How to Become a Ultrasound Technician
If you’re considering an ultrasound technician career, you’ll undoubtedly have plenty of questions about the feasibility and prospects of this discipline, as well as the steps needed to become an ultrasound tech.
You’ll find your answers down below, but before moving on to these technical details, let’s consider basic questions – for the total newcomers:
What is a ultrasound technician?
Also referred to as diagnostic medical sonographers, ultrasound technicians use ultra-high frequency sound generating equipment to generate images, often for diagnostic purposes. These images are analyzed by qualified physicians who then produce the diagnosis.
Most of us are aware of ultrasound scans in conjunction with the tests associated with pregnancy, but the use of ultrasound for medical purposes extends far beyond that.
It is used for the examination of the muscles, brain, spinal cord, breast tissue, ligaments, joints, and tendons, as well as organs present in the abdomen cavity.
Just like most other medical professionals, ultrasound technicians can specialize their skills to cater to a specific part of the body, for instance, a vascular ultrasound technician is adept at producing imagery about blood vessels and flow.
Similarly, a cardiac sonographer will be good at imaging an individual’s heart and the vessels it contains.
What do ultrasound techs do?
Ultrasound technicians must hone their skills and knowledge, not just about the technology itself, but also about the human physique and anatomy. They must then use these to produce accurate imagery of the patient’s affected area that clearly indicates where any anomalies lie.
They are expected to be able to incorporate the medical history of the patient into the examination procedure and must do all this while they are also in direct interaction with the patient.
Besides the exam itself, the technician will also be selecting the best images, take fundamental measurements and do calculations, and may even have to provide initial results.
Ultimately, there work is supposed to assist the physician in making the proper diagnosis for the patient’s condition so that their treatment can begin in earnest.
Work environment & job prospects
An estimated sixty percent of sonographers are employed in hospitals, either in a fixed diagnostics area, or they conduct diagnoses while moving to patients who can’t be moved.
Those ultrasound technicians who work in hospitals are often on-call multiple times in a week and should be prepared to have to show up to work even in the night, in the event of an emergency.
Besides hospitals, ultrasound technicians can also find work aplenty in private clinics as well as outpatient diagnostic centers.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the ultrasound technician job outlook is that besides full-time work opportunities, you can also find part-time work, and even flexible hours.
That said, much of this job also involves being mobile and on your feet – so it isn’t cut out for paper pushers: it requires a hands-on attitude.
You should be ready to have to transfer or reposition patients, who needs significant upper body strength and can take a toll on your muscles if not handled properly.
Needless to say, the regular health hazards associated with a medical profession are all present in this field too.
The Labor Statistics Bureau places the median salary of an ultrasound tech at $67,530, with the ultrasound technician starting salary being $46,930 and the peak salary being $93,850.
The technicians who lie in the upper quartile range of the salary breakdown are those who have greater experience, higher educational qualifications, advanced specializations, or skills to handle managerial roles. Working in the private sector can also yield a higher annual income.
The BLS estimates a 46% increase in jobs for sonographers between the period of 2012 and 2022 – significantly higher than the interdisciplinary average.
Since a diverse range of fields require the use of non-invasive, affordable ultrasound for diagnostics (and no viable alternative exists as yet for such applications), you can expect healthy employment opportunities.
What steps do you need to take to become an ultrasound technician?
Becoming an ultrasound technician requires you to enroll in one of the following programs:
– One year diploma/certificate.
– Two-year associate’s degree.
– Four-year bachelor’s degree.
The courses covered can include ultrasound physics, vascular ultrasound, the anatomy of the heart, sectional anatomy, medical terminology, abdominal ultrasound and small parts, physics and instrumentation, physiology of the heart, obstetrics and gynecology ultrasound, and pathophysiology of the heart.
Besides this, you’ll also have to do an internship spanning between 3 and six months, to gain practical experience, in the duration of your enrolled study program.
How long does it take to become an ultrasound tech?
This depends on the kind of program you’re enrolled in (the sub-section above already states how many years of college to be a ultrasound technician), firstly.
In addition to that, after you have graduated, you need to register with a professional organization such as the ARDMS (or American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography) or the ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists).
This will require sitting through an exam; there are different exams for different specialties, depending on the particular specialization you need to go for.
So going back to the question of how long does it take to be an ultrasound tech: depending on the ultrasound technician school length, the minimum it could take is between 1 to 2 years, and the most, 4 – 5 (given that you clear the exam for entry into a registry body within one year of graduating).
Top colleges for ultrasound technician qualification
Here are a few of the best-accredited ultrasound technician schools in mainland US:
Tulsa Community College
The Owasso campus of Tulsa community college has an associate in applied science program for diagnostic medical sonography.
It is incorporated into their Workforce Development initiative that enables students to jump into the field straight after graduation, making it one of the best ultrasound technician schools for students who want to start earning a living as soon as possible.
Students have the opportunity to work in the greater Oklahoma area to gain on-site experience, and the campus life includes multiple events organized by the various clubs of the college. Financial aid can be acquired in the form of grants, scholarships, student loans as well as work study programs.
Pitt Community College
Pitt Community College, NC offers an associate of applied science degree in medical sonography that can be completed in just five semesters, with the curriculum covering abdominal, obstetrical/gynecological, and vascular sonography, as well as cross-sectional anatomy and physics.
Students are given the opportunity to understand how the process works, how to operate the equipment (in the particular context of fetal development), and caring for patients.
If you graduate successfully, you are even allowed to sit for a national certification exam to get your foot through the door of your career.
This college shines regarding academic support, with ono-to-one counseling and mentoring, besides cultural enhancement opportunities. This is a military friendly school, and aid from the federal government is also available to students in need of it.
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
This school offers Associate degrees in two ultrasound specializations: general imaging and cardiovascular imaging. Both programs last three years and include both academics and practical experience through three internships at actual clinics.
These internships can be undertaken at the student’s discretion at one of the seven clinics the college is associated with all over Cincinnati.
Classes are normally conducted from 8 to 5 during the day (Monday to Friday), in which students are taught medical law, fundamental sonography, and patient care skills.
The students who end up with a GPA of 2.75 or more are allowed to sit for the ARDMS exam and start working in the profession in earnest.
Note that in recent years, online colleges offering associate degrees in medical sonography have started to pop up in the US. These are more convenient in that you don’t have to regularly be on a physical campus to attend classes, but you still have to stay pretty mobile to complete the practical part (i.e. internships) of your coursework.
Most of these schools have partnerships with reputed health care organizations for helping their students gain practical experience. Before you decide to become an ultrasound technician online, though, make sure that it is accredited by the CAAHEP, and you are definitely going to get the requisite number of practical training hours for completing the program.
Tabulated summary of top accredited ultrasound technician schools
|Name||Tuition Fees||Financial Aid %||Total Programs||Student to Teacher Ratio||Extra benefits|
|Tulsa Community College||$||39||2||17:1||Credit for experience, placement services, counseling services|
|Pitt Community College||$||11||2||17:1||Credit for experience, placement services, counseling services|
|Cincinnati State Technical and Community College||$||11||2||15:1||Credit for experience, placement services, counseling services|
Is there room for future growth?
Once you have undertaken the basic education and qualification, you can go for specialized sonographer training programs e.g. breast, obstetrics/gynecology, echocardiography, vascular, neuro sonography, abdominal, ophthalmologic, etc.
Besides this, ultrasound x-ray technicians can take on supervisory and managerial positions such as clinical instructor, department supervisor, senior technologist, or even program director.
You may even end up outside of direct patient care, with roles in client relations, sales, and applications.