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.

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