Ultrasound (or sonography) is a diagnostic medical imaging specialty that uses of high frequency sound waves to produce images of various organs, tissues, and systems within the body. Though often a part of the hospital radiology department, ultrasound uses no radiation to produce images and is a preferred diagnostic tool for a number of medical situations.
The Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, informally referred to as an ultrasound technician or simply sonographer, is the medical professional directly responsible for operating medical ultrasound equipment and physically scanning patients. It is their job to produce the final images which will then be interpreted by a physician.
Requirements and Training
The ultrasound technician will be trained in anatomy and physiology, basic physics, scanning techniques, ultrasound equipment operation, basic ultrasound interpretation, and some invasive procedures. In addition, general aspects of patient care such as infection control, medical ethics, sterile technique, and patient privacy will also be addressed. As the sonographer will be working very closely with both patients and physicians, good communication and interpersonal skills are essential.
There are several approaches which may be taken to enter the field of diagnostic medical sonography. The most common is through a formal 2-4 year college based program leading to an associates or bachelors degree. In addition to classroom training, a significant portion of time will be spent training with actual patients in a clinical setting . Other options for training are in hospital based programs, vocational institutions, and in the armed forces. Ultrasound training programs may be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Program (CAAHEP). A list of programs accredited by CAAHEP is available on their website.
Accreditation for ultrasound technician is offered through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). The ARDMS is an independent organization which serves to certify the skills and competency of the ultrasound technician through the satisfactory completion of an examination. The examination will cover basic competency and knowledge of ultrasound procedures as well as competency in at least one specialty area. Those registered with ARDMS are qualified to use the designation Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer . No states currently have licensure requirements for sonographers.
While certification is not necessarily a requirement for the ultrasound technician, a great many employers prefer to hire individuals who are registered (or registry eligible) and who have graduated from an accredited training program. The ARDMS website (linked below) will offer much more information on the credentialing process.
Due in part to technical advances the field of sonography has grown tremendously over the past 20 years. There are now a number of disciplines which the diagnostic medical sonographer may specialize in. In general the sonographer in addition to basic sonography training will specialize in one or more of these areas:
· Abdominal sonography – involves organs and soft tissue structure within the abdominal cavity
· Breast sonography – evaluating breast lesions and abnormalities
· Obstetrics / Gynecology – evaluation of the female reproductive system, monitoring and evaluation of fetal growth
· Vascular ultrasound – involves blood flow of peripheral and abdominal blood vessels
· Echocardiography – evaluates anatomy and related blood flow within the heart
· Neurosonography – evaluates the brain and central nervous system
Job Outlook and Salary
The present job outlook for ultrasound technicians is very good and is expected to remain so with hospitals, private imaging centers, and private office practices being the primary employers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics an increase in ultrasound jobs of about 19% is projected through the year 2016.
Data on the same website indicates the median annual salary of diagnostic medical sonographers to be $57,160 in 2006. The salary range indicated is a median for all ultrasound technicians and does not take into account education, time in the field, or medical specialty.
•Ultrasound Technologist….information, jobs, training
Information, job prospects, and training for ultrasound technologists (sonographers).
• CAAHEP – Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
•ARDMS – American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography
•Careers In Radiologic Technology