Professional organizations and agencies such as ARDMS administer certification for ultrasound technicians, while states administer licensing exams for ultrasound technicians. Ultrasound technicians only need to be licensed if they work in New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon.
Ultrasound Technician Salary and Job Demand
Employment for ultrasound technicians is projected to grow faster than other occupations. The BLS projects jobs for all medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians to grow by 14% from 2020-2030. Diagnostic medical sonographers, which includes ultrasound technicians, are projected to grow 19%, with employers adding about 14,400 positions during that time.
Top 5 Paid States
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians earned a median annual salary of $59,100 in May 2020, with the potential to earn more as they gain seniority and credentials. Geography and work settings also influence pay.
Outpatient care centers, the highest-paying industry for ultrasound technicians, paid diagnostic medical sonographers an annual mean wage of $102,070 in 2020. Other top-paying settings for ultrasound technicians include colleges, health practitioner offices, and employment services with respective mean annual salaries of $84,710-$84,300.
Salaries for ultrasound technicians vary based on where they live. California, Hawaii, Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island pay ultrasound technicians the most, with mean annual wages that vary from $108,400-$92,460 as of 2020.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Ultrasound Technician
Is it hard to become an ultrasound technician?
It depends. Ultrasound technicians must complete a postsecondary program, with many people opting for an associate in diagnostic medical sonography degree. Courses can be challenging. Students complete courses in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and ultrasound physics. They also take obstetric and gynecology, and vascular sonography classes.
Future ultrasound technicians also complete externships to gain clinical experience by performing exams under supervision. However, students can complete the program in as few as 21 months with online lectures, labs, and simulations.
Do ultrasound technicians make good money?
Yes. As ultrasound technicians grow in their careers, they can increase their earnings. The BLS reports the lowest 10% of diagnostic medical sonographers made less than $53,790 in 2020, while the top 10% earned more than $105,340. Most ultrasound technicians work full time with shifts during the day, night, or on the weekends. Cities in California —including Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Stockton, and San Francisco — pay ultrasound technicians the most. Annual mean wages there vary from $138,130-$121,210.
How long is schooling for an ultrasound technician?
Students can complete either a one-year certificate program if they have previous healthcare experience or a two-year associate degree. Some colleges offer associate degrees that full-time students can complete in 18-24 months. Part-time students often take longer to earn a degree.
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