Ultrasound Technician Career Guide
Ultrasound technicians, also known as a diagnostic medical sonographer, have a very satisfying career that allows them to provide vital support in helping to diagnose the medical conditions of patients. They are also involved in one of the most exciting moments in the pregnancy of an expecting mother. There aren’t too many professions that make this type of positive impact on a patient’s life. All of this is made possible with the skillful use of the medical technology that we call ultrasound. If you are interested in a career as an ultrasound tech, the following information will provide great details on ultrasound technician schools, programs, jobs, ultrasound technician salary and general information on how to become an ultrasound tech.
So how do ultrasounds work? Basically, an ultrasound uses sound waves and produces images of a patient’s internal organs and body parts. They can also be used to view a developing fetus inside the womb. The procedure is completely non-invasive, and is one of the safest diagnostic imaging tools available as it uses no forms or radiation or injection of any dyes. Ultrasounds are so safe they can be used for pregnant women and children.
Thanks to the importance of their diagnostic work, ultrasound techs need a strong foundation of knowledge in anatomy and in physiology to go along with the mastery of ultrasound technology. In order to perform an ultrasound properly, it requires that the operator is skilled and able to position a patient correctly and record images accurately, while being able to identify any abnormalities. Ultrasound exams also require that medical histories of the patients are taken into account.
During an ultrasound examination, technicians perform a number of vital duties. They will include but are not limited to the following functions:
- Position the patient
- Capture and select images
- Take all necessary measurements
- Make the proper calculations
- Evaluate preliminary examination results
All of these duties will help doctors in diagnosing their patients correctly so that the proper treatments can be administered.
Ultrasound techs usually can be found working in hospitals, working at a stationary diagnostics location or performing ultrasounds at the bedsides of patients who are not able to be transported. There are also some ultrasound technicians that work in private physician’s offices or outpatient centers and clinics. Employers will usually hire technicians to work on a full-time basis of 40 hours per week. However, it is still possible to work just part-time or on more flexible hours.
There are even some diagnostic medical sonographers that work while traveling across the country or even abroad. These “traveling techs” has the freedom to change job locales if they don’t like a particular area. Other techs find work as mobile sonographers, using mobile ultrasound machines in vans for those who cannot travel to a hospital or clinic to get the exams done. This type of sonography was common for wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
As a diagnostic medical sonographer, you will be working on your feet, a plus for those who do not wish to be stuck behind a desk for work. One of the risks that techs face is the risk of muscle strains, as some patients may be required to be repositioned or transferred while the ultrasound is being performed. This does require a bit of upper body strength as well. There is also the risk of exposure to infectious agents along with other types of health risks.
Ultrasound Technician Requirements
Education and Ultrasound Technician Schools
For those wondering how to become an ultrasound tech, you will need to obtain an Associate’s Degree or complete one of the ultrasound technician programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or the CAAHEP. There are plenty of Ultrasound tech schools that offer programs. You can also get the proper ultrasound technician training at hospitals, universities, vocational schools, community colleges and even the Armed Forces. Those interested in pursuing this career path are encouraged to take course work heavy in science, math and computers. Ultrasounds are performed using computer-based technology, so getting familiar with computers and computer programs is a must.
There are also 1 year sonography programs available that provide vocational certification for professionals who are already working in an allied health field. For those interested in online ultrasound technologist programs, they are available but be sure to verify that they are accredited by the ARRT (American Registry in Radiologic Technologists). Any online programs should also provide some sort of clinical training in the form of internships as well.
Ultrasound Technician Training
Training programs for technicians require students to learn and practice performing ultrasounds through clinical internships in a healthcare setting. There are also conferences and opportunities for continuing education through on-the-job training.
Licensure and Certification
Those that are professionally certified will be much more likely to be hired by employers. Graduates of ultrasound technologist programs are eligible for certification through exams offered by the ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists) and the ARDMS (American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography). Any technicians looking to pursue a form of specialization will need to pass the certification exams, and the examinations vary according to the specialty.
Ultrasound technologists must make use of good verbal and communication skills to go along with manual dexterity and be able to meet the physical demands of the job. Techs must also be able to select the best images in order to assist physicians, making use of critical thinking abilities.
There are a number of opportunities for advancement as an ultrasound technologist. The following fields are just a few of the areas you can specialize in:
- Breast ultrasound
- Cardiac ultrasound
- Vascular ultrasound
- Gynecology and obstetrics ultrasound
Technologists can also find advancement through supervisory roles which include the following:
- Senior technologist
- Assistant chief technologist
- Chief technologist
- Program director
You can even opt to become an educator and help in training the next wave of technologists if you acquire a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
The job outlook for ultrasound technologists looks very promising. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, it is estimated that ultrasound technician jobs will grow by about 44% from 2010 to 2020. This is much higher than the average for other professions. Ultrasound is used as a diagnostic imaging tool by many different fields of medicine, providing plenty of job opportunities. Demand will surely increase as ultrasound provides a cost-effective and non-invasive from of diagnosing patients.
Ultrasound tech jobs can be very rewarding, but the work is not easy. You will likely find yourself spending a lot of your workdays walking and working with new patients on a constant basis. Your job duties can include the following:
- Keeping equipment clean, accurate and ready for use.
- Choose the best settings and position for the equipment for the best possible results.
- Moving of the patient for the best imaging.
- Communicate with the patient, explain what they will be going through.
- Choose the best images for the physicians.
- Point out any interesting details of the images to physicians.
- Be up to date on the latest technology, methods and news.
- Make sure your certifications are up to date.
- Maintain proper records of patient information.
Ultrasound Technician Salary
So how much does an ultrasound tech make? Well, as a technician you can expect a good salary with the potential to earn more. With a higher level of experience, training and skills, you can earn a comfortable living as a healthcare professional.
The average ultrasound tech salary can reach to about $65,400 per year. Salary can range depending on the state you live in, experience level and of course the economy. The starting salary for most technicians with less than a year of experience starts at about $39,340. Those who have a up to four years of experience can expect a salary of about $46,462.
Technicians who are more experience, those with over 10 years of experience, can command a salary of up to $67,600. Salaries also differ a great deal according to the state you work in. Below are the 6 highest paying states for technicians in descending order.
- California – $88,000
- Washington DC – $85,000
- Oregon – $84,000
- Washington – $83,000
- Connecticut – $82,000
- Massachusetts – $82,000
Generally, techs that earn the highest salaries are those that work in hospital settings where the mean average is $63,770. Sonographers that are employed by physicians who run private practices have an average salary of about $63,820. The lowers salaries are earned by those working for labs or diagnostic clinics, with an average income of $61,820 per year.
You can expect to earn a higher salary working for companies that have a partnership or affiliation with employment firms, with an annual salary of $68,000 and up. Those working in management for diagnostic center or companies can expect to earn a bit less at $67,890 per year. Lastly, academic institutions come in at third, paying about $66,250 per year.
If you would like the highest earning potential, taking on some sort of administrative or supervisory roles will be necessary. Otherwise, you can complete some advanced specializations to increase your salary.