Tips on How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

Tips on How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

If you are considering a career as an ultrasound technician, also known as a diagnostic medical sonographer, you must carefully evaluate several factors pertinent to success in this profession. Along with identifying the necessary requirements and mandatory prerequisites specific to your training program, you should investigate your career outlooks in the current and future job markets as well. This article – and other articles on this site – will assist you in your decision.

First, let’s define the role of an ultrasound technician and the duties and responsibilities accompanying the title. In essence, an ultrasound technician is a medical professional who operates imaging equipment to obtain and record internal imaging of patients’ bodies for the purpose of helping physicians diagnose various conditions. Also known as a diagnostic medical sonographer, an ultrasound technician typically works in a hospital or independent medical facility or imaging lab. According to the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM), there are certain educational requirements and certification that must be obtained before an ultrasound technician can be employed. The ultrasound technician career is a position within the medical field, and it is a job that is expected to grow faster than average through the year 2016.

Oftentimes, the title of ultrasound technician is mistakenly credited to professionals who solely earn a career as obstetric sonographers. While an ultrasound technician can certainly capture images of a pregnant woman’s developing fetus, there are many other situations where ultrasound technology is employed. Ultrasound technicians may specialize in obstetric and gynecologic sonography, abdominal sonography, neurosonography, breast sonography, vascular sonography or cardiac sonography. For instance, other abdominal imaging such as of the gallbladder, liver, kidneys, and pancreas, is also obtained through ultrasound.

Educational Requirements

In order to attain an associate’s degree (two years) or a more traditional bachelor’s degree (four years), aspiring ultrasound technicians can choose to attend formal training programs at colleges or universities. The coursework will include anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care and medical ethics. Others who want to work in this profession receive their training in hospitals and technical vocational schools.

Education and training for ultrasound technicians are available through several different venues, including vocational training institutions and allied health programs offered by many universities. Most hospitals and doctors prefer to employ technicians who have completed an accredited program. As of 2009, the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) has accredited nearly 200 training programs for diagnostic medical sonography. As of the start of 2009, individuals are not required to be licensed in order to work as an ultrasound technician, but some employers prefer candidates who have been credentialed by a certifying organization such as The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).  Licensing could become a requirement in the future for employment by a hospital or lab.

Both two- and four-year degrees are available to individuals in the field of diagnostic medical sonography. Specific areas of study for sonography include anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, and operation of the equipment used. Training typically involves practical labs as well. In addition to role-specific medical training, students also receive training in patient relations and communication because they work directly with the patient.

Unlike other professions in the medical field, ultrasound technicians employed by hospitals, doctors, or other medical facilities often enjoy a set schedule. Although ultrasound diagnostics and tests are rarely requested or scheduled in emergency situations, limited circumstances may require technicians to work after-hours or even on an on-call basis.

What about the Job Prospects?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 50,000 individuals were employed as medical sonographers in 2008. The jobs were categorized into two basic employer types: hospitals and other types of medical institutions, such as doctor practices, diagnostic labs, and outpatient care facilities. Reportedly, 59 percent of these jobs were at hospitals and the remaining 41 percent were in the other category. It’s encouraging to see that the divide is fairly even – as an ultrasound technician, employment is spread across various settings. If large, fast-paced work is what you enjoy, you can aim for a hospital job. And if you’d rather work with more focus and at a moderate pace, you can seek work at a doctor’s office, small clinic, or private laboratory.

Prospects for new jobs in this field are promising – the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an increase of nearly 10,000 jobs for technicians and sonographers by 2018, or roughly 1,000 new jobs every year.

Additional Resources

• California’s Health Professions Education Foundation (HPEF) provides info on how to become an ultrasound technician

• MedlinePlus provides health info guidance on how to prepare for an ultrasound

• BLS is providing the Occupational Outlook Handbook to benefits of becoming a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

• Newbridge College highlights multiple health care degrees on becoming an ultrasound technician

• Stanford-Brown College lists their sonography programs

• Lincoln University elaborates on the various ways to an ultrasound tech career

• The Academy of Health Care Professions depicts the path of ultrasound techs

• Oklahoma State Medical Association provides good advice on how to become ultrasound technician in the workforce post-graduation

• The Oregon Institute of Technology provides a guide on becoming a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer