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Ultrasound Technician

By an allied health world contributing writer

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Ultrasound technicians, who are now more commonly referred to as Sonographers, play a very interesting role in the field of medical imaging. These individuals may work with high-tech equipment that uses high frequency sound waves to view various body parts. Ultrasonography (also referred to as ultrasounds or sonograms) creates internal images of various body parts to help a physician in providing a diagnosis.

Most people hear the terms “sonogram” or “ultrasound” and immediately picture a pregnant woman lying on a table and the sonographer scanning her belly with the wand to see images of the developing fetus. However, there are many specializationsUltrasound Technician aside from the field of obstetrics. In fact, an ultrasound may be used to obtain an image of almost any body part, aside from the intestines (an X-ray is required for that kind of testing). For instance, the abdomen can be scanned if a doctor is looking for potential gallstones. The carotid arteries can also be scanned to look for plaque, or the leg veins to look for a clot. An ultrasound technician can also scan in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at a hospital where they image premature infants.

Clarifying the titles and terms used in this profession

While many people still refer to these professionals as “Ultrasound Techs”, “Ultrasound Technicians”, or “Ultrasound Technologists”, there has definitely been a push over the past ten years to use the more formal title of “Sonographer”. The terms are interchangeable; although “sonographer” is the more respected term that typically professionals in this field prefer. The formal title for a person certified to practice in this field is Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (commonly referred to as RDMS). The actual scan or image these an ultrasound technician obtains can be referred to as either an “ultrasound” or a “sonogram”.

Types of Sonograms

Half the challenge in the field of sonography is adapting the various techniques to the individual patient. A physician can order one of a variety of kinds of images based on the specific reason for the sonogram. If a patient sees their doctor and has symptoms or lab tests that are abnormal, the doctor may order an ultrasound, MRI, CT Scan, or X-Ray. Of course just the ultrasound would fall within the sonographer's realm. It is the sonographer’s job to conduct the requested test and gather evidence to support or dismiss the ordering physician’s hypothesis as to what problem exists.

The main types of ultrasounds are: abdomen, pelvic, thyroid, testes, hernia, appendix, neonatal brain, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), carotid arteries, and biopsy (of thyroid nodule, liver, kidney). Sonographers also perform musculoskeletal ultrasounds which involve scans such as the rotator cuff in the shoulder, soft tissue masses of the body, ruptured tendons in the hand, and ganglion cysts in the wrist. Another less common type of ultrasound is a hysterosonogram (HSG) where water is injected into the uterus through the cervix to observe the uterine lining. The sonographer will focus on various areas while obtaining the ultrasound image depending on a patient’s complaints or what the doctor speculates the problem to be. For instance, if a patient complains of right upper quadrant pain with a few additional symptoms, the doctor will likely order an abdominal ultrasound. In this situation, the sonographer scans the entire abdomen but focuses on the gallbladder. Another example is if someone has elevated liver function lab tests, the sonographer focuses the ultrasound on the abdomen and liver with special vascular images.

The radiologist is the type of doctor who interprets the findings of a sonographer. Most of the time sonographers verbally express their findings to the doctor, and the doctor follows up with additional questions or requests further imaging based on their hypothesis of patient diagnosis and preliminary image findings.

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