Becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer can be a very fulfilling career option. It offers an opportunity to become an allied health professional with only a couple of years of training.
Additionally, professionals in the field are among the highest earners for their level of degrees and certification requirements. And, of course, there is also a considerable chance for learning and growth, along with the opportunity to work with other healthcare workers and save lives.
So yes, a career in diagnostic medical sonography is appealing. But how exactly does one go about becoming one? This article provides a detailed, step-by-step guide to pulling this off and enjoying a long career as an ultrasound technologist.
Who is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?
The terms “diagnostic medical sonographer” and “ultrasound technician” refer to the same group. These are highly specialized health professionals trained to operate sonography machines to obtain images of body parts for diagnostic purposes.
Using a transducer, an ultrasound machine sends sound waves to the targeted body part. The transducer then receives critical data, which is parsed into an image. Through the resulting image, a sonographer, along with a doctor or other medical experts, can then check for irregularities and make important diagnoses in a non-invasive manner.
While there are numerous fields of medical sonography, the initial process of pursuing a career in any of them is similar.
How to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
There are different ways to begin a career as a sonographer, from certificates to bachelor’s degrees. Below, we will review some of the most common alternatives.
Step 1: Obtain a Degree or Certificate
Certificate (12 to 18 months)
Certificates are available at a postsecondary level from community colleges and vocational tech schools. One such institution is the Rochester Institute of Technology, which offers an 18-month program, including clinical hours.
Associate’s Degree (2 years)
Another alternative is to pursue an associate’s degree. They usually take two years and offer a variety of specializations. An example of an institution offering an accredited associate’s degree in medical sonography is Bellevue College in Washington.
Specializations include general sonography, echocardiography, and vascular technology.
Bachelor’s Degree (4 Years)
A bachelor’s degree is the perfect alternative for registered sonographers who wish to advance their careers. What’s more, there are online programs for those who want to do so remotely.
An example of this is Oregon Tech’s online program, which is regionally accredited and offers students the opportunity to transfer in their existing credits.
According to the O*NET, in 2020, 47 percent of sonographers possessed an associate degree, 17 percent had a bachelor’s education, and 19 percent had a postsecondary certificate.
Step 2 (Optional): Earn a Post Bachelor’s Certificate or Master’s Degree
Post-baccalaureate certificates in diagnostic medical sonography are available for those with a bachelor’s degree. They differ from master’s degrees and often take two years to complete.
Seattle University is an example of an institution offering a post-baccalaureate program in medical sonography.
Master’s degrees are not a necessity for sonographers, but they may sometimes help them earn more and open the door for more opportunities for those looking to operate in a managerial/leadership position.
Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale offers a master’s of health science degree with an option for medical sonography.
Step 3: Become Certified
Becoming certified is an often essential step for any graduate of diagnostic medical sonography seeking employment. This is because even though all states don’t mandate certification itself, most employers prefer to hire certified sonographers over those who do not.
Below are a few organizations responsible for certifying medical sonographers or ultrasound technicians.
American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
The ARDMS certifications are some of the most popular and respected alternatives. They significantly improve a sonographer’s chances of employment and are often the body of choice for numerous graduates.
Included are five certification options based on specialization. They have the registered diagnostic medical sonography (RDMS) certification, registered vascular technologist (RVT), and registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer (RDCS), among others.
Examination requirements vary by specialization.
American Registration of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
The ARRT is another popular and highly respected certification body. They offer two alternatives, including the primary pathway for those who recently completed a sonography program and the post-primary path for those certified with the ARRT but looking for additional credentials.
Specialized certifications offered by the ARRT include vascular sonography, mammography, and bone densitometry.
Step 4: Become Licensed
Sonographers don’t necessarily have to be licensed before they can practice. New Mexico, Oregon, New Hampshire, and North Dakota are the only states that mandate licensure.
To become a licensed sonographer, you must meet a few requirements, including possessing certification, passing a background check, and undergoing an interview session.
While general sonography includes knowledge of numerous fundamentals in the field, most sonographers will specialize in a subcategory of diagnostic medical sonography.
Below are some of the most popular options in this regard:
- Abdominal Sonography
- Breast sonography
- Cardiac sonography
- Musculoskeletal sonography
- Fetal/pediatric sonography, and
- Vascular Technology
Qualities and Skills Requirements
Apart from the technical training, a sonographer will have a much better chance of success in the field if they possess some tangible and intangible skills such as:
- Communication: Sonographers will have to work hand in hand with doctors, physicians, and patients to ensure optimal results from the imaging process. For this reason, possessing sound communication skills is a must.
- Attention to Details - A sonographer must have a keen eye for detail. They must be able to follow instructions as precisely as possible.
- Hand-Eye Coordination: Getting a quality result from the ultrasound involves a lot of hand movements, which must be coordinated with what the sonographer sees on the screen. This is why all sonographers are required to cultivate good hand-eye coordination skills.
- Physical Stamina - Diagnostic medical sonographers often find themselves doing a lot of tasks that require a great deal of physicality, such as standing for a long time and moving ultrasound machines.