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How to Become a Sonographer

October 16, 2019  |  Category: Sonography

Sonographer does carotid Doppler ultrasound test on a female patient.

Sonography, or ultrasound, is one of the most common imaging technologies for medical diagnosis, second only to X-ray, according to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that imaging was ordered at 14% of all office-based physician visits in 2016. As the senior population expands in the coming years and as application of the technology grows, use of imaging for diagnostic testing will likely increase.

In fact, insights from a recent symposium during AHRA 2019 indicated that outpatient imaging services over the next five years may increase by 7%. This suggests an increased need for diagnostic medical sonographers, a field projected to grow by 17% from 2016 to 2026 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

There is a misconception that sonography is used mainly by obstetricians to monitor fetal development during the stages of pregnancy. But sonography has seen many advances not only in diagnostic use but in methodology. For example, integration of artificial intelligence into ultrasound, 3D ultrasound, and point-of-care ultrasound are trends that are helping doctors diagnose and treat diseases and conditions with more accuracy and speed. For those interested in how to become a sonographer, it’s important to keep current on the diagnostic medical sonography field.

For example, AdventHealth University (AHU) can help prepare credentialed sonographers for leadership roles. Candidates with an AS degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography from a CAAHEP-accredited program who are already actively working in sonography can enroll in AHU’s online Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography program. Graduates of the program can earn more than $75,000 a year as lead sonographers or diagnostic center imaging supervisors.

What Is a Sonographer?

A sonographer specializes in using ultrasound equipment, which includes a transducer, a hand-held device that sends sound waves into a patient’s body, to diagnose a wide range of conditions. The sound waves bounce off internal organs and tissues in the body to provide anatomical visualizations with key medical information about the patient. Sonographers collect and analyze the images to provide doctors with insights that can help diagnose, treat, and prevent disease. Ultrasound is typically associated with pregnant women, but it has a much wider range of uses. For example, it can detect abnormalities that include heart disease, liver damage, and kidney dysfunction.

A career as a sonographer can be rewarding and enriching. Through the use of diagnostic imaging technology, sonographers help doctors improve people’s well-being and save lives by locating malignant tumors, informing women about risks during their pregnancies, and alerting patients to neurological or vascular concerns.

How to Become a Sonographer

Sonographers are valued and important members of a medical team. If you are interested in how to become a sonographer, check out the discussion that follows.

Taking the First Steps

The process of becoming a sonographer begins with obtaining your associate’s degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography, ideally from a program that combines classroom hours with opportunities to gain clinical experiences. You should be sure the institution is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

With an associate’s degree in hand, you can then move on to prepare to take a certification exam. You can obtain a certification credentials from a variety of organizations, such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI).

Educational requirements for sonographer positions include specializations in at least one area, such as abdomen, OB-GYN, or vascular. The more specialties sonographers obtain by taking specific certification exams, the more marketable they are as job candidates.

Earn an Advanced Degree

In the field of sonography, earning your bachelor’s degree may help you advance in your career and gain a competitive edge, At the same time, there are some jobs you may be interested in which may require a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field.

Graduates of bachelor’s degree programs, such as the online Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography program at AHU, can improve their qualifications for leadership roles by learning:

  • effective communication skills to interact with patients and healthcare professionals in diverse settings;
  • essential managerial skills to direct sonography services in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient facilities; and
  • critical thinking and problem-solving skills to resolve healthcare issues.

AHU’s program offers a holistic and ethical approach to healthcare. Additionally, students gain knowledge about advanced procedures, as well as healthcare business, marketing, and finance.

A formal education consisting of an associate’s degree program and certification from a CAAHEP-accredited sonography program is required to enroll in AHU’s program. The program prepares students with knowledge of advanced sonography specialties that can help them in their pursuit of sonography certifications, such as the ones offered by ARDMS. These include registered diagnostic medical sonographer (RDMS), registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer (RDCS), registered vascular technologist (RVT), and registered musculoskeletal sonographer (RMSKS).

Professional Experience and Networking

Sonography is a hands-on job, and, as such, it requires a combination of academic and work experience to advance in your career. Taking and passing your credentialing exams opens the door to job opportunities in hospitals, doctor’s offices, outpatient imaging centers, and clinics. With a certificate in a specialty area, getting a job in that area would help you obtain valuable experience that can translate (together with an advanced degree) into a growth opportunity. Again, the more specialties you obtain, the more competitive you are.

Knowing the right people can help you land your ideal role, too. Becoming a member of an organization such as the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), which has over 28,000 members, gives you an opportunity to build relationships with people in the field who want to help you succeed.

Choose a Sonography Specialty

While sonographers are required to specialize in at least one area — abdomen, brain (neurosonography), breast, heart (echocardiography), musculoskeletal, or vascular systems, for example — the most successful strategy is to go for more specialties. As mentioned earlier, in the field of sonography, having more specializations opens the door to more opportunities.

Future of Sonography

Healthcare organizations are always looking for affordable, proven methods to diagnose conditions and diseases to help contain high costs without compromising quality of care. And advancements in sonography support healthcare organizations in reaching these goals. Here are three noteworthy trends:

  • Integration of artificial intelligence into ultrasound is helping to improve the process of selecting images from among hundreds of images scanned by a sonographer.
  • Using 3D ultrasound can give a better view of complex anatomy, helping specialists with catheter procedures and surgeons with structural heart evaluations.
  • Point-of-care ultrasound allows for fast and accurate assessments at patients’ bedsides.

Students in the online Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography program at AHU benefit from learning the most up-to-date information and education in the field. In the program, students learn advanced imaging modalities, research methods, and management skills to help them take on leadership roles and position themselves for higher salaries.

How to Get Started

U.S. News Best Jobs ranked sonography as a top healthcare career. But did you know that only 17% of sonographers have a bachelor’s degree? A BS in sonography can set you apart from other sonographers and supercharge your career. Discover how an advanced diagnostic medical sonography degree could give you the competitive edge you need to advance in the field. Learn more about the online Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography program at AdventHealth University. With the advantage of continually evolving curriculum and esteemed faculty, you can prepare to fulfill current demands and meet future trends in sonographic imaging.

Recommended Readings

The Path to a Career in Sonography

The Fastest Growing Healthcare Careers

Safety Concerns for Sonographers

Sources

AdventHealth University, Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program Manual

The American Journal of Medicine, “Curbing the Urge to Image”

ARDMS, Get Certified

ARDMS, Sonography Professional Organizations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Characteristics of Office-Based Physician Visits, 2016

Chron, “Types of Ultrasound Technicians”

Image Wisely, “Use of Ultrasound as an Alternative to CT”

Imaging Technology News, “5 Key Trends in New Ultrasound Technology”

Imaging Technology News, “Imaging Market in U.S. Could Rise in Coming Years”

North Carolina Medical Journal, “The Value of Diagnostic Medical Imaging”

Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Build Your Professional Sonography Network

Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Images of Health

U.S. Department of Labor, Clinical Services Sonography

U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Ultrasound Imaging

World Journal of Emergency Medicine, “An Overview of Emergency Ultrasound in the United States”