A career as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer is for those who are looking for a career that has good pay, plays a big role in determining ailments of patients, is in demand, has a satisfying role in healthcare, and does not have a stressful work environment.
Sonography is the use of ultrasound or soundwaves to produce visual images of the body for diagnosis and treatment guide for various medical conditions in the human body.
In this article, we have detailed all you need to know about a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer.
A Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, or mostly called a sonographer for short, makes use of sonographic equipment that carries sound waves into the selected parts of the body. The equipment photographs the reflected echoes of the body structures for diagnosis.
Ultrasounds are non-invasive as they visualize the internal organs, this makes them the first imaging test carried out when an issue is detected most times.
As a result of this, sonographers have a very important role to play when it comes to conducting and interpreting the initial imaging results. This would, in turn, help to narrow down the diagnosis of a patient and get them the care they need faster.
Diagnostic medical sonographers are mostly employed in hospitals, offices of physicians, or medical and diagnostic laboratories. They work mostly with doctors, nurses, and patients of all ages. Their employment rate is projected to grow up to 14% from 2020 to 2030.
What this means is that about an average of 12,000 openings for sonographers are projected each year over the decade. Most of those openings are to be expected as a result of the need to replace sonographers who transfer to different occupations or retire and leave the labor force.
The responsibilities of sonographers differ but some typical duties they perform include:
- Explaining the procedure to the patient and taking record of his/her medical history especially if it relates to the ailment that is being evaluated.
- Adjusting the equipment to the appropriate settings and guiding the patient into several positions for the best results.
- Preparing the patient’s body by applying a special gel to the area to be examined and scanning the patient’s body using sonographic equipment.
- Searching for clues to the underlying medical condition and taking images to show physicians for further evaluation.
- Updating, storing patient records, and maintaining the equipment.
Specialties of Sonographers
Sonographers can specialize in several areas. There are a handful of them out there that focus on different parts of the human body. We will look at some of them, they are:
- Abdominal sonography.
- Breast sonography.
- Obstetric and gynecological sonography.
- Vascular sonography.
- Musculoskeletal sonography.
Let us look deeper into these specialties of sonographers mentioned above:
This specialty of sonography uses ultrasound to produce pictures of the structures of the upper abdomen. It covers pictures of the organs within the upper abdomen, the kidneys, liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, abdominal aorta, spleen, and pancreas.
Abdominal sonography is used to diagnose and evaluate medical issues like pain or enlargement in these organs. It allows for quick visualization of the abdominal organs and structures from outside the body and may also be used to assess blood flow to abdominal organs.
Abdominal sonography can also be used to check for several medical conditions, such as cysts, tumors, abscesses (collection of pus), obstructions, fluid collection, clots (blockages in blood vessels), and infections.
This type of sonography is used to produce pictures of the internal structures of the breast. It uses sound waves to look at the inside of one’s breast.
Primarily, it is used in the diagnosis of breast lumps and other abnormalities that are found during a physical exam, a mammogram, or a breast MRI. Although, this type of sonography is not usually done to screen for breast cancer, because it may miss some of the early signs of cancer.
It might be used if you have particularly dense breast tissue because a mammogram might not be able to see through the tissue; if you are pregnant, ultrasound does not use radiation, which makes it safer for the fetus; if you are younger than 25.
This specialty of sonography uses ultrasounds to produce images of the brain and parts of the nervous system of the patient. It utilizes specialized beam shapes and frequencies from a Transcranial Doppler (TCD).
Another technique that can be used for scanning the brain is Cranial Ultrasound. It uses high-frequency sound waves and is used almost exclusively in babies because the soft spot on their skull called fontanelle provides an “acoustic window.
Some advantages of this type of ultrasound are that it is safe, painless, quick, and allows for real-time visualization of the structures among others.
Obstetric and Gynecological Sonography:
They are commonly referred to as OB/GYN. They refer to the use of ultrasound to produce images of a pregnant woman and her fetus and also to determine the condition they are in.
Obstetric sonographers make use of ultrasound to produce images of an embryo or a fetus inside a pregnant woman. The ultrasound is useful to:
- Confirm that there is a living embryo/fetus.
- Give an estimate of the age of the pregnancy.
- Check for abnormalities in the fetus.
- Evaluate the position of the fetus and placenta.
- Determine if there are multiple pregnancies.
- Determine the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby.
- Check if there’s an opening or shortening of the cervix.
- Assess fetal growth and well-being.
Gynecological sonography is the painless use of sonographic equipment that uses sound waves to create real-time visual images of the internal reproductive structures in a woman. This includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.
This can help in the provision of information about the health of the mother, and the timing and progress of the pregnancy.
This is a painless test that uses sound waves to capture moving images of a patient’s heart. It shows the size and shape of the heart. This type of sonography uses a type of echo called Doppler ultrasound that shows how well blood flows through a patient’s heart’s chambers and valves.
Echocardiography is now routinely used in the diagnosis, management, and follow-up of patients with any suspected or known heart diseases. The ultrasound can provide much helpful information about a patient’s heart including the pumping capacity, the location, and extent of any tissue damage, and how well the heart relaxes.
This type of sonography is the general term for the use of sonography equipment to capture images of blood vessels including the arteries and veins. This means the ultrasound is used to examine the circulation of blood in the body.
The procedure can be used for the evaluation of blood flow-related issues in the body: the blood flows in the arteries in the patient’s neck that supply blood to the brain; the flow of blood to a newly transplanted organ; the flow of blood in the arteries to help detect the presence, the severity and the specific location of a narrowed area of the arteries.
There are no known harmful side effects of the vascular sonographic tests.
This uses ultrasound to capture pictures of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints in the human body. It is used in the diagnosis of sprains, strains, tears, trapped nerves, arthritis, and other soft tissue conditions.
