How to become a sonographer
Many people are familiar with sonograms primarily because they are used to show a fetus as it develops in a mother's womb, but there are dozens of other uses for medical sonography beyond ultrasounds for pregnant women. The noninvasive nature of the technology makes it the preferred method for several diagnostic applications, including viewing organs and monitoring blood flow.
As imaging technology continues to improve, medical facilities will use it to replace more invasive and costly procedures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is great news for aspiring sonographers, as it means the career outlook is fantastic: 46 percent projected growth nationally between 2012 and 2022, which is more than four times faster than the average for all occupations and adds up to about 27,000 new sonography jobs nationwide.
Educational requirements for sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers are also often referred to as "ultrasound technicians," which can be important to know when checking out different sonography degrees and certification programs for the profession. There are a number of different ways someone can become a sonographer:
- Certification programs for people already trained in a medical profession, such as a radiology technician; which typically take about one year to complete
- Associate degree programs, which typically take two years
- Bachelor's degree programs, which typically take at least four years
While you can choose to earn a bachelor's degree to become a sonographer, the most common path is earning an associate degree, and it's one of the better-paying opportunities with a degree at that education level. A Business Insider article titled "23 High-Paying Jobs That You Can Get With An Associate's Degree" features diagnostic medical sonographers as the No. 8 career.
Graduates also need to pass a credentialing test administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, as well as a specialty examination in a certain field such as pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology, in order to become a registered diagnostic medical sonographer.
How much can sonographers make?
In 2013, the mean annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers in the U.S. was $67,170, according to the BLS, and some states have salaries that are even higher. The average annual wage for the five top-paying states (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Rhode Island) in 2013 was $82,070.
Certain cities are also especially lucrative for diagnostic medical sonographers, and the top metro areas are concentrated in California, with nine of the top 10 coming from the Golden State and the top three spots all going to the San Francisco Bay Area. They are:
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA: $111,700 average annual wage
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $110,150 average annual wage
- Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA: $107,450 average annual wage
The only region outside of California to make the top 10 is the Norwich-New London, CT-RI metro area, which had a mean annual wage of $90,910 in May 2013.
Where can sonographers work?
While you may be able to find a job as a sonographer in any state, certain regions have more employment opportunities than others. The BLS reports that the metropolitan areas in the United States with the highest concentration of jobs in 2013 were:
- Greenville, NC
- Rapid City, SD
- Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, MA
- Bowling Green, KY
- Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL
- Pueblo, CO
- Sioux Falls, SD
- New Haven, CT
- Boise City-Nampa, ID
- Punta Gorda, FL
Check out the infographic below to learn more about sonography training, education, earnings and advancement opportunities, and to see a complete list of sources.
"23 High-Paying Jobs That You Can Get With An Associate's Degree," Vivian Giang, Business Insider, Dec. 23, 2013,
Occupational Employment and Wages: Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
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,