Your Guide to a Career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
As a diagnostic medical sonographer, each day brings new surprises. You might start your morning in the OB/GYN department guiding a nervous young woman through her first ultrasound scan. Your next patient could be an elderly gentleman who’s waiting to see if his cancer is in remission.
It’s a fast-paced day, but as a diagnostic sonographer (also called an ultrasound technician), you wouldn’t have it any other way!
What else does this career entail? We’re glad you asked!
What Is Diagnostic Medical Sonography?
Diagnostic medical sonography (DMS) is an allied health field that uses imaging equipment and sound waves are used to create images of organs, tissues, and even blood vessels inside the body. From verifying blood flow, looking for signs of cancer, and providing intricate images of tissue and internal organs, DMS technology is often considered an all-purpose tool.
Medical sonographers provide physicians with the right information in order to diagnose and/or treat many internal health issues.
Doctors investigate what’s happening internally to our bodies, but rely upon sonographers to provide the proof. The role of a diagnostic medical sonographer is critically important in helping doctors make accurate diagnoses.
Are Ultrasounds and Sonograms the Same?
The sonogram vs. ultrasound debate can be confusing, as the two are often used interchangeably. Ultrasounds are the high-pitched vibrations used to create a medical image. This medical image is called a sonogram.
At 20,000 Hz, these sounds aren’t audible to humans (although dogs can probably pick them up). Due to their high frequency, these waves have come to be known as “ultra-sounds.”
Ultrasound techs and diagnostic medical sonographers are essentially the same professions. Regardless of the job title, the job responsibilities and the required education is often the same.
A 5-Minutue History of Medical Sonography
Scientists have been working to understand sonography since the 1700s. The earliest studies revolved around the high-pitched frequencies bats use to locate prey. Scientists realized they could replicate this technology by harnessing the power of sound to find (or “see”) a particular object.
Physicist Paul Langévin – a contemporary and friend of Albert Einstein – developed tools that would allow deep underwater searches for objects like submarines. Sonar sound waves were directed through the ocean until they hit an object and bounced back, producing accurate coordinates.
The same technology was soon applied to medicine, with neurologist Karl Dussik using sonography to pinpoint the location of tumors inside a human skull. His work helped pave the way for doctors to test sonography’s potential in other medical fields like obstetrics and cardiology.
While these technologies are much the same, physicians use higher frequencies to create detailed internal images. The shorter travel distance allows us to produce much sharper and precise images.
DMS scanning technology continues to evolve today, expanding the 3D and 4D imaging field.
Career Prospects in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
As medical professionals shift away from invasive procedures and towards medical sonography, it’s clear that medical sonography career demand is growing According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for medical sonographers is projected to grow by 17% from 2016 to 2026.
In 2018, the median diagnostic medical sonographer salary was around $67,000 – that’s far greater than the average income for all Americans. Job security and income aren’t the only perks either: Recent studies show that a sonography career is one of the least stressful, scoring а 4.0 on a ten-point scale.
A Day in the Life as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Because ultrasounds are multi-purpose tools, medical sonographer job need to be good multi-taskers. As an ultrasound technologist in a busy hospital, you may find yourself helping people with a diverse array of medical challenges while serving a wider community.
Your job duties may include:
- Meeting with patients and explaining how the DMS scanning technology works
- Answering questions that patients may have
- Applying gel and conducting the ultrasound
- Coordinating with nurses and doctors to evaluate sonograms
Medical know-how is crucial in a sonography career, but it’s also important to be a strong communicator. Patients will be looking to you to make them feel safe and secure during ultrasound procedures.
Work schedules can vary depending on the type of place you are hired – the most popular choices include hospitals and imaging centers. Due to high demand, many ultrasound techs are hired on a full-time basis. At a smaller practice, a routine 9-5 might be available. If you’re working part-time, some locations might expect you to work weekends, nights, or holidays.
Popular Specializations for Ultrasound Techs
If you work in a specific area of medicine (e.g. cardiology, OBGYN) you may get to develop skills for that specific medical specialty.
Many medical sonographers recommend getting certifications in multiple areas to make yourself a more marketable job candidate. Popular specializations for ultrasound technicians include:
Related to the heart and surrounding structures, this technology often uses doppler sonography to measure blood flow. Given the prevalence of heart disease, cardiac sonographers play an increasingly important role in the medical field.
Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Specializes in monitoring the health of a fetus and its mother, as well as detecting potential abnormalities of female reproductive organs.
Deals with joints, tendons, and ligaments. This is a growing specialization, especially in the sports medicine world.
Sonographers can help perform routine check-ups and detect the presence of breast cancer.
Abdomen and Small Parts
Sonographers in this specialty can help diagnose conditions that affect the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, and bladder.
How to Become a Medical Sonographer
Whether you have been working in healthcare for years – or are completely new to the field – nearly anyone can pursue training in diagnostic medical sonography. If this career seems like a great fit, how do you get there?
You can complete diagnostic medical sonography certificate program that takes slightly longer than 2 years. Otherwise, you can enter a 2-year associate or a 4-year bachelor’s degree program. Whichever you choose, it’s important to choose a DMS program that meets your schedule needs and career goals.
Medical sonography certificate and degree programs have their share of similarities and differences. Ultimately, only you can decide which path is best for you.
- Take about two years to complete
- Include exciting and fast-paced internships
- Offered through most vocational or training schools
- DMS certificate programs take less time than degrees
- Good fit for people balancing jobs or family commitments
- Can help fast-track your path to find a job
- Typically take longer than certificate programs
- Earn either an associate or bachelor degree in DMS
- Tends to provide higher salaries
- Cost of degree programs is higher
- Provides more practice and training for certification exams
- May give you the opportunity to study more specialties
Accredited Sonography Programs
If you want to get hired as a diagnostic medical sonographer, completing your education and obtaining your certification is an absolute must.
Certification for most sonographers is provided by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Certification testing through ARDMS includes the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) exam and a specialty exam.
Students who complete a CAAHEP-accredited DMS program are eligible to take the certification exams offered by ARDMS.