Abdominal Sonography - A closer look at the ultrasound subfield that focuses on the abdomen.

What is abdominal ultrasound used for?

Abdominal sonography is utilized to capture images of the abdominal components, including the spleen, kidneys, gallbladder, pancreas, liver, and abdominal aorta. Doppler ultrasound, which analyzes blood flow through veins and arteries, is commonly used in conjunction with abdominal sonography. In some cases, abdominal sonography may also be used during guided biopsies and laparoscopic evaluations to increase visualization of internal structures.

Abdominal sonography has many uses including early detection for disease prevention. Because abdominal sonography has a wide range of medical uses, it is imperative that professionals in this field be comprehensively trained and educated to understand the intricate anatomy of the abdomen and how the different uses of abdominal ultrasound technology can benefits the overall health of patients.  

Medical conditions that can be diagnosed with abdominal sonography include:

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Acute and chronic kidney failure
  • Inflammation of abdominal organs

Abdominal sonography can also be used for early detection, as with cases of abdominal cancer, kidney failure, and abdominal aortic aneurysm. Because detecting these conditions before they are given a chance to progress can save lives, abdominal sonographers play a crucial role in patient care and safety. The rupture of an abdominal aortic clot can cause instantaneous death, so recognizing and treating it proactively is one way that abdominal sonography increases longevity in patients.

Is abdominal ultrasound safe?

Yes. Abdominal ultrasound is probably one of the least invasive, safest methods of examining internal organs. MRI and CT scanning techniques use radiation to secure internal images. However, abdominal sonography uses the echoing of sound waves to capture images. Without the use of radiation, this makes abdominal sonography one of the safest techniques for viewing the internal contents of the abdomen.

Are there any specialties within abdominal sonography?

Although abdominal sonographers are typically qualified to practice abdominal ultrasound in any setting, there are some professionals that prefer to specialize within neonatology, the study of newborns. The reason that this is considered a specialty area is because the anatomical structures of a newborn are vastly different in size and function than that of a grown person. Abdominal sonographers specializing in neonatology must be trained to understand the normal abdominal characteristics of newborn verus a newborn with abdominal malformations or birth defects.

Abdominal abnormalities that neonatal abdominal sonography can identify include:

  • Abdominal wall defect
  • Gastroschisis
  • Omphalocele
  • Abnormally positioned organs
  • Intestinal malrotation

What are the job duties of an abdominal ultrasound technician?

Abdominal ultrasound technicians capture accurate and precise images of the internal abdominal structures. Not only must they be able to clearly identify abnormalities, blockages, and defects of these organs, but they must also be able to use ultrasound equipment effectively and advantageously. Abdominal sonographers are generally the first professionals to encounter the patient, so they should also be personable and genuinely concerned with improving the quality of life for their patients.

The typical job duties of an abdominal sonographer include:

  • Ensure that patients understand ultrasound procedures
  • Record and enter patient health information into associated computer systems
  • Appropriately position patients for optimal imaging
  • Interactively involve patients in their care
  • Effectively use abdominal ultrasound equipment to retain clear, concise images
  • Alert physicians to abnormal findings

What does the job market look like for abdominal ultrasound technicians?

As the need for medical care in this country increases, the need for abdominal sonographers also increases. In fact, it is estimated that the need for diagnostic medical sonographers will grow by at least 18% between 2008 and 2018, which means that job prospects should remain stable for abdominal sonographers.

Remember that abdominal sonographers can also choose to work in specialty areas, such as with premature newborns and assisting with laparoscopic surgeries or guided biopsies. There are many facets of medical care that use abdominal ultrasound technology, so you are not limited to just one specific area of sonography.

Where can I find employment as an abdominal ultrasound technician?

Abdominal sonographers can find employment in any healthcare environment that uses ultrasound technology. Hospitals are generally the largest employers of abdominal sonographers, and these facilities tend to encounter acute cases, such as the surgical removal of abdominal cancer or the abdominal organs, gallstones, ruptures of the abdominal aorta, and traumatic abdominal injuries. Smaller physician’s offices and medical clinics, however, are beginning to incorporate abdominal sonography into their practices as a means of early detection and prevention.   

What type of education will I need to become an abdominal ultrasound technician?

