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Ultrasound Technician: Career Information

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Woman receiving ultrasound examination, smiling
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Job Description:

An ultrasound technician, often called a diagnostic medical sonographer or simply a sonographer, operates special equipment that uses sound waves to help diagnose patients' ailments. They work directly with patients and physicians. Ultrasound technicians may specialize in obstetric and gynecologic sonography, abdominal sonography, neurosonography, breast sonography, vascular sonography or cardiac sonography.

Employment Facts:

In 2010 there were approximately 54,000 ultrasound technicians. Hospitals employed more than half of them. Many also worked in doctors' offices and some had jobs in medical and diagnostic laboratories and outpatient care centers.

Ultrasound technicians typically work full time. Like many in the health care field, their services may be needed on evenings, weekends or overnight.

Educational Requirements:

One can take several different routes to train to become an ultrasound technician. There are associate degree programs that take about two years to complete and bachelor degree programs that are usually four years long. Someone who is already working in a health care field can enroll in a one-year certificate program to learn about diagnostic medical sonography. Some employers may provide on-the-job training to workers who are experienced in another health care career, for example nursing.

In a formal training program you can expect to take courses in anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care and medical ethics. In addition, you will receive supervised clinical training.

Many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have received training from accredited programs. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredits diagnostic medical sonography programs. Search for programs on the CAAHEP site.

Why Do You Need to Know About Educational Requirements?

Other Requirements:

While ultrasound technician isn't currently a licensed occupation, most employers prefer to hire job candidates who have been certified by a credential-granting organization such as The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). To earn this credential, one must take an exam and meet prerequisites that include some combination of education and work experience.

There are certain characteristics that make some people well-suited for this occupation. Working one-on-one with patients requires good interpersonal skills. An ultrasound technician must have good hand-eye coordination. He or she must be detail oriented. One also needs good physical stamina because he or she spends the greater part of each day standing and must also be able to lift and move patients.

Advancement Opportunities:

Training in multiple specialties may increase advancement opportunities which include supervisory, managerial or administrative positions.

Why Do You Need to Know About Advancement?

Job Outlook:

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth in this field will be much faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. It is listed among those occupations expected to grow faster than most others that require an associate degree.

Why Do You Need to Know About Job Outlook?

Earnings:

Ultrasound technicians earned a median annual salary of $65,210 and median hourly earnings of $31.35 in 2011.

Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much an ultrasound technician currently earns in your city.

A Day in an Ultrasound Technician's Life:

On a typical day an ultrasound technician's tasks will include:

  • selecting appropriate equipment settings and directing the patient to move into positions that will provide the best view
  • using a transducer, which transmits sound waves in a cone-shaped or rectangle-shaped beam
  • looking for subtle visual cues, on a screen, that contrast healthy areas with unhealthy ones
  • deciding whether the images are satisfactory for diagnostic purposes and selecting which ones to store and show to the physician
  • taking measurements, calculating values and analyzing the results in preliminary findings for the physicians
  • explaining procedures to patients
An ultrasound technician may also have to:
  • keep patient records
  • maintain equipment
  • prepare work schedules
  • evaluate equipment purchases
  • manage a sonography or diagnostic imaging department

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm (visited January 15, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/link/details/29-2032.00 (visited January 15, 2013).

Should You Become an Ultrasound Technician? Take a Quiz to Find Out.

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