Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Schools and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Associate|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||57,700|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||4.8%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||3,170|
- Most complete an accredited training program in diagnostic medical sonography or cardiovascular technology.
- The associate degree is the most common although a bachelor's degree can improve employment opportunities.
- One-year certificate programs are available primarily for other health professionals.
- Programs are offered by community colleges, four-year schools, and hospitals.
What you study:
Study topics include:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Patient care and assessment
- Patient positioning
- Sonography techniques
- Image interpretation
As a student, you will study different types of sonography such as abdominal and vascular. In your career, you can choose to specialize in one of several areas.
Quickly highlights the work of sonographers, or ultrasound techs. Created for the US Department of Labor.
A Day in the Life
As a diagnostic medical sonographer, you take ultrasound images of the body for use in patient assessment. You work closely with individual patients, evaluate findings, and communicate the results to physicians.
During your day, you perform several kinds of exams from checking a healthy fetus to discovering a cardiac blockage. Your tasks are likely to include:
- Taking patient histories
- Caring for patients during exams
- Performing ultrasounds for different body areas and pathologies
- Evaluating diagnostic images
- Communicating findings to physicians
- Working with other care team members
- Maintaining the sonography lab and equipment
Most of your day is spent with patients, and you will perform 10 exams on this shift. Your first patient is having an abdominal scan. You explain the nature of the test and take a medical history. After helping the patient into position, you pass a handheld wand called a transducer over the abdominal area. High-frequency sound waves enter the patient's body, and the reflections are sent to your computer as images. When the exam is over, you evaluate the results and discuss them with the physician.
You perform nine more sonograms today including fetal ultrasounds and assisting a physician with a biopsy. A key part of your job is obtaining the most useful diagnostic pictures for the patient's situation. This involves evaluating computer information during the test and adjusting the procedure as necessary. As each patient is unique, you use independent judgment and critical thinking in your work.
Your time between patients is filled with reviewing and updating medical records, scheduling appointments, and consulting with care teams. You also quality check your equipment and help maintain the sonography lab. By the end of the day, you have examined both healthy and critically ill patients of all ages.
Certifications and Licensing
Most states do not yet require licensing although many employers only hire credentialed practitioners. The most widely accepted credentials are earned by exam through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). Prospective candidates can qualify using one of several combinations of education and experience. Those new to the field generally must have graduated from an accredited training program. Upon passing the RDMS exams, candidates are granted the credential of Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer or RDMS.
For more information on state licensing requirements, see the U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop site.
Full-time versus part-time:
Most sonographers work full time and may have some extended shifts due to heavy caseloads. Many facilities require night, weekend, and on-call availability to accommodate urgent imaging needs.
Hospitals employ most sonographers on site. Other work settings include private medical offices, outpatient clinics, and imaging centers.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook – The site gives a solid overview of the diagnostic medical sonography profession. It is a good starting point to learn about job responsibilities and available specializations. For greater detail, also consult sites that are directly involved in the field.
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography – The SDMS is a nonprofit professional association for the ultrasound field. The site has an extensive career section that explains how to select a program and profiles a typical career path. It also details the several educational pathways available to students with various backgrounds.
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography – The ARDMS is the organization that grants credentials to the profession. The site has several detailed and well-organized sections that explain the credentialing process.
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs – CAAHEP accredits programs in the allied health fields including diagnostic medical sonography. The site features a search for accredited programs so that you can easily locate schools by state, concentration, and type of degree.
- American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine – The AIUM is a membership organization of diverse health professionals who work with ultrasound technology. The site includes a resources section with downloadable presentations on diagnostic medical sonography as a career choice.