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Sonography: State of the Field

Diagnostic medical sonographers help to answer life-changing medical questions with the help of ultrasound technology. This is a non-invasive, radiation-free imaging technology that uses sound waves instead of X-rays, which means they are completely safe. That is why the technology is often used on pregnant women.

While the technology is mostly associated with pregnancy, it can be used on men, and women who are not pregnant, to produce images of inside the body to help diagnose various medical conditions. In addition to being safe and noninvasive, ultrasound technology is also highly accurate and widely available. It is also more affordable than other imaging technologies with the same functionalists, which means there is a high demand for sonographers.

To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by Adventist University’s Diagnostic Medical Sonography Bachelors program.

Diagnostic medical sonography

The Sonography Career at a Glance

According to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Job Rankings, diagnostic medical sonography was ranked No. 5 in the best health care support jobs. The ranking was based on salary, future growth in the industry and the job market. In the year 2015, the median pay for sonographers was $68,970 per year. In 2014, there were a total of 112,700 related jobs in the United States. The unemployment rate of sonographers is only 1.9% compared to the national unemployment rate of 4.9%. From 2014 to 2024, sonography jobs are expected to increase by 26% compared to the 7% average growth rate for all other occupations. Currently, there are 61,250 employed sonographers in the United States. It is important to note that sonographers can be employed in a number of places, including; hospitals, private medical practices and clinics.

Becoming a Sonographer

There are a total of 213 sonography degree programs in the U.S. that have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Educational Programs (CAAHEP). If you would like to become a sonographer, the first thing you need to do is find an accredited program and get your sonography degree. You can enroll into a 4-year bachelors degree program, 2-year associate degree or 1-year certificate program. During these programs, you can expect to study anatomy, instrumentation and physiology among other medical courses. Clinical rotations are also part of the coursework as it can give you hands-on experience in the field.

Licensing and Certification

Before a sonographer can work in any clinical setting, they must have certification. This is usually the only requirement in most states. However, there are some states that require sonographers to have a license. These states include; Oregon, North Dakota, New Mexico and New Hampshire.

The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography normally certifies qualified candidates. Students are typically required to sit and pass a standardized exam that tests their clinical skills and knowledge. The test is administered by ARDMS.

Primary Sonography Specializations

Breast Sonographers

These are sonography professionals who have specialized in imaging the patient’s breast tissue to identify presence of tumors and cysts detected by a physician, patient or mammogram.

Abdominal Sonographers

These sonographers, as the name suggests, specialize in imaging the abdominal cavity of the patient including; the kidney, pancreas, gallbladder, liver and spleen for diagnostic purposes.

Obstetric & Gynecologic Sonographers

These sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system and tracking a baby’s growth and health during pregnancy. These sonographers can also help physicians in detecting congenital birth defects.

Pediatric Sonographers

They specialize in imaging child and infant patients to identify or monitor medical conditions associated with premature birth and birth defects as well as tumors and other abnormalities specific to childhood.

Additional Sonography Specializations

Registered Vascular Technologists (RVTs)

RVTs are sonography professionals who specialize in imaging blood vessels, checking blood pressure, identifying blocked arteries and blood clots. RVTs help in the diagnosis of neurological disorders and cardiovascular diseases as well as treatment and prevention of stroke. They also diagnose complications related to diabetes.

Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographers (RDCSs)

These are sonographers who specialize in imaging a patient’s heart, valves, heart chambers and vessels while the patient is either relaxing or immediately after physical activity. The images can be used to diagnose cardiac medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure or a heart attack. Sonographers can become certified in cardiac sonography or vascular sonography by CCI (Cadiovascular Credentialing International). The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offers some credentialing options specific to sonography.

Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS)

This sonographer specializes in imaging muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints to diagnose injury or presence of tumors and cysts. They may assist physicians in giving injections into joints during surgical procedures.

Characteristics of Successful Sonographers

A sonographer needs to have compassion and strong interpersonal skills. They should be able to explain the procedure to patients while providing compassion and empathy to those they are treating. Sonographers need to have technical skills as well as hand-eye coordination. This is because ultrasound requires precision, accuracy and a high level of technical ability to achieve the best images possible. The most successful sonographers are constant learners. They know that ultrasound technology is always changing, so they have become avid students, willing to stay ahead of the ever-changing field through continuing education and training.

A successful sonographer is detail-oriented. This is because medical conditions can appear as tiny abnormalities in the ultrasound. Great sonographers have knowledge of anatomy and pathology and pay attention to every detail. Sonographers need to have physical strength. This is because they will be responsible for moving ultrasound equipment as well as helping patients position themselves. The best sonographers have the strength and stamina to stand on their feet for long periods while they carry out their duties.

For a sonographer to be successful, they need to have mental strength. This is because they deal with dire health conditions on a daily basis as they image patients. In that regard, sonographers need to display emotional stability, maturity and judgement when dealing with patients. Through daily interactions, they must learn to deal with stress without letting it impact their lives.

Every year medical innovations are changing the way sonographers conduct their work. As technology continuously evolves, it is important for sonographers to prepare for new patient care responsibilities as they implement the technology advancements that will make diagnosing medical conditions easier.

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