A diagnostic medical sonographer is a highly-skilled professional who uses specialized equipment to create images of structures inside the human body that are used by physicians to make a medical diagnosis. The process involves placing a small device called a transducer against the patient’s skin near the body area to be imaged. The transducer works like a loudspeaker and microphone because it can transmit sound and receive sound. The transducer sends a stream of high frequency sound waves into the body that bounce off the structures inside. The transducer detects sound waves as they bounce off the internal structures. Different structures in the body reflect these sound waves differently. These sounds are analyzed by a computer to make an image of the structure(s) on a television screen or that can be recorded on videotape.
Sonographers have extensive, direct patient contact that may include performing some invasive procedures. They must be able to interact compassionately and effectively with people who range from healthy to critically ill.
The professional responsibilities include, but are not limited, to:
- obtaining and recording an accurate patient history
- performing diagnostic procedures and obtaining diagnostic images
- analyzing technical information
- using independent judgement in recognizing the need to extend the scope of the procedure according to the diagnostic findings
- providing an oral or written summary of the technical findings to the physician for medical diagnosis
- providing quality patient care
- collaborating with physicians and other members of the health care team.
Education and Certification
Colleges and universities offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in sonography and in cardiovascular and vascular technology. One-year certificate programs also are available from colleges or in hospitals, although these are usually useful only to those who are already employed in related healthcare jobs, such as a radiation therapist. Employers typically prefer candidates with degrees or certificates from accredited institutes or hospital programs. Most programs also include a clinical component in which students earn credit while working under a more experienced technologist in a hospital, physician’s office, or imaging laboratory.
Sonography, cardiovascular, and vascular education programs usually include courses in anatomy, medical terminology, and applied sciences. Most sonography programs are divided into the specialized fields that correspond to the relevant certification exams, such as abdominal sonography or breast sonography. Cardiovascular and vascular programs include coursework in either invasive or noninvasive cardiovascular or vascular technology procedures.
Most employers prefer those who have a certificate from The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). There are 5 different certificates offered with an examination for each:
Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) comprised of:
- Abdomen, Breast, Fetal Echocardiography, Neurosonology, Pediatric Sonography, and Obstetrics and Gynecology
Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) comprised of:
- Adult Echocardiography, Fetal Echocardiography, and Pediatric Echocardiography
Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) comprised of:
- Vascular Technology
Registered in Musculoskeletal (RMSK) comprised of:
- Musculoskeletal Sonography
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary was $60,350 in 2012 with an Associate’s degree. The job growth as projected by the BLS is 39% through 2022; this anticipated growth rate is higher than the average. There were over 110,000 people working as diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technicians, and vascular technologists in the imaging field in 2012. Employment change is predicted to be 42,700 jobs available through 2022 per the BLS.
This profession has several areas of specialization as outlined in the various certifications offered. The prospective sonographer should have excellent interpersonal skills as you’ll be working directly with patients and medical staff daily. The job may entail long hours on your feet, but the financial rewards and personal satisfaction should outweigh the physical demands.