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Ultrasound Technician Degree Programs: What to Expect

The word "ultrasound" is synonymous with those images of wriggly babies featured in movies or shared by proud parents-to-be. Prenatal sonography is certainly an important part sonography, but the field is so much larger than that. Ultrasound technicians image virtually any part of the body, and may even specialize in areas like abdominal, musculoskeletal, and, yes, even obstetric sonography. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), technological advancements and a shifting health care landscape are pushing the boundaries of what ultrasound technicians can do -- and how much they are needed. As the industry evolves and grows, so do techs' career training options. Here is a snapshot of some of the most common sonography training paths.

Degree Programs

All ultrasound technicians need formal training, and according to the BLS, that usually means certificate or degree programs. While all ultrasound technician degree programs aim to train budding sonographers, they vary in length and scope. Which is right for you depends on a number of factors, like your career goals and work history. Here is a run-down of the most common types of ultrasound technician programs and what they entail.

  • Postsecondary certificates. Postsecondary certificates may take just one year to complete, but they are not for everyone. According to the BLS, these accelerated programs are usually only relevant for those who already work in a related field, like radiation therapy. Students without health care experience will likely need to enroll in a more extensive program.
  • Associate degrees. Associate degrees typically require at least two years of study, but some intensive, accelerated programs may require less time. Associate degrees tend to be more comprehensive that postsecondary certificate programs, so are a popular option for future sonographers -- especially those who have had no prior medical training.
  • Bachelor's degrees. Some ultrasound technician schools offer bachelor's degrees requiring at least three to four years of full-time study. As you might suspect, these degree programs tend to be much more comprehensive than certificate and associate degree programs.
  • Professional certifications. Not to be confused with postsecondary certificates, professional certifications are intended for practicing ultrasound technicians who have already completed one of the degree programs listed above. Some states require techs to become certified to practice; in other cases, certification is strictly voluntary. These programs allow candidates to specialize in a particular area of medicine, like obstetrical, musculoskeletal or breast sonography, while helping them them keep up with the latest trends and technologies impacting their field.

Training

Ultrasound technician degree programs may vary in length and scope, but all aim to teach future pros how to do their jobs effectively. That means that there tends to be some course overlap from one to the next. Math and science courses are common, as are several basic sonography and health care classes. The following are just a few of the courses ultrasound technicians may take, as reported by The College Board:

  • Human anatomy
  • Microbiology
  • Abdominal sonography
  • Obstetrical sonography
  • Medical terminology
  • Ultrasound physics
  • Physiology and pathophysiology
  • Vascular technology
  • Sonography clinical practicum
  • Medical ethics

The BLS reports that most sonography degree programs require students to complete laboratory and clinical hours, often through internships. These internships help students gain valuable, hands-on experience working with real patients under the direction of an experienced ultrasound technician. Students can usually complete internships in hospitals, physician's offices and imaging laboratories.

Career Outlook

To say that ultrasound technicians are in demand might be an understatement: The BLS projects that demand for diagnostic medical sonographers will grow by 46 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022 -- much faster than the average for all occupations. Evolving technology that allows practitioners to use ultrasound technology in lieu of more invasive or costly procedures, like MRIs, will help spur demand. A large baby-boom population -- with increasing medical needs -- is another key factor, as is federal health legislation that expands insurance coverage of diagnostic imaging procedures.

The BLS notes that though hospitals will continue to employ the largest share of ultrasound technicians, new opportunities should emerge in physician's offices, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and outpatient care centers. The BLS expects job opportunities to be especially strong for certified ultrasound technicians, and even stronger for those certified in more than one specialty. Students can contact professional organizations like the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists to learn more.

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.

Ultrasound Technician Certification

Ultrasound technician certification helps practicing sonographers specialize their training and keep up with the latest trends and technologies impacting their fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports that in some states, professional certifications are a voluntary way to advance your training and boost your employment prospects, but in other states, they are required. Read on to learn more about the details and benefits of ultrasound technician certification.

