Following a year with unprecedented clinical demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of career roles in health care are experiencing immense growth and present a strong career outlook moving forward. Health care career professionals in these positions play an important role in the care of patients across the country, who rely on them…
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How to Become a Sonographer
Alternate Career Titles:
Ultrasound Technician, Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, RDMS, UltraSonographer, Ultrasound Technologist, Imaging Workers
Sonographer Job Description: Sonographers produce ultrasonic recordings of internal organs for use by Physicians
Sonographer Salary (Annual): $57,720
Sonographer Salary Range: $29,710 to $94,370
How Long to Become a Sonographer: 2 years
Sonographer Requirements: Certification
Become a Sonographer
Sonography is an imaging and diagnostic career that serves an essential function in a variety of professional settings. Through it’s utilization of ultrasound technology to view images of internal organs, tissues, blood vessels and musculature, Sonographers are able to come to medical diagnosis. In providing imaging services, Registered/Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (RDMS) face patients ranging from healthy to critically ill. Often, sonograms are commonly utilized for early detection purposes. For example, this imaging technology may shed light on high-risk pregnancies, arterial blockages, heart defects, cancers, women’s health and other health issues. Learn more about how does ultrasound work.
“It’s a fulfilling career,” Ovi Cioloca, RVS, who was a Sonographer at the highest volume vein clinic in the state of Georgia for seven years, said. “I wanted to do imaging, I knew that, and sonography does not emit any frequency or radiation that is harmful to the human body, thus making it so safe.”
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Education & Training
To become a Registered/Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, one must pursue a program through which one or more certification can be obtained. These programs are typically 24 months long, and involve 12 months of didactic schooling and 12 months of participation in a clinical rotation.
After this schooling is complete, a sonography exam will be administered, and when a passing score is received the professional becomes certified. This certification will be in a specialty area which may include abdominal cavity, OB/GYN, etc. The organization (otherwise known as a “registry”) who certified the individual will ensure that they have met the scope of practice and can complete all necessary clinical skills.
“The school was difficult, yes. Having to understand an all-encompassing module was tough, but it pays off in every way possible,” Cioloca said. “Nothing is too difficult if you put your mind to it.”
Cioloca added that he found the most difficult part of the educational process to be the work/school/life balance during this time. He said that although class times may have set times, participation in clinical rotations does not. Yet, once the rotation phase is over, Cioloca said that it then becomes easier to balance the schedule.
Although becoming a RDMS only requires taking one or more certification examinations, these medical professionals must additionally be prepared to make a lifelong commitment to learning and enhancing their knowledge of the profession, largely due to ever-improving technologies. As the healthcare profession as a whole continues to grow and expand, new methodologies and equipment continuously arise, and therefore a Sonographer must be prepared to adapt to these changes.
Note: New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oregon are currently the only states with approved legislation that mandates the license of Sonographers.
Within the field, Sonographers have many options to keep the career advancing and interesting. While one way to do so is to earn a certification in a new specialty (abdominal cavity, breast, OB/GYN, cardiac, vascular), others finds ways to climb the professional ladder by assuming a leadership role, increasing their staff supervision, earning additional credits or by becoming a department administrator. There also exists the opportunity to become an adviser to others.
“Experience is key, as with any career,” Cioloca explained. “More schooling is also great, and a Sonographer can go as far as getting a bachelors in this field. However, at the end of the day, it’s the sacrifice and effort you put into learning and hands-on practicing that advances you and gives you more credibility both in real life and on your resume.”
Experience & Skills
“Many, if not all of us, came into this field without a clue as to how sonography worked,” Cioloca stressed.
So, ultimately to perform a sonogram, Registered/Diagnostic Medical Sonographers use their knowledge of anatomy and physiology and physics to place a small device called a transducer against the skin.
Then, when the transducer is pressed against the area to be imaged, it sends high-frequency sound waves into the body which are then bounced off the internal structures. The transducer will pick up these waves, sending them to a computer which will then create an image of the structure(s), without the use of radiation.
In terms of what else constitutes someone as the right personality for the career, those interested in becoming Sonographers should ideally consider themselves extroverts and enjoy the company of others, since the position requires direct patient contact on a daily basis. They should also be motivated to produce results in assigned periods of time, being able to establish solid methods of operation.
