How Can I Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Research what it takes to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. Learn about job duties, education requirements, certification and employment outlook to find out if this is the 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 use imaging equipment and sound waves to help diagnose medical conditions. These professionals hold either a certificate or an associate's degree in diagnostic medical sonography and may work closely with a surgeon or physician. They prepare patients and answer their questions about undergoing the ultrasound procedure. Using specialized imaging equipment, sonograms are rendered of a target area in the patient's body. While many sonographers are generalists, others may choose to specialize in a particular area of interest.

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

Degree Required Certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Diagnostic medical sonography; specialties include obstetric, abdominal & neurological imaging
Key Skills Use ultrasound equipment, prepare patient for tests, analyze image quality, recognize normal & abnormal images, provide summary for physician
Certification Required Optional certification available & preferred by many employers
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 26%*
Median Salary (2015) $68,970*

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

What Would I Do as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Sonography is a method of viewing organs or tissues through the use of high-frequency sound waves. As a medical sonographer, you would use a hand-held tool, known as a transducer, to generate sonographic images. Often called ultrasounds, the images you produce would provide information for doctors and their teams to make diagnosis and treatment decisions. Some professionals in this field specialize in obstetric, abdominal or neurological imaging. Most sonographers work in hospitals, physician offices or health clinics.

What Education or Training Do I Need?

Employers prefer to hire sonographers who have completed some formal training. You should consider enrolling in a 1-year certificate program or a 2-year associate's program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Sonography certificate programs are often designed for students who already hold an associate's or bachelor's degree in a related field. Course prerequisites for enrollment in either a 1-or 2-year program may include human anatomy, biology or college algebra. Some colleges look for applicants who have completed an observation period in a sonography department or have prior health care work experience.

Common topics of study include ultrasound equipment, image reading techniques and sonography physics. Some programs allow you to specialize in cardiovascular or abdominal sonography. You'll need to complete multiple laboratory sessions and clinical practicums in order to earn your degree or certificate.

Do I Need to Be Certified?

Though certification or licensure isn't required, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that many employers prefer to hire credentialed sonographers. Prerequisites for certification usually include a combination of academic and professional experience. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography offers the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer designation. To earn this credential, you must first take the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation exam, followed by a second specialty exam in one of five areas. Sonography certification is also available through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and Cardiovascular Credentialing International.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Once a sonogram has been produced and a condition diagnosed as cancerous, physicians may decide to treat the condition with radiation. A radiation therapist is an individual who administers radiation to the affected area by way of a linear accelerator, in an effort to eradicate the cancer. They work as a part of a team that can consist of oncologists, oncology nurses and medical physicists and in most states are required to be licensed or certified.

Careers similar to diagnostic medical sonographers include radiologic technicians and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologists. Radiologic technicians, or radiographers, operate x-ray machinery to render images of internal bone and/or tissue, in order to aid in diagnosis and the determination of a treatment regimen. MRI technologists perform similar functions except they use magnetic resonance imaging scanners to render an image.

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