Educational requirements

There are a number of professional organizations that certify ultrasound technicians. These certification programs can vary in scope, and may focus on a particular career specialization, like abdominal, obstetric or musculoskeletal sonography. Requirements vary, but according to the BLS, programs usually require candidates to successfully complete ultrasound technician postsecondary certificate or degree programs and accrue a certain number of clinical hours before even applying for certification. They must also typically pass a national exam that may or may not include a clinical component.

Benefits of certification

In many cases, ultrasound technician certification is mandatory. According to the BLS, most employers prefer to hire professionally certified candidates, and many insurance providers require all covered procedures to be completed by certified sonographers. This is perhaps why the BLS notes that most ultrasound technicians have at least one certificate; others have several. Even when certification is strictly voluntary, however, it may offer tremendous benefits. Here are a few of them.

  • Employment opportunities. According to the BLS, demand for ultrasound technicians is expected to grow across the board between 2012 and 2022 -- and fast -- but job prospects should be especially strong for certified candidates. Ultrasound technicians certified in more than one specialty stand to benefit even more from their training.
  • Cutting-edge skills. The BLS notes that ultrasound technology is more accessible and affordable than ever before, and is quickly replacing more costly or invasive procedures. As the technology expands, so does demand for technicians who know how to use it. Professional certification ensures professionals remain on the cutting edge of their field.
  • Specialization and expertise. With certification comes specialization -- the type of specialization that may help make you an expert in your career field. Ultrasound technicians who are certified in an area like abdominal ultrasound or neurosonography have more extensive training in these areas, so can often get better images (and make fewer mistakes). Technicians who are certified in multiple areas are especially valuable.

These are just a few of the benefits associated with professional certification. You can visit certifying organizations like the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists to learn more about your options. The ARDMS in particular offers updated information about which states require certification, and what that process entails.

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.

Neurosonography Schools

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:

  • Epilepsy
  • Meningitis
  • Stroke
  • Brain trauma
  • Aneurysm
  • 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
  • Paralysis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Myelitis

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
  • Encephalitis
  • 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. 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 May 2015, the average salary nationwide for neurosonographers was around $63,630 annually.

Geographic location also has a large impact on annual salary figures. In California, the average salary for neurosonographers is $71,230. Reaching west to New York, the average salary is around $68,980.

Obstetric and Gynecologic Sonography Schools

What is obstetric/gynecological sonography?

Although obstetrics and gynecology often go hand-in-hand, the types of ultrasounds performed for each specialty are different. Obstetric sonography often uses abdominal ultrasound scanning to collect information about an unborn fetus, such as estimated date of delivery, gestational size and weight, and gestational development. Doppler technology, which identifies fetal heart rate and blood flow through major arteries and veins, is commonly used with obstetric sonography to obtain a more complete picture of fetal development.

Obstetric ultrasounds are used to assess and identify complications and abnormalities with a fetus during pregnancy. Gynecological ultrasounds are used to examine the internal organs of the female reproductive system, including the vagina, uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

Gynecological sonography is typically done with pelvic ultrasound technology. In these cases, a transducer is inserted into the vagina so that the internal components of the female reproductive system can be visualized on screen. In some cases, however, transducer ultrasounds may also be used during the early phases of pregnancy when intrauterine bleeding is suspected. This gives a much closer look at what is occurring inside the womb and what the affects are on the fetus.

What conditions can obstetric/gynecological ultrasound identify?

With OB/GYN ultrasound technology, pregnancy has become a much safer medical condition, and early detection has been essential to identifying potential harm to an unborn fetus. Gynecological sonography has the same medical benefits, except that it focuses on protecting the lives of female patients through prevention and diagnosis.  

Obstetrical sonography can be used to:

  • Confirm or deny pregnancy
  • Determine the age of gestation (estimated due date)
  • Identify Down Syndrome
  • Determine development delays of the fetus
  • Determine the sex of the fetus
  • Identify ectopic pregnancy

Gynecological sonography can identify the following medical conditions:

  • Urethral prolapse
  • Endometriosis
  • Ovarian tumors
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Cervicitis
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Prolapsed uterus

The goals of both obstetric and gynecological sonography are to improve patient care and the outcome of pregnancy. Without OB/GYN sonography, there would be a higher death rate among newborns and many of the potentially life-threatening medical conditions of the female reproductive system would go unnoticed.

Is obstetric/gynecological ultrasound safe? How effective is it?

Obstetric sonography is the only way to obtain a clear picture of the overall condition of the fetus. Other medical technologies, such as MRI and CT scanning, use ionized radiation to obtain internal images, and it is simply not safe to expose an unborn fetus to such a high level of radiation.

Although Pap smears are typically performed annually, these procedures only allow for visualization to the cervix; they cannot provide visualization of the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries.  For this reason many health conditions could potentially be missed without the use of gynecological sonography. Neither MRI nor CT scanning technology can effectively capture the real-time images that obstetric and gynecological sonography can.

What are the job duties of obstetric/gynecological ultrasound technicians?

The job duties of this profession will vary depending on whether you choose to work in obstetrics or gynecology. Regardless of which area of sonography you work in, you will be interacting with patients and new mothers concerned about the condition of their unborn child, so professionals in this field must have personable qualities and a genuine concern for the patient.

Duties of an obstetric sonographer include:

  • Explaining ultrasound procedures to patients
  • Recording and reviewing a patient’s past medical history
  • Positioning patients for optimal imaging
  • Observing the weight of the fetus
  • Identifying the size of the fetus’ organs and body parts (heart, lungs, brain, limbs, head)
  • Pointing out aspects of the fetus to the mother
  • Identifying abnormalities and alerting physicians

Duties of a gynecological sonographer include:

  • Ensuring that patients are comfortable during the procedure
  • Operating gynecological ultrasound equipment
  • Capturing clear images of the internal female organs
  • Identifying abnormal findings
  • Communicating with physicians about abnormal findings

What is the job outlook for obstetric/gynecological ultrasound technicians?

Obstetric/gynecological sonographers will see many employment opportunities in the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need for OB/GYN ultrasound technicians will increase by more than 18% through the year 2018. One of the main reasons for this type of growth is the rising birth rate in this country, alongside a stronger push by the medical community for annual female preventative examinations.

Where can I find employment as an OB/GYN ultrasound technician?

OB/GYN ultrasound technicians are employed in all facets of the healthcare community. The majority of obstetrical/gynecological positions are found in female medical clinics, where the technology can be used to monitor pregnancy and detect problems within the female reproductive system. Some female medical clinics, however, do not have the capacity to employ OB/GYN sonographers, and they refer their patients to local hospitals to have such procedures performed.

It is also worth mentioning that as an obstetric sonographer, you are likely to work closely with neuro sonographers as well. Because neuro sonographers capture ultrasound images of abnormalities after birth, an OB/GYN sonographer may be needed to explain images captured during pregnancy.

What type of education will I need?

The type of education you will need depends on whether you want to work in obstetrics, gynecology, or both. There are certificate programs, associate degrees, and bachelor degrees available for obstetric and gynecological sonographers. Certificate programs are more expedient in that they typically only take 12 to 18 months to complete, but they are more suited to individuals with some type of medical background.

The associate degree, which is a 2-year program, is the most popular option, and most comprehensive, for new OB/GYN sonographers. After you have some working experience, you may want to consider pursuing a bachelor degree. This will help with career advancement and possibly enable you to secure a supervisory or management position.

Furthermore, any degree program in OB/GYN sonography can be completed online or in a campus-based setting. Most schools offering these programs are moving towards online options because of the convenience this type of education affords students.

What do I need to know about accreditation?

You want to make sure that whichever school you attend is nationally accredited. Accreditation is a process that uses national standards to ensure that educational programs are sufficient for entry-level career opportunities. As an obstetric/gynecological sonographer, you should be looking for accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

What types of classes will I take as an OB/GYN ultrasound technician?

Obstetrical sonographers need to have a firm grasp on the anatomical make up the fetus, its expected development in utero, and risks to both the mother and fetus. Gynecological sonographers, on the other hand, are extensively trained to recognize the components of the female reproductive system, their function, and potentially life-threatening medical conditions associated with this system.

Courses that may be included in an obstetric/gynecological sonography degree program include:

  • Practical Aspects of Sonography
  • OB/GYN Sonography I and II
  • Superficial Structures and Neonatal Brain
  • Anatomy and Physiology for Ultrasound
  • Female Reproductive Scanning
  • Medical Terminology

Are there internship training programs available to OB/GYN sonographers?

Prior to graduation, most OB/GYN sonography schools have an externship program that you must complete. This is a practical application that places you in a healthcare environment performing the duties of both an obstetrical and gynecological sonographer. You can expect the entire program to last around 6 weeks, depending on the requirements of the school. Hands-on training gives you the opportunity to pool your educational knowledge and apply it to real-world applications.

Will I need a license to practice OB/GYN sonography?

No, you do not need a license to practice as an obstetric/gynecological sonographer. You will, however, need certification to secure employment.

What type of certification is available to OB/GYN ultrasound technicians?

You can obtain certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). You will be taking the OBGYN specialty examination, and this will give you the title of Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). In conjunction with the OBGYN examination, you must also take the SPI (Sonography Principles and Instrumentation) exam, which tests your knowledge of ultrasound technology and procedures.

Collaboratively, the OBGYN and SPI exams are scored on a scale of 700 total points. A passing score of at least 555 points is required for certification. The tests should take no more than 5 hours to complete, and a $200 fee is required. Once you have received your certification, you can keep it current by obtaining 30 or more continuing education credits every 3 years.

What will my salary be as an OB/GYN ultrasound tech?

Salaries for diagnostic OB/GYN sonographers are varied based on many factors, including level of experience, educational degree, certification, and location. In May 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed a study concluding that the average income for medical sonographers was around $63,630 per year. However, as a beginner in this profession, you will most definitely start with an entry-level salary. The key to earning more money is to keep continuing your education and learning through experience.

Remember, also, that you can work in a hospital or female medical clinic. Hospitals do tend to pay higher salaries than general female clinics, but you should choose an environment that makes you feel comfortable, and one in which you feel satisfies your career goals.

Sonographer Ultrasound Technician Salary

What is a sonographer?

Sonographers may go by several names including diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists or technicians and vascular technologists. Regardless of the title, all these jobs perform the same basic function. They each use special equipment to create images or conduct tests that can assist physicians in diagnosing and treating patients.

Although similar to nuclear medicine technologists and radiologic and MRI technologists, sonographers are a separate occupation and may have different education and professional requirements than these other fields.

What is a sonographer's salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), median sonographer salaries are higher than the median annual income for all occupations. Within the profession, diagnostic medical sonographers earned the highest median income in 2012.

As with other careers, sonographer salaries may be dependent on factors such as an individual's education, experience and professional credentials.

Is it difficult to find a job as a sonographer?

As the nation's population ages and imaging technology advances, bls.gov anticipates an increase in the demand for sonographers in the next decade. Overall, the career is expected to grow much faster than the overall growth rate for all occupations. Within the field, diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to see the greatest number of new job openings.

Is there room for advancement as a sonographer?

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) says there is plenty of room for advancement in the field. According to their website, individuals with 3-5 years as a sonographer may be able to work as the head of an ultrasound department or as a lead sonographer. In addition, consultant, sales or administrative work may be available to those with experience in the field.

Do sonographers need to be licensed or certified?

Bls.gov reports only a few states have licensure requirements for sonographers. Students should consult with their state's regulatory body to determine whether they will need a license to practice.

While states may not require a license, some employers may only hire individuals with professional certification. The ARDMS offers credentialing for a number of sonography specialties. These credentials typically require students to attend an approved education program and pass a certification exam. Each may also have continuing education requirements. The following are the professional credentials offered by the ARDMS.

  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
  • Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer
  • Registered Vascular Technologist
  • Registered Physician in Vascular Interpretation
  • Registered in Musculoskeletal Sonography

Sources:

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians Including Vascular Technologists,Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm

Overview of ARDMS,
http://www.ardms.org/about_ardms/overview_of_ardms

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

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

Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

Sonography State Licensure Update, American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, 2014, http://www.ardms.org/news_multimedia/%20ardms_articles/%20sonography_state_licensure_update

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

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

Major: 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

Ultrasound Technologist Schools