The type of education you choose to pursue will depend on what you plan to do with your career. You do, however, have 3 educational options: the certificate program, the associate degree, and the bachelor degree. Each of these options has its own specific benefits, so you need to how each educational option can prepare you for a career in abdominal sonography.

Certificate programs are 1-year programs that are well-suited to abdominal sonographers that already have some form of medical training, such as in medical billing or coding. This option will allow you to expand on your medical knowledge, but it will specifically teach you about abdominal structures, diseases, and abnormalities, and how abdominal ultrasound can be used to prevent and diagnose conditions related to the abdomen.

The most popular option for abdominal sonography students is the 2-year associate degree. This degree program provides a comprehensive knowledge base of anatomy, physiology, and the interrelation of anatomical structures. It is by far the best option for professionals trying to break into the field of abdominal sonography.

Once you have gained some experience working with abdominal ultrasound technology, you might consider the bachelor degree option. This option is great for expanding your knowledge base and advancing to become a manager of the abdominal sonography department.

What about accreditation?

You should always be sure that the college or university you attend is accredited. Accreditation signals to employers that the education you have received meets national standards, and thus, validates your education as an abdominal ultrasound technician Some of the largest accrediting agencies for schools that offer abdominal ultrasound programs include Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

What types of courses will I take to become an abdominal ultrasound technician?

Abdominal sonographers take courses in human anatomy and physiology, with an emphasis on abdominal structure and function. Because all human systems are interrelated, a comprehensive understanding of all anatomical structures is paramount. Students can also count on learning the components of ultrasound technology and how it is used to diagnose health conditions of the abdomen.

Classes that you will be taking include:

  • Abdominal Scanning I, II, and III
  • Ultrasound Concepts and Physics
  • Sonographic Patterns of Abdominal Organs
  • Technical Impressions
  • Cross-Sectional Anatomy
  • Medical Law and Ethics
  • Special Procedures and Patient Safety

What about internship training to become an abdominal ultrasound technician?

Internship training is generally required prior to graduation from a degree program. The number of contact hours required during this training application varies between schools, but most schools expect at least 800 hours of clinical training in abdominal sonography. Keep in mind that this type of hands-on training is not required by all schools, but many abdominal sonographers are able to secure employment at their place of training, so it is in your best interest to participate in this program.

Is state licensure required for abdominal ultrasound technicians?

No. As of this moment, there are no states that require licensure of diagnostic abdominal sonographers. This means that you must find other ways to validate yourself as a professional. National certification is one such standard that can help you to be recognized as a competent, qualified abdominal sonographer.

What type of certification should I have to become an abdominal ultrasound technician?

Abdominal sonographers that are certified will likely be considered for employment above those that are not, so it is important to the future of your career to pursue certification. The national certifying agency for abdominal sonographers is the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), which offers the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential. In order to obtain this credential, you will need to take and pass the AB (Abdomen) RDMS examination. You are also required to complete the SPI (Sonography Principles and Instrumentation) examination, which measures your ability to operate and capture images using ultrasound technology.

In general, these tests are scored on a scale of 300 to 700 points, where a minimum score of 555 is needed for certification. Both the AB RDMS and SPI examinations should take a total of 5 hours to complete. A $200 fee is assessed each time you take these tests.

What about continuing education for abdominal ultrasound technicians?

As an abdominal ultrasound technician, you must understand that changes in medical technology and new medical discoveries lead to improved patient care. Because the medical community is always hard at work to identify methods in which patient care can be improved, abdominal sonographers must maintain continuing education to keep abreast of these changes. The ARDMS requires a $60 annual fee, and also that you complete a minimum of 30 continuing education credits during every 3-year renewal period.

How much will I earn as an abdominal ultrasound technician?

There are several factors that are used to determine how much you will earn annually, including experience, location, and facility type. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for abdominal sonographers in 2008 was $61,980. As a newbie to this field, you can expect your starting salary to be around $40,000 to $43,000, again depending where you live and what type of facility you work in. The key to increasing your earning potential is to gain experience and enhance your capabilities.

It is worth mentioning that geographical location will probably have the largest impact on your income. As an example, the average salary for abdominal sonographers in Ohio is around $59,000 per year, whereas in Florida, abdominal sonographers can expect to earn about $67,000 each year.

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