A Sonographer education is essential to entering a career in sonography. Before one can begin direct work experience, they must complete educational background required to become an ultrasound tech. This includes a period of schooling followed by becoming licensed by passing a national exam. Even after becoming licensed, this healthcare career demands that professionals stay up-to-date on the latest clinical procedures and technologies. Ongoing education helps to ensure best practices and policies are met throughout a healthcare facility.
Degree and Program Options
A career in sonography involves both an academic and a clinical component. To begin the professional journey to becoming an Ultrasound Tech, learners must first enroll in a certificate-based program at the postsecondary-level. (Many programs may require a high school diploma or GED prior to acceptance.) They may also consider completing an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree program in sonography through a community college, vocational school or technical school. There are also many online degree options for busy adults who may not be able to attend courses in-person.
According to O*NET OnLine (a free online database that contains hundreds of occupational definitions to help students and professionals to understand the factors comprising today’s workforce), 19 percent of Sonographers have a postsecondary certificate and 47 percent have an associate degree. Alternatively, 17 percent of practicing Sonographers report having earned a bachelor’s degree education in the field of sonography.
Most traditional sonographer and ultrasound certificate programs are endorsed by either the American Registration of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) for the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Regardless of whether a program is distant education or involves face-to-face learning in classroom settings, an ARRT or ARDMS program will include a variety of subject material. Before learning to read an ultrasound image, students will first become familiar with the anatomy of the human body.
Common courses within most ultrasound programs include areas of study like Foundations of Sonography, Cross-Sectional Abdominal Anatomy, Vascular Technology, Superficial Sonography, Fetal Anomalies, and Clinical Practicum. Above all, ensuring that a program has been accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is extremely important to guarantee compliance with most hiring requirements. Many employers seek out candidates who graduated from CAAHEP-programs only.
As for associate’s degrees, these more in-depth sonography programs take about 18-months to two years to complete. They include more instruction on areas of possible specialization, like obstetrics, vascular technology, cardiology and how they all relate to the overall practice of sonography. Other areas of specialization may include: abdomen (AB), breast (BR), cardiac (AE), musculoskeletal (MSK) and neurosonology (NE).
Yet another educational option to consider, a bachelor’s degree offers even greater training and insight into specialty areas of this practice. An advanced 4-year bachelor’s degree education is especially useful to allied health professionals who are interested in entering administration, education and research, or even to those who are later considering becoming sales representative or consultant. A bachelor’s degree will further exemplify a professional’s commitment to learning within the field.
Other Educational Requirements
Regardless of the school and the type of degree a student chooses to pursue, before they are able to complete the program they must take the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Examination provided by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). After passing this examination they become eligible to register for the “Abdomen,” “OB/GYN” and “Vascular Technology” specialty certification examinations.
Learners are also typically required to complete set documented clinical hours beyond their classroom learning to gain first-hand experience in the field. The number of clinical hours for prospective Sonographers depends on whether students are completing a certificate, associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, but a total of approximately 960 clinical hours tends to be the standard..Being under the supervision of an experienced professional during this period helps provide Sonographers with information that extends beyond just the classroom.
Supervision is provided by highly-qualified professionals with years of experience within the field so that students can learn directly from working professionals. Having worked in a healthcare setting and with seasoned professionals prior to gaining employment helps enable Sonographers to feel more comfortable and confident in their own imaging abilities. Confidence in the acquisition and interpretation of ultrasound images needed is integral to being able to produce quality imagines and work with a wide variety of patient personas.
After gaining the respective educational prerequisites, Sonographers must next decide if there is a particular area of the body or population they would like to work with (i.e. children, adults, seniors, etc.). If so, they can opt to participate in additional training with these select populations. The more training a Sonographer is able to complete, the better prepared they will be when performing imaging techniques for their area of interest in real-world scenarios.
Using their education In their day-to-day operations, Ultrasound Technicians employ imaging and diagnostic techniques through the use of transducers to produce depictions, scans and videos of the body. The transducer projects sound waves into the body, and the waves hit the boundary between tissues and are reflected back to the machine. Then, the computer will calculate the distance from the transducer to the boundary using the speed of sound in tissue and the time of each echo’s return. This entire process is taught early on during the educational process.
Students will then learn how to interpret the two dimensional images to calculate high and lower intensities. They will learn to be able to differentiate between tissues that will absorb sound waves and ones that will reflect them. In addition, tissue’s density will determine the speed at which the echoes return from the transducer. With this knowledge, they will be able to understand what the images are portraying.
Once an image is completely produced, the Sonographer will immediately notice that fluid being pictured will always appears black in color and tissue is grey. The denser the tissue, is the brighter white the image will appear. Keep in mind that in ultrasound the brightest white areas reflect the presence of bone.
When completed produced, these images are used by Family Physicians and Surgeons to diagnose illnesses and injuries within hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of practitioners and throughout other healthcare settings. Some common conditions which sonograms are used to detect include abdominal aortic aneurysm, carotid artery stenosis, deep vein thrombosis, left ventricle wall thickening and the presence of gallstones.
Due to the many different workplace settings and niches available to pursue, prospective Sonographers must weigh all of their education and training options before jumping into a program. Although many ultrasound tech programs possess similarities, some of their focuses and educational methodologies do vary between schools and credentialing organizations. For example, many programs will give preference to applicants who hold a stronger educational background in science and healthcare. Some programs also involve more for less hours of clinical practice.
Overall, the utilization of Ultrasound technology is a rapidly growing area of healthcare, with no slowdown in sight. This growth stems from aging baby boomers who depend on ultrasound technology to diagnose ailments such as blood clots and heart disease. Also, ultrasound imaging technology is much more cost efficient than alternative forms, such as CAT scans and MRIs. More and more patients are relying on sonograms to detect early signs of illness or injury.
Thus, employment for Sonographer / Ultrasound Technician positions are projected to grow 26 percent over the next decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Check out this National Sonographer Career Outlook!
Rural areas where healthcare is less prevalent are especially in need of Sonographers and sonography services. With a great career outlook and relatively short period of education, there is no better day than today to get started.
Interested in this subject material? Learn how to take the first steps toward a rewarding career in healthcare as a Sonographer today!
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook