While the name may be unfamiliar to some, diagnostic medical sonographers are a common sight in hospitals and medical offices across the country. Sometimes called ultrasound technicians or diagnostic sonographers, these professionals take internal images of patients that are used by physicians to diagnose and treat medical conditions.
A career in sonography often includes the following tasks:
- Preparing patients for procedures and recording medical data.
- Operating imaging equipment.
- Recognizing abnormal images and identifying areas of concern.
- Analyzing diagnostic data and reporting it to the requesting physician.
If you're interested in becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer, you can choose from many specialties and work settings within the field. Here are a few examples:
- Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers take images of the female reproductive system. They often perform ultrasounds on pregnant women to track a baby's growth and identify potential birth defects.
- Pediatric sonographers work exclusively with children and infants, including premature babies.
- Breast sonographers provide images of breast tissue after a concern has been raised by a patient, physician or mammogram. They may also help track tumors after they have been detected.
- Cardiac sonographers are also called echocardiographers. They specialize in taking ultrasounds of the heart and may work as part of a surgical team.
How to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
When it comes to how to become a sonographer, people can take different career paths. However, here are the typical steps to becoming a sonographer:
- Earn a diagnostic medical sonographer degree: Before you can work as a sonographer, you'll need postsecondary training. Employers may have different sonographer degree requirements, but an associate degree seems most common. There are also certificate programs and bachelor's degrees in sonography available. While you may be able to take some online courses, most degree programs have clinical requirements as well. Read about the top schools for sonography degree programs.
- Become certified: Certification is voluntary, but employers usually prefer to hire someone with a professional credential. Various types of certification are available through industry groups such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Certification requirements typically include graduating with an approved diagnostic medical sonographer degree and passing an examination.
- Get licensed, if required: Four states require you to be licensed if you want to pursue a career in diagnostic medical sonography there. They are New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oregon.
- Advance your sonographer career: Once you have entered the workplace, keep your skills current by maintaining certification. You may also want to add additional certifications to demonstrate added expertise. For instance, having a basic life support certification or other specialty credentials may open up new employment opportunities.
Important skills and abilities for a sonographer career
Becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer is about more than having the right degree and certification. You should also strive to improve the following skills and abilities:
- Speaking: Sonographers must be comfortable talking with patients from diverse backgrounds and be able to clearly convey instructions.
- Critical thinking: A sonographer must be able to identify potential abnormalities and adjust their imaging appropriately.
- Near vision: Diagnostic medical sonographers sit close to the imaging equipment and must be able to clearly read data in order to do their job correctly.
- Oral comprehension: A sonographer may receive information from other health care professionals or directly from patients, and they need to be able to understand what is being conveyed.
Career Outlook and Salary for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
As with many fields, pay and job outlook depend on factors like experience, education level, and location. However, in general, health care positions are expected to be on the rise due to advances in medical technology and people aiming for healthier lifestyles and living longer lives, among other reasons. Here's an idea of what diagnostic medical sonographers might expect in terms of salary and job growth in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||72,790||$75,780|
Professional Organizations for Sonographers
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography: Membership in the SDMS entitles you to professional liability insurance, an exclusive job board, online continuing medical education (CME) opportunities and more
- American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine: The AIUM is a multidisciplinary society with a membership of over 10,000 sonographers, physicians, scientists and other allied health personnel
- Society for Vascular Ultrasound: SVU is the only professional organization for sonographers specializing in blood vessel imaging and features a $25 student membership option
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Accessed August 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
- State Licensure, Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Accessed August 2018, https://www.sdms.org/advocacy/state-licensure
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, O*Net Online, Accessed August 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2032.00