What Are Sonographers?
Diagnostic medical sonographers and ultrasound technicians utilize ultrasonic imaging technology to produce diagnostic images and scans. They conduct ultrasound exams of patients' bodies and work closely with physicians to view and analyze digital images to identify internal problems. They also guide patients through the ultrasound process and may participate in treatment planning. For more information, see our page on sonographer careers.
Sonography Program Information
Universities, colleges and trade schools offer either traditional on-campus sonography programs or hybrid programs, which combine online learning with in-person clinical sessions. Regardless of whether programs contain an online component or not, students are required to complete clinical rotations in addition to their coursework, giving them hands-on experience. The practical application of course concepts is aimed at helping students gain familiarity with patient engagement, research methods and bedside manner, as well as case study experience and greater understanding of sectional anatomy.
Students who participate in diagnostic medical sonography programs receive instruction and gain practice in working with digital imaging technology, documenting results of ultrasound procedures, and working with doctors to evaluate, diagnose and treat medical conditions. Courses can also help to increase knowledge of the electrical concepts that produce diagnostic images.
Sonography Program Types
The following programs are commonly available to those who are interested in entering the field of sonography:
- Certificate: Certificate programs usually take one year to complete, depending on the course load. Students can receive a basic understanding of sonography, increasing their knowledge of diagnostic imaging and receiving hands-on experience. These programs are designed for students who are already employed in a healthcare field, such as nursing, and have some familiarity with patient care.
- Associate Degree: Associate degree programs can generally be completed within two years, depending on a student's schedule. These programs are the most common educational training for those pursuing a career in diagnostic medical sonography. Earning an associate degree can help provide an introduction to the field, and assist individuals who plan to further their education with a bachelor's degree.
Sonography courses can help prepare students to take a certification exam upon graduation, which could potentially increase their marketability to employers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most employers prefer to hire sonographers who have professional certification. Licensing requirements for employment vary by state, and students can benefit from learning the specific requirements for their state.
Sonography Course Descriptions
While sonography programs vary in their approach to teaching sonographic principles, most share a common core curriculum. Students can opt for specialized programs, narrowing their focus into a specific area of sonography, but the following are some typical courses that may be found as part of the core curriculum at sonography schools.
- General Sonography: Diagnostic medical sonography, scanner orientations and medical terminology.
- Abdominal Sonography: Focuses on reading abdominal sonographs and identifying problem areas.
- Cardiac Sonography: The study of cardiac anatomy, along with terminology and using sonography to examine cardiovascular systems in children and adults.
- Instruments in Ultrasound: An introduction to the basic scanners and other instruments used in sonography, as well as studying the principles of Doppler ultrasound.
- Patient Care: Basic patient care in regard to physical and emotional well-being of patients and guiding them through ultrasound procedures.
- Vascular Ultrasound: Using sonography to identify problems and abnormalities with blood flow.
Students looking to pursue a career in a particular field of sonography can opt for specialized programs that can help prepare them for employment in a specialty area. These specialties include:
- Breast Sonography
- Gynecological Sonography
- Obstetric Sonography
- Neural Sonography
- Ophthalmic Sonography
- Vascular Sonography
Related Career Options
Students interested in practicing sonography may want to pursue similar careers in healthcare, such as:
- Applied Researcher: Assist in the development of new sonography equipment and technology.
- Medical Assistant: Fulfill administrative and clinical functions, including health records management, as well as recording and tracking patient information.
- Radiologic Technologist: Work with patients by performing X-rays and other diagnostic imagining examinations.
These and other related careers may require additional education, training, and/or licensing.
Links to Sources and Associations
Visit the following websites to find out more about diagnostic medical sonography:
American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, http://www.ardms.org/
Cardiovascular Credentialing International, http://www.cci-online.org/
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
Society for Vascular Ultrasound, http://www.svunet.org/SVUNET/Home/
Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, http://www.sdms.org/