Cardiac Sonographer: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for cardiac sonographers. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, certification and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Diagnostic Medical Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Do Cardiac Sonographers Do?

Cardiac sonographers, also called echocardiographers, are specialized cardiovascular technologists and technicians who use ultrasound technology to create diagnostic images of the heart. They deliver these images, commonly called echocardiograms, to physicians who evaluate them and look for diseases, abnormalities, or medical conditions. In addition to taking echocardiograms for patients at rest, cardio sonographers may also run tests on people following exercise. They may even take echocardiograms of fetal hearts so that doctors can diagnose patients before birth.

The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know to enter this profession.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Sonography, cardiovascular technology
Key Responsibilities Prepare patients for tests; use ultrasound equipment to produce diagnostic images; analyze images & consult with physician
Certification Required Certification required or preferred by most employers; Medicare & many insurance carriers require certification
Job Growth (2014-2024) 22% for all cardiovascular technologists and technicians*
Average Salary (2015) $56,100 for all cardiovascular technologists and technicians*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is Cardiac Sonography?

Sonography is a medical diagnostic imaging tool that uses ultrasound waves to determine if an organ is diseased. In cardiac sonography, radio waves bounce off the cells of the heart, and the sonograph equipment assembles the echoes to create an image called an echocardiogram. The echocardiogram shows the heart's chambers, valves and blood vessels as a still photograph or a video. The procedure may be performed following physical activity, such as walking on a treadmill, in order to determine how well the heart functions during physical stress. Cardiac sonography is the most widely used imaging tool to diagnose heart disease.

What are the Responsibilities of this Profession?

You would be responsible for using your knowledge of heart disease and cardiac functioning to obtain accurate data. Due to the hands-on nature of complex ultrasound equipment, you may need to exercise judgment and solve problems in obtaining information useful to the attending physician. In some cases, you would administer medications or contrast agents that aid in diagnosis, or you could prepare a preliminary diagnosis. A physician must handle several related ultrasound tests, and the physician may request your assistance during these tests.

How Do I Enter this Profession?

To become a cardiac sonographer, you would be required to obtain either a 2-year associate degree or a 4-year bachelor's degree from an accredited program. You would benefit most from an internship that exposed you to a variety of ultrasound diagnostic modalities at a clinic that handles at least 100 tests performed per month. The American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) recommends contact with cardiac patients before and after surgery.

Although licensure is not required, you may choose to take a credentialing examination through the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). You may register as a sonographer through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). You would be required to pass the Sonography and Principles and Instrumentation Examination before you could obtain a specialty credential for adult, fetal or pediatric cardiac sonography. With either organization, the credential is good for up to one year and can be renewed every year with continuing education credits.

What is the Average Salary of a Cardiac Sonographer?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for cardiovascular technologists, including cardiac sonographers, was $56,100 in May 2015. About 75% of these workers were employed by hospitals. At that same time, the highest paying jobs could be found at healthcare practitioner offices (average $67,420) and educational institutions like colleges, universities and professional schools (average $63,470).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of choosing to focus on cardiac sonography, you may want to consider a sonography career with a different specialization, such as abdominal, musculoskeletal, obstetric/gynecological or breast sonography. If you are particularly interested in heart health, you could also consider a job as an electrocardiographer (EKG technician). All of these positions usually require a certificate or associate's degree.

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