By Jennifer Willias, allied health world contributing writer
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What is neurosonography used for?
Neurosonography is a subspecialty of diagnostic sonography that focuses on taking ultrasound images of both the brain and the central nervous system. The brain is by far the most complex human organ; it is also the least understood. The brain is made up of the parietal lobe, frontal lobe, occipital lobe, temporal lobe, and cerebellum, and divided into 2 hemispheres. Because medical understanding of the brain is still limited, it is imperative that neurosonographers retain a great interest in contributing to the understanding of the human brain and its components.
Some disorders of the brain that can be identified and further analyzed with neurosonography include:
- Brain trauma
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Brain tumor and cancer
The central nervous system incorporates the brain, but it also includes the vertebral column and the spinal cord. The spinal column includes the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacrum, and coccyx. Although there is more that is understood about the spinal column, the central nervous system remains one of the most difficult systems to treat. Neurosonographers aim to improve treatment and recovery options for patients affected with disorders of the central nervous system.
Disorders of the spine and central nervous system that can be recognized by neurosonography include:
- Disc herniations
- Vertebral compression
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinal stenosis
The goal of neurosonography is to accurately detect or prevent conditions related to the brain and central nervous system. In cases of trauma, there may be no time for prevention, but neurosonography can be used to determine the extent of the damage and what the outlook of recovery will be for the patient. In other cases, as with aneurysms and stroke, early detection with neurosonography may very well save the patient’s life.
Are there any specialties of neurosonography?
Yes. Perhaps the most common subspecialty is neonatal neurosonography, which works directly with neonates to check for developmental abnormalities and birth defects. When a baby is born with encephalitis, neurosonography becomes the key method to determining the extent of the disease and what methods, if any, might be able to reduce the collection of fluid around the brain. Particularly when babies are born prematurely, are of low birth weight, or are severely malnourished, neurosonographers step in to determine whether or not the development of the brain and central nervous system has been affected.
Some disorders that neonatal neurosonography can identify include:
- Spina bifida
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
How effective is neurosonography?
The first step to diagnosing conditions of the brain and central nervous system is often CT or MRI scanning. However, those imaging techniques can only get a split-second snapshot of what is occurring. For example, a brain tumor may be observed on an MRI scan, but a neurosonographer can use real-time ultrasound technology to determine the exact location of the tumor, how invasive it is, and whether or not surgical removal would be an option.
What are the job duties of a neurosonographer?
Neurosonographers are responsible for taking thorough, accurate images that can be used for diagnosis and assessment of health conditions originating in the brain or central nervous system. A neurosonographer must be extremely knowledgeable about the anatomy of the brain and central nervous system, adequately trained to identify abnormalities within these structures, and dedicated to improving the understanding of these complex anatomical structures.
The job duties of a diagnostic neurosonographer include:
- Explain procedures to patients
- Record patient medical history
- Interact with patients by explaining anatomical structures seen on the monitor
- Maintain and operate ultrasound equipment
- Exact accurate images of the appropriate area of the body
- Communicate abnormal findings with physicians
What is the job outlook for neurosonographers?
Neurosonographers can expect promising careers in the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to increase in demand by at least 18% over the next 8 years.
Keep in mind that neurosonographers are also capable of working in subspecialties of neurosonography, such as trauma, pediatrics, or neonatology. There really are incredible opportunities in any of these fields. As the median age in our country continues to rise, there will be a greater need for neurosonographers dealing with age-related neurological health conditions. Likewise, as the birth rate also continues to rise, there will be a significant demand for pediatric and neonatology neurosonographers.
Where can neurosonographers find employment?
As a neurosonographer, you can find employment in any medical setting that practices diagnostic ultrasound technology. However, general and surgical hospitals are still the main employers of neurosonographers. Many smaller facilities do not have the capacity to retain specialty sonographers, and thus, their patients are directed to hospitals for these types of diagnostics. Yet, as the need for neurosonographers begins to increase, other types of medical facilities are beginning to include this diagnostic specialty within the scope of their practice. Other avenues for employment include physician’s offices, internal medicine facilities, diagnostic laboratories, and outpatient care centers.
