Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: Job Duties, Outlook and Education Info

Explore the career requirements for diagnostic medical sonographers. Get the facts about job duties, employment outlook, education requirements and certification 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 Is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Diagnostic medical sonographers are medical professionals who assist physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of targeted internal organs and structures. This is done by operating specialized equipment that produces high-frequency sound waves that result in images of the area in question. Though licensure requirements vary by state, certification is necessary to qualify for licensure. Most employers prefer to hire certified sonographers.

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

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree; certificate for experienced healthcare workers transitioning to the field
Education Field of Study Diagnostic medical sonography
Key Responsibilities Take sonographic images & report findings to help in diagnosis of patient conditions; operate sophisticated medical equipment; interact directly with patients
Certification Employers generally prefer to hire sonographers who have graduated from programs that have been approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHP)
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 26%*
Mean Annual Wage (2015) Overall: $70,880
DMS working in hospitals: $70,500*

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

What Does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Do?

A diagnostic medical sonographer (DMS) is a medical professional who operates ultrasound machinery that produces images and/or videos on a patient's internal structures.

Your main duty as a DMS is to help doctors, nurses and other medical professionals identify and treat injuries or illness by imaging human organs with sonography equipment. Capturing images and video of organs or fluids in motion, locating areas of fluid accumulation or differentiating diseased tissue from healthy tissue are among the tasks that you'll perform.

Before an imaging session, you'll obtain a patient's medical history and explain the procedure to the patient. You'll position the individual on the examining table and adjust your equipment until it produces clear images. During the procedure you'll observe the screen, make adjustments as necessary, record the results and decide whether to expand the scope of the exam based on the results. After a session you will make a written or oral report to a supervising nurse or physician and add the report to the patient's file.

What Education Requirements Are There?

Certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in the field are available at numerous universities and colleges. Certificate programs last a year and are intended for people who are already qualified to work in clinical healthcare. Associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs are available in diagnostic medical sonography or in sonography.

Undergraduate degree programs train you to adjust and maintain sonography equipment, care for patients and produce clear, usable images. Course topics may include ultrasound physics, anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. You'll also have to fulfill general education requirements that may offer courses relevant to sonography such as biology, physics, math and communications. You may also be able to participate in clinical practicum courses that enable you to gain valuable work experience.

Associate's degree programs often require you to choose a specialty such as cardiac, vascular, obstetric, abdominal or general sonography. Bachelor's degree programs might introduce you to the various fields first so you have the option of selecting a specialty that interests you. General education courses in a bachelor's program may extend to healthcare policy and medical ethics.

Where Could I Work?

You are most likely to find employment at a general or surgical hospital. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 70% of diagnostic medical sonographers worked in these settings as of 2014, with a mean annual wage in May 2015 of $70,500. Physician offices, medical labs and outpatient clinics are other employers. With a mean annual wage of $83,600 in May 2015, outpatient clinics were the top-paying industry.

The BLS also reports that as of May 2015, about 61,250 people were employed as sonographers. Jobs are projected to increase 26% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the average. This is due primarily to improvements in sonographic imaging technology that allow for less expensive and less invasive procedures; the rising demand for medical care by an aging population will also contribute. Job opportunities may grow most rapidly in diagnostic labs and doctor offices.

What Certification is Available?

Certification for diagnostic medical sonographers is preferred by most employers. If you have completed an approved program, you'll be eligible for the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) certification examination offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). The RDMS exam is composed of the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) exam and a specialty exam, which is composed of multiple-choice questions.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A popular related alternative career is that of a cardiac sonographer. These technologists concentrate on producing ultrasound images, called echocardiograms, of the heart, its valves and blood vessels. Cardiac sonographers provide pre- and post-surgical assistance to physicians, as well as during the procedure itself. The standard academic requirement for this career is an associate's degree or certificate, and certification is usually preferred. Radiologic and MRI technologists perform imaging duties using x-rays and magnetic resonance imaging, respectively. Radiologic technologists must be licensed or certified, while MRI technologist licensure is left up to the individual state.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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