How to Become an Ultrasound Technician
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- Ultrasound technicians create images of organs and tissues to examine medical conditions.
- Typical job requirements include earning an associate degree and certification, although some states also require a license.
- Ultrasound technicians are paid well compared to other careers with similar education requirements.
- Ultrasound technicians may earn more depending on specializations and work settings.
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. These conditions include blood clots, pregnancies, and enlarged spleens.
Ultrasound technicians, sometimes called sonographers, are paid well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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
If you’re wondering how to become an ultrasound technician, there are basically four steps to follow in order to reach your goal. 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.
Earn a High School or GED Certificate
Earning a high school diploma or GED certificate is an important step towards 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.
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 or 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. And once you choose a school, it’s time to begin the application process.
Obtain Licensure, if State-Mandated
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.
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.
Popular Online Healthcare Associate Programs
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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. Physicians, surgeons, radiologists, and others view these images to assess and diagnose medical conditions.
Ultrasound technicians often work in hospitals, physician offices, medical laboratories, outpatient centers (e.g.: ambulatory surgical centers, women’s health practices), or university and college health centers.
What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?
- Prepare patients for exams
- Prepare exam rooms and maintain equipment in good working order
- Operate diagnostic imaging machines and analyze images for sonography exams
- Communicate directly with doctors and surgeons to capture images of organs and body tissues.
- Inform patients about procedures
- Document patient records, note results, and complete billing forms
The American Society of Radiologic Technologies (ASRT) publishes the “ASRT Practice Standards for Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy” on their website. This document is a helpful resource for students and professionals in related fields.
Ultrasound Technician Certification Process
The ultrasound technician certification process offers the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate meeting education requirements and mastering skills and expert knowledge. Once you graduate from an accredited program, sit for the certification exam administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or the 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 skill. 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 grants you, the technician, the ability to legally practice in that state under its specific regulations. The only states that require licensure are New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon.
Ultrasound Technician Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ultrasound technicians earn a highly competitive average annual salary of $84,410 or an average hourly wage of $40.58, while the average American worker earns $61,900 per year or an average hourly wage of $29.76.
The bottom 10% of ultrasound technicians earn $61,430 per year with an hourly wage of $29.54. The top 10% of ultrasound technicians earns $107,730 per year or $51.79 per hour.
The BLS reports that the top-paying states for diagnostic medical sonographers are:
- California: $114,480
- Hawaii: $105,850
- Washington: $103,700
- Oregon: $101,850
- 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.
|Job Title||Job Description|
|Diagnostic cardiovascular sonographers||Diagnostic cardiovascular sonographers use ultrasound 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 and diagnose pain or detect problems.|
|Musculoskeletal sonographers||Musculoskeletal sonographers use ultrasounds to examine muscles, bones, and nerves and 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 or 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, and can detect 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 the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) that can increase your earning power and ability to find a well-paying jobs. 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. Ultrasound technicians can earn a bachelor’s degree, which can increase opportunities for positions like ultrasound department manager. A master’s degree opens the door to positions in executive leadership (e.g.: chief director of an ultrasound department), teaching at the college or university 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 college or university sonography program.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Ultrasound Technician
Is it hard to become an ultrasound technician?
It depends. You need postsecondary 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, such as anatomy, physiology, and ultrasound physics.
What degree is best for an ultrasound technician?
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 opportunities in management, leadership, academia, or research.
How long does it take to become an ultrasound technician?
Earning an associate degree in sonography should take approximately two years. Following the completion of academic work, certification and licensure might take an additional few months.
What classes will you take while earning an associate in ultrasound degree?
While earning an associate degree in ultrasound, classes you might take include, but are not limited to: anatomy and physiology, sonographic anatomy, principles of sonography, medical terminology, echocardiography, biochemistry, pathophysiology, and radiographic anatomy and patient positioning.