“Patience, perseverance and dedication to completing a sonography program are a must,” Cioloca said. “You have to be very detail oriented and quality oriented.”
Furthermore, Sonographers should be able to produce accurate, error-free work, along with being able to reach conclusions effectively. Above all, due to the nature of the work, and the possible result outcomes, these professionals need to be able to work efficiently without showing extreme emotions, and while being aware and empathetic toward the feelings of their patients. This is true in the case of other imaging careers, including that of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist, Radiation Therapist and Radiologic Technologist.
“The personality of a Sonographer should be centered around quality and patient care,” Cioloca said. “You will have patients that smell, that are rude, that might be combative and that might say mean things, but you will also have super kind patients that will encourage you, uplift you and ‘make your day.’”
Before getting into a career in Sonography, it’s important to know that this occupation doesn’t necessarily involve a standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule. Oftentimes, some may be needed to work evenings, weekends or even overnight due to the hours of their employing facilities. Also, Sonographers, most of which work full-time hours, will spend much of this time of their feet, and may be needed to lift or turn patients who are either ill or disabled. Thus, it’s important to be open-minded to these odd hours and physical demands.
“For most Sonographers, I would say there are stressful moments,” Cioloca said. “For those working in clinics, it will be routine and standard. For those working in a hospital, the lifestyle might be more meticulous and stressful but always move forward and persevere.”
Now is an excellent time to begin a sonography career! This is because employment is expected to grow 19 percent over the next decade, a rate higher than that of most other professions. As a Sonographer, professionals often find employment at hospitals, Family Physician offices, clinics, colleges and universities, medical and diagnostic laboratories.
“The majority of sonography schools will provide great career opportunities when going through rotations,” Cioloca added. “Many Sonographers become employed by the sites which they rotated through. If not, there are always great websites to help, but just make sure your resume is impeccable.”
“The earning potential for a Sonographer honestly depends per state. The higher the cost of living, the higher the salary and vice versa,” Cioloca said. “New Sonographers, like all careers, don’t start off making a ton of money, but as time passes and they become registered, they can make more. It’s worth it.”
The base hourly wage for a RDMS is roughly $30 an hour, equating to approximately $57,720 per year given a 40-hour work week. However, the earning potential can extend upwards to over $94,370 per year.
“Too many new Sonographers look at the money involved when getting into this field, but it’s about the patient care. It always has been and always will be,” Cioloca said. “The satisfaction of finding a blood clot that could have potentially killed a patient is far more gratifying than a few extra dollars”
Unions, Groups and Associations
The largest association of Sonographers and Sonography students in the world, the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography is a professional membership organization which promotes, advances and educates its members and the medical community in the science of diagnostic medical Sonography.
“There are also a ton of Facebook groups like “Professional Sonographers,” “Sonographers do it in the dark,” “Venous Sonographers and many more,” Cioloca said.
The Alliance of Cardiovascular Professionals, American Society of Echocardiography and Society for Vascular Ultrasound can also be insightful regarding specialties such as cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists.
“As far as associations go, the Society of Vascular Ultrasound is great,” Cioloca said. “There is also one for echo and general, and the American College of Phlebology is the ‘golden one.’”
- Research sonography programs
- Enter a sonography program
- Read information on all the different specialties
- Next, decide which specialty would be the best fit
- Make industry connections throughout schooling
- Upon finishing a sonography program, reach out to these contacts for advice/insights on employment as a Sonographer
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Ovi Cioloca, RVS
Owns: OSC Consulting
Location: Suwanee, GA
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I would copy Nike, ‘Just do it.’ Yes, there will be obstacles, and yes you will have tough days, but you will also have great reward if you are honest, dedicated and committed to what you are doing and who you are working for.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“They exaggerate their scanning ability. This is a big ‘no-no.’ Be honest in what you can and cannot scan.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“They should ask ‘How will this affect my physical body down the road?’ Sonographers tend to suffer from shoulder issues and back issues due to scanning incorrectly. Study the ergonomics behind work in sonography first.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Connections. Make friends, build relationships, do not be afraid to ask questions, step outside of your comfort zone and be honest in all things. By doing so, you will pave your way to massive success.”
Credentialing organizations: The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography