What Are the Education Requirements for Ultrasound Technicians?

Many patients and physicians rely on ultrasound technicians to assist with diagnosing medical conditions. Read on to discover the educational requirements you'll need to meet in order to become an ultrasound technician. Schools offering Diagnostic Medical Sonography degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Ultrasound Technician Defined

If you become an ultrasound technician - more commonly called a sonographer - you'll use high-frequency sound waves, or ultrasound, to create images of the soft tissues inside of the human body. The echoes created by the sound waves are displayed as images by the ultrasound machine. The images are then used by physicians to diagnose medical conditions. You'll be responsible for maintaining and operating imaging equipment, taking patients' medical histories and analyzing images. As a technician, you can specialize in examining a certain part of the body, such as the abdomen, eyes, brain, breasts, blood vessels or reproductive system.

Important Facts About This Field of Study

Common courses Physics, vascular technology, medical terminology, and patient care
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED; pass core-science courses such as biology, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry; some programs may prefer a candidate with a science-related background or healthcare experience
Degree/Certificate Levels 1-year certification, 2-year associate's degree, and 4-year bachelor's degree
Online Availability Some schools, such as the San Joaquin Valley College offer a 2-year Medical Assistant degree; Fort Hays State University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Imaging

Academic Preparation

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you'll need formal training to become an ultrasound technician (www.bls.gov). If you have no prior medical experience, you can earn either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in sonography. If you're already in a different medical field, you could enroll in a certificate program that focuses solely on providing ultrasound training.

Your courses and lab work explore sonography technology for specific areas, including gynecological, abdominal, pelvic and obstetric sonography. You'll use ultrasound equipment and techniques under the supervision of instructors or certified technicians. Most programs require you to complete clinical rotations to acquire hands-on experience at hospitals, imaging labs or outpatient clinics.

Licensure and Professional Certification Options

Some states require you to become licensed in order to practice as an ultrasound technician. Exact requirements vary by state, but earning your license typically involves first becoming certified.

Though earning certification is usually voluntary, the BLS reported that most employers prefer to hire certified ultrasound technicians. Many insurance providers will only pay for procedures performed by certified technicians. You can pursue certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) after graduating from an accredited program. Obtaining certification starts with a general exam covering sonography equipment and procedures. Once you've passed the first exam, you'll need to take a specialty exam that tests your knowledge within your chosen area of specialization, such as pediatric or vascular sonography (www.ardms.org). You could earn certification in more than one specialty area.

Continuing Education

If you earn ARDMS certification, you'll need to pay an annual maintenance fee and participate in at least 30 hours of professional development courses or activities every three years. Beginning January 2012, ARDMS also requires you to retest in each specialty you're certified in within the last three years of your maintenance period to renew your credentials. After completing these requirements, your certification will be valid for ten years.

Regardless of your certification status, several schools and hospitals also offer courses and programs that you can take to update your knowledge in the field. If your ultrasound experience is limited, you could enroll in a program that broadens your knowledge of different types of sonography techniques. Several schools also offer bachelor's degree completion programs both on-campus and online if you already hold an associate degree in sonography.

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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