How to Become an Ultrasound Tech
Learning about how to become an Ultrasound Tech only involves a few steps! First, learners must understand what ultrasound is and how this imaging process is used. Ever wonder how ultrasound works? A form of non-invasive medical imaging, ultrasound projects sound waves into the body through a device that converts variations in a physical quantity (called a transducer).
“Not understanding all of the many aspects of a career in sonography is the biggest mistake a prospective Sonographer can make,” Hayley Bowden, a Sonographer practicing in Texas, stressed. “Sonographers do not just scan babies all day and the ones who do scan OB/GYN are not scanning just for a show. Ultrasound is very technologist based, whereas the rest of the imaging modalities are more technology based.”
To elaborate, the process of sonography involves an Ultrasound Tech administering a clear gel onto the patient’s skin. This will help the transducer to move more easily over a patient’s skin and conduct sound waves. The waves are then bounced back to the ultrasound machine, converted into messages which the machine transforms into images. Important to note, the sound waves are not harmful to Ultrasound Techs or patients.
This method, which does not use ionizing radiation, can help diagnose a variety of conditions through a closer look at the body’s organs, blood vessels and tissues. Often, an ultrasound will be used to detect pregnancy, identify swelling or infection, determine the source of pain, assess internal organs or guide a biopsy. Areas of ultrasound imaging include the abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiography, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatric sonography, adult echocardiography, pediatric echocardiography, vascular technology and musculoskeletal.
What makes ultrasound technology especially convenient is that little to no preparation is needed. However, a patient will be asked to remove all jewelry and possibly change into a hospital gown. In some cases, they may also be asked to refrain from eating or drinking for a set number of hours before the ultrasound. This convenience has led the practice to become more commonly used, as opposed to other more invasive imaging procedures. The growing demand has projected to this medical career to grow an exciting 23 percent.
“I always wanted to do something in healthcare and that was hands-on and involved with the patient as well,” Bowden shared. “While looking up the different modalities in the field of imaging and diagnostics, I found ultrasound to be challenging and constantly changing. I enjoy the challenge of constantly having to identify ‘the piece of the puzzle that is missing.’”
After learning what ultrasound technology is, the next step toward becoming a Sonographer is to enroll in an educational program. However, there are a multitude of factors to consider when weighing different ultrasound technology program options!
The typical entry-level education for this medical career involves a two-year or 18-month associate’s degree. A 2-year associate’s degree is the most popular option for students interested in ultrasound. These programs will include courses on medical ethics, professional development, ultrasound technology, patient care and anatomy. Many programs also provide instruction on how to establish quality assurance.
“Finding a school that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is extremely important,” Bowden added. “I went to Weatherford College in Weatherford Texas. I researched Weatherford and found that I had met all of my prerequisites for this particular program, and upon calling the Director to get more information I decided the school was a great fit.”
Bowden continued that, although this program was quite rigorous, she learned so much information that assists her in her sonography career each day. For example, her general sonography classes included focuses on the abdomen, small parts, OB/GYN and vascular imaging and non-imaging. Bowden also received instruction on how to operate and maneuver an ultrasound machine, scanning procedures and protocols and organ pathology.
“I highly recommend doing your research before enrolling in an ultrasound program,” Bowden advised. “Do not be afraid to reach out to hospitals, clinics or imaging centers to ask some of the lead Sonographers about the different programs in the area. They will normally have students doing clinicals within their facilities, so they will have a great idea of which schools have the strongest programs.”
She continued by emphasizing that clinical rotations should be thought of like on big interview. Bowden noted that the world of ultrasound technology is relatively small, and therefore making strong first impressions is integral to long term healthcare career success. Gaining as much experience as possible during this time also helps to shape a well-rounded, and therefore extremely marketable, Sonographer.
“The more you scan the easier the procedure becomes and the more you will learn,” Bowden recommended.
Upon completing such a program from an accredited school (and completing approximately 12 months of full-time clinical ultrasound experience) learners should consider becoming certified through an exam administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Application fees for ARDMS typically cost around $250 per examination.
“I currently hold three registries with ARDMS, one of which is usually required by most accredited hospitals and practitioner’s offices,” Bowden said. “There is a minimum amount of studies required to be considered competent to take ARDMS registries, dependent on the type of exam. In my experience, having graduated from an accredited school makes passing these registries a lot easier.”
Although no state requires ultrasound technician certification, gaining certification may greatly assist a professional in starting their career pathway off strong as well. Certification also helps to promote best practices for improved patient safety in the field, and makes an Ultrasound Tech much more marketable in the eyes of employers. While the length of a certification with vary dependent upon the certifying organization, but the ARMS mandates an annual renewal and compliance fees. The organization also mandates continued medical education credits and recertification every six years.
Additionally, some Ultrasound Techs choose to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree to further their educational qualifications and their potential for future advancement. Bachelor’s degrees typically offer learning in more areas of specialization and more in-depth clinical rotations. There also exists the possibility to earn a Ph.D. in ultrasound technology! As receiving advanced degrees can open up more and more career opportunities, these degrees are something to consider as a Sonographer climbs the educational ladder.
Setting educational goals and becoming an expert in a certain topic will make an Ultrasound Technologist that much more valuable to their practice and to their patients. Examples of specialization in these advanced programs may offer include that of obstetrics and gynecology, breast or abdomen, pediatric sonography, vascular technology, fetal echocardiography and musculoskeletal sonography.
Once employed, Sonographers can use their expertise to work in a number of healthcare settings including within hospitals, medical and diagnostic laboratories, outpatient care centers or the offices of Physicians and Surgeons. After years in the field and a mastery of ultrasound technology, some Sonographers may go on to consider employment in research or academic settings. Many of these professionals will also come to assume managerial roles and they become more experienced.
“This career builds on itself all the time. Getting better at any career in healthcare involves expanding upon the information you already know,” Bowden expressed. “Always treat every exam performed as the first one, paying attention to all the details on the screen and learning more each day.”
Could a career in sonography be your perfect professional match? Learn more about a career in healthcare as a Sonographer today!
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook