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Prepare for a Career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

If you love helping people and you are interested in a career in diagnostic imagery, or ultrasound technology, sonography may be a great career path for you. As a diagnostic tool, sonography is safe, non-invasive, and low-risk for patients and sonographers as there is no radiation exposure. Like other advanced care roles, a diagnostic medical sonographer is essential to patient care. While most people think of OB/GYN and babies when they hear the word ultrasound, there’s a wide range of specialties within the field. Learn more about becoming a sonographer, how you can make a difference in patients’ lives, and whether this is the right career choice for you.

What Does an Ultrasound Tech Do? 

You may be asking what does a diagnostic medical sonographer do? Diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as ultrasound technicians, help doctors and other health care professionals assess and identify a patient’s medical conditions. These professionals use imaging equipment that produces high-frequency waves to record images or conduct tests on many parts of the body. 

To understand a diagnostic medical sonographer jobs’ daily responsibilities, it is essential you know the difference between an ultrasound and a sonogram. While most use the terms interchangeably when discussing sonography, they are different. Ultrasound refers to the tool used to take a sonogram (or picture). Here is an overview of the daily duties of an ultrasound tech:1

  • Explain ultrasound diagnostic imaging to patients and record their medical history.
  • Follow approved procedures to ensure that diagnostic equipment is working properly.
  • Operate equipment under authorized diagnostic image practices and approaches.
  • Review images for clarity, coverage, and suitability to detect the presence or absence of a presumed medical condition. 
  • Distinguish between normal and abnormal anatomy to prepare a summary of your diagnostic findings for the attending physician.
  • Record findings and file patients’ records per prescribed procedures.

Sonography professionals may work with doctors and surgeons before, during, and after these day-to-day procedures.

Different Types of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Diagnostic medical sonographers are professionals who can work in multiple specialties. Depending on your passion or career path, you may want to specialize in a particular type of sonography. For example, those interested in cardiology may wish to consider a cardiac sonographer role or if you prefer a diagnostic challenge, consider becoming a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. There is a wide variety of diagnostic medical sonographer and ultrasound tech jobs in the field because there are a large number of titles denoting specialist roles, such as:2

  • Cardiac Sonographer 
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer 
  • Medical Sonographer 
  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer 
  • Sonographer 
  • Staff Sonographer 
  • Ultrasonographer 
  • Ultrasound Tech
  • Ultrasound Technician 
  • Ultrasound Technologist 

Types of sonographers:1

  • Abdominal sonographers — specialize in imaging abdominal cavities and other organs like the spleen, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, or kidneys.
  • Breast sonographers — focus on imaging breast tissue in order to find cysts and tumors.
  • Cardiac sonographers — sometimes called echocardiographers, specialize in imaging hearts, chambers, valves, and vessels.
  • Musculoskeletal sonographers — specialize in imaging joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
  • Pediatric sonographers — perform imaging of infants and children.
  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers — analyze imaging for female reproductive organs and unborn babies.
  • Vascular technologists or vascular sonographers — work with imaging to examine blood vessels, and measuring blood pressure and volume to detect blood clots.

While there is a significant number of designations within the field of sonography, these professionals’ tasks remain the same; to operate imaging equipment and conduct tests on organs and tissues in the human body. Depending on the title, your work environment and salary may vary.

Why Work as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the diagnostic medical sonographer job outlook is positive. The employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to grow by 17% between 2019 and 2029. This growth rate is much faster than the average for all professions.3

Within the industry, the BLS projects the number of cardiac sonographers to grow by 5% between 2019 and 2029, which is still above the 4% expected for all occupations.3

One reason behind such a high projected growth rate is an aging population. As more baby boomers age, the need for diagnosing medical conditions such as heart disease and blood clots will likely increase. In addition, the medical industry will continue to use alternative imaging techniques for those that require radiation.3

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Salary

It is best that you examine the salary range for your potential job. As with any salary, several factors, such as where you work, education, experience, title, and employer, play a big part in determining your wages. Based on BLS data for 2019, the average diagnostic medical sonographer salary was $74,320. The top 10% earned more than $102,060, while the lower 10% earned less than $52,770.4 Be advised, salary for entry-level positions may be lower than the national average.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics further notes that the average diagnostic medical sonographer pay in May 2019 in the top industries were as follows:4

  • Outpatient care centers — $89,880
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private — $74,440
  • Offices of physicians — $73,810
  • Medical and diagnostic laboratories — $70,100

Although it depends on where you are, it is typical for diagnostic medical sonographers to work full-time. If the facility in which you work is always open, you can expect to work evenings, weekends, and overnight shifts.4

Best Places to Work as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

When looking at a diagnostic medical sonographer salary to determine which state to work in, it is important to consider top-paying states and those with the highest employment rates.5 The following is based on BLS data from May 2019:

The five top-paying states for a diagnostic medical sonographer:

State Annual average salary Employment  Employment per thousand
Hawaii $102,140 170 0.27
California $100,960 6,650 0.38
Alaska $97,270 150 .047
District of Columbia $95,290 160 0.22
Washington $90,130 1,690 0.51

States that have the highest employment level of diagnostic medical sonographers:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Annual average salary
California 6,650 .038 $100,960
New York 5,880 0.62 $77,060
Florida 5,380 0.61 $66,310
Texas 5,120 0.41 $72,160
Illinois 3,030 0.50 $75,420

Find Your Path as a Medical Sonographer

SJVC is committed to hands-on training in the skills you need as a Medical Sonographer. Learn more about our program and exciting opportunities.

Skills for Ultrasound Technicians 

In addition to postsecondary education and training, ultrasound technicians or medical diagnostic sonographers must possess certain abilities and skills to ensure career success, this includes:2

Psychomotor abilities:

  • Arm and hand steadiness — the ability to keep your arm and hand steady while holding them in one position.
  • Information ordering — the ability to arrange pictures and other things that follow a specific set of rules.
  • Oral expression — the ability to convey ideas or information so that others will understand.

Soft skills:

  • Active learning — consists of understanding new information and applying it to current or future decisions.
  • Active listening — is when you are able to give your full attention to someone who is speaking to you, and understand their perspective.
  • Critical thinking — is an approach to problem-solving with logic and reasoning, allowing you to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in conclusions or alternative solutions.
  • Effective communication — conveys both written and spoken information in a compelling manner.
  • Operation monitoring — focuses on watch dials, indicators, and gauges to ensure the equipment is properly set and working correctly.
  • Reading comprehension — is the act of understanding, whether it is medical terms, sentences, or paragraphs in written form.
  • Social perceptiveness — allows you to empathize with others and understand why they may react as they do.
  • Time management — is the process of managing your time and the time of others in an efficient manner.

How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

Curious about what steps you need to take to become an ultrasound technician? Diagnostic medical sonographers and technicians need a formal education. Fortunately, you have more than one path you can take to meet your career goals. Diagnostic medical sonographers need formal education, such as an associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. Many employers also require professional certification.

Diagnostic medical sonographer schooling at a community college or technical school that includes ultrasound tech programs might be a great option. And at SJVC, our programs are concentrated on accelerated studies that are focused on preparing you for a career in sonography.   

It is typical for sonography programs to be divided into specialized fields such as breast sonography, abdominal sonography, cardiac, vascular, or staff sonography—which is someone who has a broad knowledge of all applications in ultrasound technology rather than specializing in one particular employment. 

General coursework includes anatomy, applied sciences, and medical terminology, with most curriculum requiring supervised clinical hours in hospitals, physicians’ offices, or imaging laboratories. Program coursework for specialties like cardiovascular and vascular technicians may cover invasive and non-invasive procedures.6

Do I Need Certification to Work as an Ultrasound Technician?

Diagnostic medical sonography certification is not mandated in some ultrasound technician positions. However, most employers prefer to hire diagnostic imaging workers with professional certification, or they may expect applicants to earn certification shortly after being hired.

In addition, many employers prefer to hire candidates who have a basic life support (BLS) certification, which affirms that they are trained to provide CPR.

Few states require diagnostic medical sonographers to be licensed. Typically, professional certification is required for licensure; other requirements vary by state. Contact state medical boards for more information.

What to Look for in a Medical Sonography Program 

A high-quality postsecondary education is essential to a successful and rewarding career in sonography. With the many options available today choosing the right ultrasound tech school that fits your needs and lifestyle can be a tough decision. To help make a decision between ultrasound tech programs, it is important to take a close look at the four key factors: 

  • Cost: higher education is an investment in your future. As with most institutions, applicants to San Joaquin Valley College can apply for federal and state financial assistance programs and private financing. Scholarships, grants, and student loans are available to qualified students. 

For more information on the current tuition costs at San Joaquin Valley College, please see our academic catalog.

  • Accreditation: Institutional accreditation indicates to employers an institution meets the set standards of quality. Graduating from an accredited institution may be necessary for diagnostic medical sonographer certification and licensure. 
  • Instructor quality: experienced administration and faculty that build relationships with their students can have a positive influence on how well those students learn. This can also help to ensure their success.
  • Hands-on experience: because ultrasound technicians have direct patient contact, a Diagnostic Medical Sonography program must offer hands-on training.

How Long is an Ultrasound Tech Program? 

When choosing the right institution for your needs, it is important to ask a few questions. Do you have the time necessary to earn a four-year or longer degree, or do you need a degree that will get you into the workforce quickly? How long is ultrasound tech school? Although the answer to the first question is unique to you, the response for the second is most diagnostic medical sonography programs take about one year to complete. Students at San Joaquin Valley College can complete our Associate of Science degree in diagnostic medical sonography in as few as 17 months.

Can I Attend Diagnostic Medical Sonography School Online? 

While you may find other online programs that offer diagnostic medical sonographer education, the educators at San Joaquin Valley College understand the importance of students having a hands-on approach to sonography. We believe the best way to provide a holistic learning atmosphere is with in-person study at our Bakersfield, CA campus.

What Will I Learn in SJVC’s Diagnostic Medical Sonography Courses? 

One of the most important factors about Diagnostic Medical Sonography programs is what you will take away from your training. Students enrolled in the Associate of Science degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography at San Joaquin Valley College learn: 

  • Fundamental elements and professional aspects of sonography.
  • Ultrasound principles and instrumentation.
  • Abdominal ultrasound imaging.
  • Obstetrics, gynecology (OB-GYN), and vascular imaging.
  • How to collect patient history and supporting clinical data.
  • Facilitate optimum diagnostic results.
  • Perform ultrasound scanning procedures.
  • How to record and perform anatomic, pathologic, and physiologic scanning procedures.
  • You will learn suitable skills to facilitate patient and colleague communications.

Ultrasound Tech Classes 

As with other health care professionals, sonographers are an integral part of high-quality patient care. Because sonographers have direct contact with patients, it is essential students learn about the body’s anatomy and function. Additionally, students must study the proper usage of sonography equipment through a combination of coursework, lab work, and clinical hours during diagnostic medical sonographer training. 

Upon successful completion of our 73-week diagnostic medical sonography program, graduates earn an Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Upon completion of 1,680 hours of work experience as a diagnostic medical sonographer, graduates are eligible to sit for the ARDMS certification exam. An alternative exam pathway is available to graduates who have earned a previous health studies credential (please see the Program Director for more information). Students also earn certification in CPR/First Aid. 

SJVC prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program.

Core Course Requirements

  • Orientation to Ultrasound Imaging Seminar 
  • Abdominal and Small Parts Ultrasound Imaging 
  • Abdominal and Small Parts Ultrasound Imaging Laboratory 
  • Fundamentals of Sonography 
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology Ultrasound Imaging 
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology Ultrasound Imaging Laboratory
  • Patient Care for Sonographers 
  • Introduction to Vascular Ultrasound Imaging 
  • Introduction to Vascular Ultrasound Imaging Laboratory 

As illustrated by the variety of imaging requirements listed above, a big part of sonography is following precise procedures in order to capture the perfect image needed to diagnose and treat the patient.6

  • Professional Aspects of Sonography 
  • Physical Principles & Instrumentation of Ultrasound 
  • Physical Principles & Instrumentation of Ultrasound Laboratory 
  • Clinical Practicum I 
  • Clinical Practicum II 
  • ARDMS Certifying Examination Review 

General Education Requirements

  • Ethics 
  • General Psychology
  • Introduction to Sociology 

In addition to the Associate of Science degree, graduates earn certification in CPR and First Aid.

Kickstart Your Career as a Medical Sonographer

Small class sizes, individual attention, and hands-on training in the skills you need. Learn more about how to become a Medical Sonographer with SJVC.

Prepare for a Career in Medical Sonography With San Joaquin Valley College 

SJVC’s Diagnostic Medical Sonography program is available at our Bakersfield campus. Whether you are interested in working at a hospital, clinic, or radiology imaging center, our diagnostic medical sonography training will prepare you to work as an ultrasound tech or entry-level sonographer. As a small community college, your success is our success. To help ensure the achievement of our students, we offer several start dates throughout the year. Plus, small class sizes and career services to help you find a job in your career field. To request more information about the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program, please visit our website. 

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer FAQ

What does a diagnostic medical sonographer do?

A diagnostic medical sonographer takes images of and conducts tests on body parts using ultrasound equipment.

Are there medical sonographer certifications?

Yes, you can earn certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists followed by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International.

How long is a diagnostic medical sonographer program?

Some institutions offer one-year certificate programs. The program at San Joaquin Valley College program is 17 months.

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