How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

Ultrasound technicians -- also called diagnostic medical sonographers -- capture the body images that help doctors diagnose and treat certain medical conditions. These professionals have long been a key part of hospitals' radiological teams, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports that as the uses and affordability of ultrasound technology expands, opportunities emerge in a variety of new settings, like private physicians' offices and outpatient care centers. Of course employers of all types prefer to hire ultrasound technicians that know their stuff, and that usually means formal career training. The following offers a snapshot of what it takes to become an ultrasound technician -- and what to expect once you do.

Program requirements and prerequisites

The first step toward becoming a sonographer is enrolling in an ultrasound technician career training program. Ultrasound technician certificate and degree programs can vary tremendously in both length and scope, so program requirements and prerequisites tend to vary, too. For instance, the one-year to 18-month ultrasound technician certificate programs offer an expedited entry into the field, but according to the BLS, usually only admit candidates with professional experience working in a related field, like radiation therapy.

Associate and bachelor's degree programs can be a better fit for those with no health care experience, but usually still require applicants to meet certain admissions criteria. These may include the following requirements:

  • High diploma or equivalency
  • Minimum GPA (such as 2.5)
  • Minimum standardized test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.)
  • Successful completion of certain health and math courses

Students applying to ultrasound technician degree programs may be required submit certain documents as part of the admissions process. Among them: a complete application; college and high school transcripts; letters of recommendation; personal and academic references; and, at times, an essay. You can contact specific schools or research them online to learn more about application and program requirements.

Necessary skills and qualifications

We have already discussed how important it is for ultrasound technicians to complete certificate and degree programs. This formal training can provide future ultrasound technicians with the technical training they need to enter the field, but there are other qualities that may also help them succeed in the field. According to The College Board, ideal candidates are compassionate, physically strong and analytical. They must also exhibit strong attention to detail. The BLS emphasizes that ultrasound technicians must also have keen hand-eye coordination and be able to spend long shifts on their feet. Solid interpersonal skills are another major plus since techs word directly with patients, some of whom may be nervous or fearful.

It is important to know that some states require ultrasound technicians to be certified to practice. These professional certifications are typically granted through organizations like the the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, and may focus on certain specialties such as abdominal and obstetric sonography. Candidates must usually meet minimum education and clinical experience requirements and pass an exam to become certified. The ARDMS offers updated information about which states require techs to be certified, and what that process entails.

Working environment

Ultrasound technicians can work in a variety of settings, like hospitals, physician's offices, and medical and diagnostic laboratories. They often work in teams comprised of physicians, radiologists and fellow technicians. According to the BLS, techs tend to work in dimly lit rooms, and may be on their feet for long periods of time. In addition to using and at times transporting sometimes heavy equipment, ultrasound technicians often have to physically maneuver and reposition patients' bodies. Because health care is a round-the-clock field, it is not uncommon for ultrasound technicians to work evenings, weekends and even holidays.

Ultrasound technology is a rapidly growing field. In fact, the the BLS projects that demand for these professionals will grow by 46 percent between 2012 and 2022 -- much faster than the average for all occupations nationally. An aging baby boomer population and federal health care legislation expanding insurance coverage for diagnostic imaging procedures may contribute to much of this growth. Meanwhile, technological advances in the field push the limits of what ultrasound technicians can do, so more physicians than ever before are ordering sonograms in lieu of more expensive and invasive procedures. This could generate new career opportunities in physicians' offices, outpatient care centers, and diagnostic laboratories, though hospitals should continue to employ the largest share of ultrasound technicians.

Sources:

American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, 2014, http://www.ardms.org/

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm

Diagnostic Medical Sonography, The College Board, bigfuture, 2014, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-allied-health-diagnosis-intervention-treatment-diagnostic-medical-sonography

Sonography Certification, The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, 2014, https://www.arrt.org/Certification/Sonography

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