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Ultrasound Technician Career Facts and Working Environment

Becoming a Ultrasound Technician

To become an ultrasound technician, you need the right training. These high-tech non-invasive procedures require technical training and the best way to get that is through the right school. You will also learn the importance of patient care which is crucial to be successful in this field.

Ultrasound Technician Career Facts

Beginning in 2005 the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) will require an associate's degree or higher in order to register as a sonographer of any kind.

Ultrasound Technician Career Description

A diagnostic medical sonographer uses medical equipment such as x-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines, and ultrasound technology to create an image of internal organs, which will eventually be assessed in order to diagnose a patient's condition. Ultrasound, more specifically, has become increasingly popular as a safer alternative to radiologic procedures because it utilizes sound waves to generate an image. Unlike x-rays and MRIs, which use ionizing radiation and radio waves, respectively, to create an image, ultrasound directs non-ionizing, high frequency sound waves into the body; this produces echoes that result in an image that is videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for later interpretation and diagnosis. Because ultrasound does not involve radiation, potentially harmful side effects and complications from repeated use are rare.

Programs to Consider:

Ultrasound Technician Career Details

While there are a number of specialties that a medical sonographer can choose from, the procedure performed remains relatively similar. Initially a sonographer will explain the procedure to the patient and record all pertinent medical history. The next step is to select the appropriate medical equipment and place the patient in the best position to view their ailment. Specific techniques may vary based on the area being examined, but typically a special gel will be spread on the skin, which will help to transmit the sound waves. Sonographers use a transducer, which transmits sound waves in a cone- or rectangle-shaped beam; and once this is in place, the sonographer will look for inconsistencies in the picture that differ from what a healthy organ should look like. Sonographers will then select, from the images generated, which ones to display for the physician. When sonographers are not working directly with patients, they are also responsible for keeping patient records, adjusting and maintaining equipment, preparing work schedules, evaluating equipment purchases, and perhaps even managing the sonography or diagnostic imaging department.

Ultrasound Technician Career Specializations

The most common application of sonography is in obstetrics and viewing the fetus in the womb. However, there are many other applications as well. Some other popular careers include:

  • Abdominal Sonography 
  • Neurosonography 
  • Opthamologic Sonography 
  • Vascular Technology 
  • Echocardiography

Ultrasound Technician Career Working Environment

Since patients need cared 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sonographers may be expected to work, or be on call, during evenings and weekends. They must also be prepared to work on short notice. Sonographers generally work in urban hospitals; in fact more than half are employed there. Other options include physicians' offices, clinics, and diagnostic imaging centers. These healthcare facilities are typically sterile and well-lit. It may be necessary for some sonographers to travel to patients' homes or community centers in large vans that contain their diagnostic equipment. While with patients, which usually makes up the majority of the day, sonographers are on their feet and may need to lift and turn their charges.

Ultrasound Technician Career Required Training

Currently, sonographers have the option of training in hospitals, vocational/technical institutes, colleges and universities, or the Armed Forces. However, in 2005 the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), which certifies the competency of sonographers through registration, will require potential sonographers to have an associate's degree or higher to even take the exam. The purpose of registration is to provide an independent, objective measure of a sonographer's professional knowledge and abilities. There are two exams: one includes general physics and instrumentation, and the other involves whichever specialty the potential sonographer wishes to enter (i.e. obstetrics, abdominal, etc.). Once the registration exams are passed, a sonographer must complete 30 hours of continuing education every 3 years in order to keep their registration current. This ensures that professionals stay on top of occupational and technological advancements.

Ultrasound Technician Career Coursework

Two-year, or vocational programs, are the most prevalent educational options within diagnostic sonography. At a two-year college, coursework includes subjects like anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care, and medical ethics. These classes are designed to prepare students for ARDMS registration as well as their actual careers. Courses also work to develop the communication and interpersonal skills essential to students' future jobs-interacting with and explaining procedures to nervous patients is frequent. Many health workers also cross-train in fields like sonography and, additionally, many sonographers, who may specialize in one discipline, will often seek competency in others as well. So there is always opportunity for career advancement, expansion, or even change within the medical diagnostic field.

Ultrasound Technician Career Future Job Outlook

The employment opportunities for medical sonographers are expected to grow faster than the national average for all occupations. As the population continues to grow and age, so will the demand for diagnostic imaging and therapeutic technology. Ultrasound, which uses sound waves as opposed to radiation, is commonly considered a safer treatment method than x-rays. Thus, the harmful side effects and complications from repeated use are rarer for both patient and sonographer alike. The technology, too, is expected to continue evolving rapidly and producing new procedures such as 3D-ultrasonography, which is used in obstetric and opthamologic diagnoses. Hospitals will likely remain the main source of employment for sonographers. However, since physicians' offices and clinics are expected to grow rapidly, employment in these facilities is expected to follow suit. This strong shift toward outpatient care will also increase the number of diagnostic imaging canters, which specialize in sonography and create another great avenue for employment opportunities.

Ultrasound Technician Salary

Median Salary-$64,380 in 2010

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