If you are eyeing a career in healthcare, two popular choices are nurse and diagnostic medical sonographer. Nurses care for patients in settings such as hospitals, doctors’ offices and home health services, while sonographers use sonogram or ultrasound technology to create images of the tissues and organs inside a patient’s body. Graduates of nursing and sonography degrees enjoy similarly high salaries and faster than average job growth. However, many students find that a nursing degree offers significant benefits over a sonography degree, including more overall job opportunities, more focus on direct patient care, greater opportunity to specialize in an area of interest and a predictable processes for career advancement.
More Job Opportunities
Nursing is a much larger occupation than sonographer. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are 2,955,200 registered nurses (RNs) currently working in America, compared to just 67,300 diagnostic medical sonographers. Both careers are poised for rapid job growth, with the BLS predicting much faster than average job growth rates of 15 percent for registered nurses and a 23 percent for sonographers. Despite the somewhat faster growth rate expected for holders of sonography degrees over nursing degrees, the overall number of new career opportunities will be far higher for nurses. About 15,600 new jobs will open up for sonographers, while 438,100 new jobs will arise for RNs.
Nurses also work in a broader variety of work settings. The top employing industry for both occupations is hospitals, which employ 60 percent of diagnostic medical sonographers and 61 percent of RNs, the BLS reported. Another 21 percent of sonographers work for physicians’ offices, 11 percent for medical laboratories and four percent for outpatient care centers. About 18 percent of nurses work for ambulatory healthcare services, which include physicians’ offices but also outpatient care centers and home healthcare services, the BLS reported. Nurses also find employment in nursing and residential care facilities, educational services and government entities.
In addition to RNs, there are also 724,500 licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) as well as 203,800 advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) currently working in the U.S., the BLS reported.
A Greater Role in Direct Patient Care
Both diagnostic medical sonographers and nurses interact with patients, some of whom may be anxious, scared or in pain. However, the situations in which nurses and sonographers provide direct patient care are different.
In hospitals and many other healthcare settings, patients often spend more time with their nurses than they do with their doctors. The physician may diagnose the medical condition and order treatment, but the nurse is the one primarily working closely with the patient. He or she is the one who gets to know the patient while administering treatments, making observations, educating the patient and family and helping make the patient as comfortable as possible. Interacting with patients, and especially balancing the needs of several patients at once, can be one of the most challenging part of nursing, but it can also be the most rewarding part of the career.
Sonographers’ interactions with patients are more limited. They explain the procedure to patients, record patients’ medical history and perform diagnostic imaging tests with ultrasound equipment, the BLS reported. Beyond that test, sonographers typically don’t provide further patient care. Once they analyze the images, they send their findings to the patient’s doctor and record them in the patient’s medical records. Much of a sonographer’s time is spent not with patients, but instead on preparing, operating and maintaining ultrasound equipment and reviewing and analyzing the images attained through testing.
Both nurses and sonographers need to have interpersonal and communication skills, physical stamina and attention to detail. It is more important for nurses to show compassion and emotional stability, while sonographers need technical skills and hand-eye coordination.
More Areas of Specialization
While nurses and sonographers both need broad skills, they also need specialized skills to work in different healthcare specialties and settings. For sonographers, specialties often consist of a certain region of the body. Abdominal, breast, cardiac, musculoskeletal, vascular and obstetric and gynecological sonography are among the more common specialties in diagnostic medical imaging, the BLS reported. Some sonographers specialize in pediatric sonography, providing imaging services on different regions of the body for children.
Nurses commonly specialize in patient group or medical specialty, and as such, the specialization options are more diverse. Nurses such as neonatal nurses, pediatric nurses and geriatric nurses work with patients in specific age groups. There are addiction nurses who care for patients with substance abuse problems, critical care nurses looking after seriously ill patients in intensive care units and rehabilitation nurses who help patients with disabilities, the BLS reported. Virtually every medical specialty, from cardiology to neurology and oncology to psychiatry and mental health, requires skilled nurses with training in providing patient care in that specialty.
Both nursing students and sonography students take courses in anatomy, science and medical terminology. Sonography degree programs often focus on specialized coursework in the students’ intended field of sonography, the BLS reported.
A Clearer Process for Advancement
For nurses, there are clear and predictable processes for advancing their careers. That process often requires earning another college degree. RNs who started out with an associate’s degree might enroll in an RN-to-BSN program, while those with a bachelor’s degree can work toward a master’s degree and APRN certification.
The career advancement path can be more confusing for sonographers, if only because nursing degrees are more commonly discussed. The BLS reports that an associate’s degree or certificate is needed to become a sonographer, but colleges also offer bachelor’s degrees in sonography. Some employers require professional certification before they will hire you, while others expect you to attain certification after you are hired. One way to move up in your career is to complete an Advanced Cardiovascular Sonography Program.
Nurse practitioners earn a median annual wage of $103,880, more than $30,000 above RN or sonographer salaries.