About Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
A diagnostic medical sonographer is an individual in the healthcare industry who uses specialized equipment to direct sound waves into a patient’s body; this process is known as ultrasound, sonogram, or echocardiogram. Once thought to only deal with pregnant women, diagnostic medical sonographers apply this practice to patients with a variety of conditions and ailments.
Their skills and expertise help doctors diagnose, assess, and hopefully cure or prevent medical problems or conditions. However, it’s important to note that diagnostic medical sonographers differ from X-ray technicians or MRI techs, who use radiation or magnetic resonance to display images.
Typically, diagnostic medical sonographers can be separated into six categories:
- Cardiovascular and vascular: Assist physicians in diagnosing problems of the heart, veins, and arteries.
- Obstetric and gynecologic: Perhaps the most common type of sonographer, specializing in imaging a woman’s reproductive system or pregnancy ultrasound.
- Abdominal: Takes images of an abdominal cavity to diagnose problems of the stomach, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
- Breast: Specializes in diagnosing breast cancer and aiding in mammography.
- Musculoskeletal: Takes images of tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints.
- Neuro sonographer: Takes images of the brain and central nervous system.
Education and Experience Needed
To pursue any type of job as a diagnostic medical sonographer, candidates need to first obtain an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography. During this time, the student completes coursework and participates in hands-on classes to learn the equipment. Supervised clinical experience is another important part of gaining a degree, during which qualified professionals watch while the individual performs a sonogram or an ultrasound.
For candidates who don’t want to train for a full four years, many schools also offer certificate programs. In this instance, the individual will want to search for a Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)-certified school. Students who graduate from this program are then eligible to take certification exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Certification might also include a physics exam, specialty testing from the employer, and the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) exam.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that diagnostic medical sonographers have a workforce of 65,790 at a median wage of $69,650 annually, or $33.49 per hour. The bottom 10 percent of earners gross about $48,660 a year, or $23.39 an hour, while the top 10 percent of sonographers earn $99,100 per year or $47.64 hourly.
About 60 percent of diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals, 20 percent in private practices, 10 percent in medical diagnostics facilities and laboratories, and about 5 percent in outpatient care clinics.
Average Duties and Tasks
Most of a diagnostic medical sonographer’s job revolves around using an ultrasound transducer. With proper training, a sonographer can use this device to send high-frequency sound waves into a patient’s body to produce images of anything taking place inside.
To do this, the transducer uses pulses of sound that create echoes. These echoes are then sent to the ultrasound machine, which processes and displays the information. A sonographer also has the ability to analyze these images and explain them to the patient.
Diagnostic medical sonographers often work in hospitals, although others find employment in physician’s offices or imaging clinics. When not in well-lit rooms at patient’s bedsides, sonographers work in dimly lit rooms to analyze their images. Because of the nature of the job, sonographers work on their feet all day and might need to move or lift patients with disabilities.
Other duties and responsibilities of diagnostic medical sonographers might include cleaning and maintaining ultrasound equipment, prepping patients for procedures by answering questions and taking patient histories, applying gel to body parts to aid in procedures, analyzing images, recognizing abnormalities, recording findings, and keeping track of patient medical records.
One of the best ways for diagnostic medical sonographers to gain employment is to start with an internship. Many also work as receptionists or similar roles while attending school. After graduation, certifications are almost mandatory to gain employment. After 15 years of employment, many diagnostic medical sonographers begin working toward being research sonographers.
Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the projected job growth for diagnostic medical sonographers will be about 17 percent over the next 10 years, which is much faster than the national average for all jobs. In addition, the aging population of the country and those suffering from breast cancer, blood clots, and heart disease will further increase the demand for this position.