Diagnostic medical sonographers are highly specialized in their skill sets. They have the knowledge and understanding of sonography machines, which use ultrasound technology to acquire images of the body.
With this, sonographers and doctors make important diagnoses in a non-invasive manner. To become a practicing sonographer, one must be certified by a relevant body. But what are the alternatives? And how exactly can an aspiring sonographer go about becoming certified? We take a look at all of these questions and more below.
Is It Necessary to Get Certified as a Sonographer?
Before we proceed into how to get certified as a sonographer, it is worth considering whether the process is even needed or not. Well, most states don’t make it necessary for sonographers to be certified before they are allowed to practice.
That said, it is also worth emphasizing that employers tend to hire certified sonographers over those who do not. So, even though it may not be mandatory in your state, it is still a vital process that significantly boosts your chances of securing employment, whether in a hospital, clinic, or medical office.
Before anyone can get certified as a sonographer, they must have obtained the required level of training at an accredited institution. An associate’s degree is the fastest and most popular educational path for those who still need a degree or an existing career in clinical healthcare, but there are other ways.
It is also possible for students to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree program, or, if they already work in a clinical healthcare capacity, they can simply go for a one or 2-year certificate program.
Only after the educational aspect is complete can an aspiring sonographer move on to getting certified.
Having completed an accredited training program, a sonographer must accrue one year of experience in medical sonography to get certified. Training programs in accredited institutions often incorporate clinical hours into their programs to ensure that students already have this experience by the time they graduate.
Here are various healthcare settings where Sonographers can gain clinical experience:
- Hospitals: Many hospitals have dedicated departments or units for diagnostic medical sonography. These departments often offer opportunities for sonographers to gain hands-on experience by working with patients in different clinical areas, such as radiology, obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology, and vascular medicine.
- Diagnostic Imaging Centers: Standalone diagnostic imaging centers specialize in various types of medical imaging, including ultrasound. These centers often employ sonographers and provide clinical training and experience in performing ultrasound examinations for different medical conditions.
- Private Medical Practices: Some private medical practices, such as those focused on obstetrics, gynecology, or specialized clinics, may have ultrasound equipment and employ sonographers to perform ultrasound examinations. Joining such practices can provide sonographers with valuable clinical experience in a specific area of expertise.
Once both conditions are satisfied, a sonographer may consider the following certification options.
American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
The ARDMS is the country’s most recognized sonography certification body and, indeed, all over the world. Many consider getting certified by the organization as a crucial part of securing employment as a sonographer. Below are a few disciplines in which the ARDMS offers certification opportunities:
Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer - RDMS
This generalized credential certifies a sonographer as having general knowledge of the field. It requires an examination of sonography principles and instrumentation with a specialty in abdominal, breast, fetal, and pediatric sonography.
Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer - RDCS
The RDCS is available for those who specialize in cardiac sonography. It certifies that they have the required knowledge and can perform their jobs safely. The specialty examination includes topics in adult, fetal, and pediatric echocardiography.
Registered Vascular Technologist - RVT
The RVT is available for those who specialize in vascular sonography. The specialty examination includes topics in vascular technology.
Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer - RMSKS
The RMSKS certifies that a sonographer is competent and knowledgeable in muscular and skeletal sonography. The examination tests for knowledge of sonography principles and instrumentation with a particular focus on areas involving the musculoskeletal system.
To stay certified by the ARDMS, candidates must pay an annual fee, which varies by specialization. For those with RPVI and RMSK certifications, the renewal fee is $130. Those with RVT, RDMS, RDCS, and RMSKS credentials must pay $85.
Candidates must also attest that they have followed the rules and policies of the ARDMS. In addition to the fees and attestation, certified sonographers must complete continuing medical education.
This involves passing 30 CME credits, a portion of which must be in an area related to the sonographer’s specialization.
American Registry for Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
The ARDMS is not the only organization that offers certification for sonographers. You can also get the ARRT certification if you have completed an accredited program within the last five years.
To acquire and maintain certification from the ARDMS, candidates must follow the rules of ethics set out by the organization. These rules are geared towards promoting and maintaining patient welfare.
Other ways to get certified
Along with the ARDMS and the ARRT, the following bodies also provide certifications in various fields of sonography:
- Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) - The CCI provides an opportunity for certification in cardiac, vascular, and phlebology ultrasound.
- The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) - This commission offers certification in ophthalmic ultrasound (sonography involving the eyes)
- The Ultrasound Guidelines Council (UGC) - The UGC offers certification for ultrasound technicians who deal with beef cattle.
Reasons to Get Certified as a Sonographer
As mentioned earlier, certification isn’t always mandatory, but it is always beneficial. Below are five reasons every ultrasound technician must get certified:
- Employment Opportunity - Most employers seek out sonographers who are certified.
- Staying Up to Date - Certification helps sonographers stay current, thanks to the continuing education requirements.
- Specialization - Specialized certification in vascular technology and OBGYN fields helps ensure that sonographers are well-suited for their respective fields.
- Licensure - Where it is mandated, certification is always a requirement for licensure.
As of the moment this article was written, only four states in the country mandate licensure before a sonographer can practice. In other states, getting a degree and getting certified are the only two requirements.
The states where having a license is mandatory include New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Oregon. As with most licensing procedures, candidates typically need to have obtained certification and pass a background check along with an interview session.
A sonographer’s license must also be renewed just as it is with certification. Renewal is carried out every two years. The renewal process involves an additional application, payment of non-refundable fees, and proof of continuing education.