Sonographer salary & career outlook

Ultrasonography, commonly called sonography, is a diagnostic medical practice using high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to produce visual images of the inside of the body. When many people think of an ultrasound, they often think of obstetrics, as sonographers typically show expectant parents the first images of their child during pregnancy, but the technology and practice can be applied in many other medical and diagnostic settings.

Sonographers can specialize in the imaging of a number of different body parts, such as the abdomen, brain, heart, breasts, vascular system and reproductive system. Ultrasound technician training specific to these areas of the body may take place in a formal education setting or on the job in a clinical training program.

While different facilities may expect slightly different sets of specific tasks from their sonographers, most positions share at least a few of the general duties of the occupation:

  • Explaining ultrasound techniques to patients and preparing them for procedures
  • Performing exams using special diagnostic and monitoring equipment
  • Observing and recording test findings and reporting results to physicians
  • Maintaining equipment and updating patient records

What's the job outlook for sonography?

The employment outlook in this field is extraordinarily favorable, according to figures reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, diagnostic medical sonographers and ultrasound technicians should experience job growth of 46 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022, ranking the field among the five fastest-growing occupations in the country and resulting in 27,000 new jobs.

Job growth should be strong in most regions but is likely to vary geographically, with some states expecting even faster growth than the national average. Here are the five regions where diagnostic medical sonographer and ultrasound technician jobs are growing the fastest between 2012 and 2022, according to Career InfoNet:

  1. Puerto Rico: 58.7 percent
  2. Texas: 57.6 percent
  3. Arizona: 54.9 percent
  4. Utah: 54.1 percent
  5. Colorado: 51.3 percent

While close to 60 percent of sonographers worked in general medical and surgical hospitals in 2013, according to BLS data, a significant percentage were employed in physician's offices, diagnostic laboratories or outpatient care centers.

How much do sonographers make?

The BLS reports a 2013 mean annual sonographer salary of $67,170, with the bottom 10 percent of workers earning less than $45,840 and the top 10 percent taking home $92,070 or more for the year. California offered the highest statewide average wage for diagnostic medical sonographers in 2013, reporting a mean annual figure of $86,550.

However, regional cost of living can make a big difference in how far each dollar of your salary goes, and there are a few cities where comfortable sonographer salary expectations are coupled with high rank on the Center for Community and Economic Research's September 2014 Cost of Living Index (COLI):

  • Santa Fe, NM: $75,830 mean annual salary; state ranked 12th most affordable
  • Ogden, UT: $72,750 mean annual salary; state ranked 9th most affordable
  • Monroe, LA: $73,950 mean annual salary; state ranked 19th most affordable

The San Francisco Bay area was home to the highest overall diagnostic medical sonographer salaries in 2013, with an average annual wage of $111,700, but the COLI ranks California among the most expensive states in the U.S. for everyday living expenses.

Sonographer training online and on campus

As skilled members of the medical community, sonographers and ultrasound technicians require thorough technical training to effectively operate and maintain the sensitive equipment of their profession. This training can often be completed in about a year, and may take place in any one of the following settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Vocational and technical institutions
  • Colleges and universities, including some online programs
  • The Armed Forces

Two-year programs in this field are most prevalent, the Occupational Information Network reports, with nearly 50 percent of working diagnostic medical sonographers in 2013 having earned an associate degree. Non-degree postsecondary certificates are also fairly common, with an additional 20 percent of the profession reported as holding one. Sonographer training of either variety may be available online, depending on the institution. Look for ultrasound technician schools in your area and see what educational options might fit your goals.

1. Employment Trends Across States, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, CareerOneStop, http://www.careerinfonet.org/carout3.asp?optstatus=001000000&id=1&nodeid=2&soccode=292032&stfips=01&jobfam=29&menuMode=&order=Percent
2. Cost of Living Data Series: Third Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development, http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm
3. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2032.00
4. Occupational Employment and Wages: Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292032.htm
5. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
6. Fastest-Growing Occupations, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm