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A Day in the Life of a Sonographer: Interview

May 17, 2013

BY: Joe Taylor Jr.

We asked two experienced sonography professionals to share their insight into the career and the state of the industry:

Naila Sheikh started her sonography career over 25 years ago, working in a variety of professional settings before her current job at a diagnostic imaging practice in New Jersey. Her qualifications include:

  • Certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography from a public university
  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), specializing in abdomen, obstetrics and gynecology, and breast scans, according to the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Rhea Waldour has worked as a ultrasound technician for nearly two decades, including her present position at a diagnostic imaging center. Her qualifications include:

  • Certificate in Diagnostic Medical Sonography from a public community college
  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), specializing in abdomen, obstetrics and gynecology, and breast scans, according to the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography

What types of scans do you do?

Sheikh describes how her typical day can include work that touches on a variety of treatments and disciplines: "I do all types of ultrasounds -- abdomen, vascular, echocardiograms, OB/GYN, some musculoskeletal and pediatrics."

Waldour's busy days mimic Sheikh's, although she says she spends a little more time on areas of the body that practitioners refer to as "small parts." Small parts scans can play a role in early cancer detection, now that advanced ultrasound equipment can effectively identify masses in the breast, scrotum or thyroid. Waldour also spends time each day handling the practice's pediatric ultrasound tests, scanning younger patients' hips and spines.

How often do you have to deliver bad news to patients?

Sheikh and Waldour advise prospective ultrasound technicians that they don't have to worry about a lack of support from doctors and nurses. "A radiologist delivers the bad news," Waldour says: "We handle difficult situations as delicately as possible, with compassion."

What trends or new technology have you seen emerge in sonography?

"MSK is the new, up and coming branch" of sonography, Sheikh says. Industry shorthand for "musculoskeletal" scans, MSK has become a tool for measuring the success of physical therapy. Working in conjunction with physical therapist and primary care providers, ultrasound technicians can provide visuals that demonstrate improvement of a patient's joints and muscles during the course of treatment.

Advances in technology have also spurred new uses for more traditional uses of sonography. "Machines have improved their resolution over the years," Waldour says, noting that advanced ultrasound equipment has sparked demand for more pediatric tests and for deeper scans of biopsied tissue.

What kind of questions could sonographers hear at job interviews?

According to Waldour, sonography job interviews tend to be very hands-on with an emphasis on demonstrating skills and training. "Interviewers will ask you to perform studies for them," Waldour says. She and Sheikh agree that interviewers ask for examples of a candidate's flexibility and versatility.

Recent graduates of sonography training programs can expect more questions about the scope of their education, while experienced ultrasound technicians should prepare to describe types of equipment they have used over the years. Because the ARDMS maintains a registry of active sonographers, an interviewer's decisions may come down to a candidate's potential to fit into an employer's workflow and culture.

What skill sets are you building in your current role?

Sheikh says that her career has given her the ability to develop new skills over the years, with support from employers that want to help her keep up with patient demand. "I'm trying to learn more MSK and pediatric specialty scans," Sheikh says, echoing Waldour's own professional development plan. Waldour notes that most ultrasound technicians work on teams that support each other by enhancing time management and practice administration skills.

Flexibility, compassion and comfort around technology are likely to continue to play a vital role in sonography over the coming years. With doctors from more specialties turning to ultrasound technology for testing and treatment, the right combination of training and discipline can help prospective sonographers prepare for a wide range of careers.

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