This type of sonography is typically used to diagnose:
- Tendon tears of the rotator cuff in the shoulder, Achilles tendon in the ankle, and other tendons throughout the body.
- Muscle tears, masses, or fluid collections.
- Ligament sprains or tears.
- Inflammation or fluid within the bursae and joints.
- Benign and malignant soft tissue tumors.
- Foreign bodies in the soft tissues (such as splinters or glass).
- Dislocations and dysplasia of the hip in infants.
- Fluid in a painful hip joint in children.
- Neck muscle abnormalities in infants with torticollis (neck twisting).
- Soft tissue masses (lumps/bumps) in children.
How to Become a Sonographer
For one to be successful as a medical diagnostic sonographer, it will be helpful for them to be in love with anatomy, detail orientation, have precise attention to the protocols of imaging, and also have a keen eye to notice subtle changes in the results.
In addition to these, having interpersonal skills is equally important for working with patients from different and diverse populations, as well as communicating the results of the sonography exam to other health professionals.
For you to be able to call yourself a sonographer, you would need to go to school and acquire academic credentials, work experience in the field, and also sit for the licensure test. Certification will give you professional pride and a high standard in the specialty you choose to work in.
It might also be required that sonographers have completed a professional sonography certification and basic life support training as well. To this note, many organizations offer certification for sonographers.
Some of them are the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
Many certified diagnostic medical sonographers will practice under the title, of registered diagnostic medical sonographer (R.D.M.S).
There are several educational pathways to take to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. After completing high school, the various pathways you can follow are:
- You can obtain either an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, with coursework in the sciences and anatomy.
- You can complete a certificate program in diagnostic medical sonography. These certificate programs are available through colleges, universities, and teaching hospitals.
The advancement of education might be useful to health professionals who are interested in entering into administration, education, research, or even interested in becoming a sales representative or consultant.
Three unique educational pathways for sonographers have been profiled by O*NET (2020), they are:
- 47 percent of working sonographers are reported to have an associate degree.
- 17 percent of working sonographers are reported to have a bachelor’s education.
- 19 percent of working sonographers are reported to have a post-secondary certificate.
In addition to acquiring the necessary education, students are also required to complete some clinical hours in whatever program and specialty they choose.
This allows them to test their skills and knowledge in a healthcare setting and they get to do it under the supervision of an experienced professional.
For students who have the desire to carry out a program in sonography in the United States, they are advised to check out accredited sonography programs through the Commission on Accreditation on Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
While students who have the desire to carry out a sonography program in Canada are advised to make research on accredited programs listed with the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).
Also, students should look out for programs that follow the minimum curricular standards set by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). A school that is accredited is believed to have met the high standards of educational competency and quality.
To break the process down, let us break it down into a step by step ways you can become a sonographer:
- First, you can obtain a certificate available at the post-secondary level through vocational tech schools or community colleges. This will take 12 to 18 months to complete and it also includes clinical hours.
- Next, you can earn an associate degree, this will present several areas of specialization for you to pick from. This will take 18 to 24 months to complete and students are required to fulfill clinical hours and four practicums in these programs.
- If you are already working as a registered sonographer and you want to advance your career, a bachelor’s degree might be right for you. This would take four years to complete.
- You can also earn an optional post-bachelor’s certificate, this is available to students who already have a bachelor’s degree. This would take two years to complete with a clinical internship.
- Lastly, you can decide to pursue a master’s degree in sonography if you have high leadership or managerial ambitions. The degree program will be two years. Mostly, it includes an internship, a research methods course, and a practicum.
If you would love to gain highly technical skills and work closely with people each day, a career as a medical diagnostic sonographer may just be a good fit for you because you get to experience all this and more.
You get to be part of an important link that helps in conducting and interpreting the image results of patients. These tests help in narrowing down the diagnosis of the patient and quickly get them the care and treatment they need.
I hope this helps you make that choice.
FAQs on Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
How Long Do I go to School as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?
The duration it would take for you to become a diagnostic medical sonographer would depend on the type of sonography program you chose and also whether you would be attending day or evening classes.
In most cases, a diagnostic medical sonography certificate program takes up to 2 to 3 years to be completed, while a sonography degree can take up to 4 years.
Difference Between Diagnostic Medical Sonography and Ultrasound Technician
Both Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and ultrasound technicians use ultrasound technology to diagnose ailments in patients. In many cases, the terms “sonographer” and “ultrasound tech” can be interchanged.
But the reason many would prefer to be called a sonographer over an ultrasound technician is that sonographers are required to complete additional training and certifications.
How Much do Sonographers Get Paid?
The median wage can vary based on different facts such as the industry they work in, the employer they work for, and the location they are working in.
The average salary of a diagnostic medical sonographer in 2020 was $75,920. The top sonographers made more than $105,340 while the lowest received up to $53,790 in the same year.
What To Look For In A Sonography Program?
There are several features to look out for when applying for a sonography program but the major ones are:
- Accreditation – The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health/Education Programs (CAAHEP) is the accrediting body for medical sonography programs. The body has accredited 150 programs, including the ones offered by colleges, universities, and some hospital training programs.
- Admissions Requirements – before you send out that application for the programs that interest you, be sure to research the admissions requirements. Some programs may require specific courses in math, health, and/or sciences.
- Career Goals/Specialization – specialization is quite common in sonography, so make sure that the specialty you want is offered in your program of choice. For example, vascular and cardiac sonography are two specialized programs some schools do not offer.
- Curriculum – you also have to make sure that the curriculum of the program you choose provides a lot of hands-on experience. As you know, sonography is a very hands-on technical profession, so this might just be one of the most important parts of your education.