What type of education is needed to become a neurosonographer?
Your educational options include the certificate program, the associate degree, and the bachelor degree. Certificate programs are generally between 12 and 18 months in length, and they terminate with a vocational certificate in diagnostic neuro sonography. While this program is ideally suited to individuals that already have some medical background and want to expand their career prospects, it is also the most expedient way to obtain an education in neuro sonography.
The associate degree is a 2-year program, which is by far the most popular option among neurosonography students. The final option is the bachelor degree, which is a 4-year degree program. This option is not typically used for entry-level neurosonography employment, but rather it is more appropriate for neurosonographers that are experienced and want to advance into supervisory or managerial roles.
What about educational accreditation?
Whichever degree option you choose to pursue, there is one thing that you need to keep in mind: accreditation. It is essential that you are aware of the importance of accreditation. Neurosonography employers will be looking at where you obtained your education and whether or not the institution is nationally accredited. There are several acceptable accreditation organizations, including the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT).
What types of courses will I take?
Neurosonographers need have extensive knowledge about the brain and central nervous system, and they must be open to change as new discoveries about these systems are realized. Not only must professionals in this field understand complex anatomical structure, but they must also understand how affected areas of these structures can project related symptoms.
Some of the courses included in diagnostic neurosonography programs:
- Anatomy and Physiology: Organs and Systems
- Ultrasound Instrumentation and Physics Principles
- Introduction to Ultrasound Scanning
- Neuro Scanning
- Medical Terminology
- Hemodynamic Principles
What about internship training?
Most all schools that offer diagnostic neurosonography programs include an intern-based training program. Through interactive and hands-on training with ultrasound equipment, this practicum prepares students for their futures as neurosonographers. In general, transitional training programs usually last between 4 and 6 weeks, and they are done on an intern-basis. Not all schools require this type of training, but one of the key advantages is that it makes you more marketable to potential employers.
Will I need a license to practice?
No. Currently, there are no states that require neurosonographers to be licensed. However, when state laws do not mandate licensure, it becomes even more essential to seek other avenues of professional validation, such as national certification.
What do I need to know about certification?
Most all employers, whether they are hospitals or local physician’s offices, will be looking for neurosonographers that have been certified. Certification is regulated by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), and the credential awarded is the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). As a neurosonography student, you will be taking the NE (Neurosonology) RDMS credentialing examination.
In order to obtain this credential, you must take both the NE RDMS credentialing exam and the SPI (Sonography Principles and Instrumentation) examination. The NE RDMS exam generally takes about 3 hours to complete, the SPI examination about 2 hours. The scoring scale ranges between 300 points and 700 points, with a minimum score of 555 being required to pass. There is a $200 fee to take these tests.
To keep your NE RDMS credential current and valid, you must pay the $60 annual fee each year, and you must also retain at least 30 credits of continuing medical education every 3 years.
How much can I expect to make as a neurosonographer?
How much money you will earn as a diagnostic neurosonographer depends on several factors, namely experience, facility type, credentialing status, and geographic location. Neurosonographers with many years of professional experience will be among the highest earners in this field. According to the BLS, the highest 10 percent in this field earn between $52,000 and $73,000. Because you are just beginning, however, it is important to remember that your starting salary will be an entry-level salary. As you gain more experience, your salary will undoubtedly increase year by year.
In 2008, the average salary nationwide for neurosonographers was around $61,980, with the lowest income wages being less than $43,000 annually. Although general and surgical hospitals remain the major employers of neurosonographers, interestingly, they pay less than general physician’s offices by about $1,000 to $2,000 per year.
Geographic location also has a large impact on annual salary figures. In California, the average salary for neurosonographers is $64,000. Reaching west to New York, the average salary is around $75,000. You can see how geographic location changes from state to state.
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