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How to Become an Ultrasound Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for ultrasound technicians. Get the facts about certification, degree requirements, job outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

Ultrasound technicians are responsible for using medical equipment to produce and capture internal images of a patient. One of the tasks they are most commonly associated with is producing images of a fetus to monitor its development. They also capture images of breast tissue, the abdominal cavity, the cardiovascular system and muscles or connective tissue associated with the musculoskeletal system in order to help physicians diagnose illness or injuries. As part of this process they explain the imaging procedure to patients. They also need to be familiar with the equipment they use and capable of making adjustments if there are technical issues. They need computer skills to store data and maintain patient records.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree; postsecondary certificates are also available
Education Field of Study Sonography, diagnostic medical sonography
Key Skills Hand-eye coordination, interpersonal, attention to detail, physical stamina
Certification Certification is often required
Job Growth (2018-2028) 19% (for all diagnostic medical sonographers)*
Median Salary (2019) $59,056 (for all ultrasound technologists)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Is an Ultrasound Technician?

As an ultrasound technician, you'll be responsible for operating diagnostic medical equipment that uses sound waves to capture images of patients' soft tissues and organs. Additional duties include obtaining medical histories from patients, positioning patients for procedures and explaining what a procedure entails. You might also be tasked with performing a preliminary analysis of an image to assess the picture quality, not to mention keeping medical records, archiving images, maintaining equipment and ordering supplies. Read on to learn the steps to becoming an ultrasound technician.

Step 1: Obtain the Necessary Education

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that ultrasound technicians need an associate or bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography. Some schools also offer training in the form of short-term certificate programs for current health care professionals with a degree in another area who'd like to receive additional training.

Regardless of which educational path you pursue, it's important to choose a program that's accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Completion of a program with this designation is often a prerequisite for licensure or certification and ensures that a school's curriculum follows an approved course of instruction. Topics of study in these programs often include anatomy, ethics, patient care procedures and equipment operation. You can also study a specialty area, such as obstetric, breast, cardiac and abdominal sonography.

Step 2: Pursue Certification or Licensure

While certification is not strictly required in the field of diagnostic medical sonography, the BLS reports that employers often prefer job applicants who've earned certification through a nationally recognized professional agency. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), for example, provides certification for aspiring ultrasound technicians who complete the requisite education and training requirements and pass its Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) exam. After you've passed the SPI, you can sit for one of nine specialty exams. Passing these exams leads to the designation of Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) or Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT).

In the few states that license or register ultrasound technicians, candidates are generally required to hold credentials from the ARDMS. Certification from such agencies as Cardiac Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) may also suffice.

Step 3: Find a Job

According to the BLS, ultrasound technicians can find employment in hospitals, clinics and public health facilities, though the most new job opportunities are expected to be found in diagnostic laboratories and physicians' offices. Overall, employment growth for diagnostic medical sonographers was projected to increase 19% between 2018 and 2028. While hospitals and other medical facilities may post job opportunities online, you might also be able to attend career fairs or contact human resource departments in hospitals.

Step 4: Meet Continuing Education Requirements

To maintain certification - and licensure or registration in states that require it - ultrasound technicians must meet continuing education requirements. ARDMS' certifications are valid for ten years, and ultrasound technicians must complete 30 hours of continuing education over the final three years to renew their credentials.

Renewal of ARRT certifications requires the completion of 24 credits of continuing education over a 2-year period, though candidates may also meet renewal requirements by earning an additional certification. Ultrasound technicians with CCI credentials must earn between 16 and 36 hours of credit every three years.

Step 5: Examine Career Advancement Opportunities

As you gain work experience, you might want to consider job opportunities in research and management. Additionally, some junior colleges accept bachelor's degrees in diagnostic medical sonography as sufficient education to teach in the field. If you decide to become certified in more than one specialty area, your marketability could improve. The BLS expects the best job prospects to be reserved for ultrasound technicians with multiple credentials.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Individuals interested in working with another type of diagnostic imaging might consider becoming nuclear medicine technologists. These professionals are associate's degree holders who use radioactive drugs and special equipment to produce internal images of patients. Radiologic technologists, on the other hand, use medical equipment such as x-rays. They also need an associate's degree.