How to become a sonographer

Article Sources
  • Occupational Employment and Wages: Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292032.htm
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-1
  • Career Center, American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, 2017
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonography, "Society of Medical Sonography", 2017
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Many people are familiar with sonograms (some know them as "ultrasounds"): They are used to show a fetus as it develops in a mother's womb. However, there are dozens of other clinical uses for medical sonography, commonly known as diagnostic medical sonography, beyond ultrasounds for pregnant women. The noninvasive nature of the technology makes it the preferred method for several diagnostic applications in the clinical realm, including viewing organs and monitoring blood flow, which a cardiovascular technician might do.

As diagnostic imaging technology continues to improve, medical facilities are likely to use it to replace more invasive and costly sonography procedures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is great news for aspiring diagnostic medical sonographers embarking on or refreshing their sonographer education. It means the career outlook for this allied health career is strong: 17 percent projected growth nationally between 2016 and 2026 for sonographers. That's more than double the national average for all occupations, not just allied health ones, and adds up to about 21,000 new sonography jobs nationwide.

Here are answers to questions you may have about becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer. Learn about the field of diagnostic medical sonography in general, the amount of education you may need to reach your goals, and explore data around a sonographer salary. 

> Learn what makes the top universities for sonography degrees better than the rest. 

How to become a sonographer

While there is not one set education or job path to becoming a sonographer or in some cases, an ultrasound technician, there are some requirements that all diagnostic medical sonographers or those in the diagnostic medical sonography field must follow. With job growth expected to rise over the next several years, working on the education and other requirements early may help you prepare for your career in diagnostic medical sonography and earn a higher salary in the field:

  1. Earn your high school diploma or GED.
  2. Earn a degree/certificate from a one, two or four-year accredited school.
  3. Pass the national certification exam.

A diagnostic medical imaging technologist job might also often be referred to as an ultrasound technician or technologist job. That can be important to know when checking out different ultrasound or diagnostic medical sonography degrees and certification programs for the profession. 

What are educational requirements for sonographers?

There are a number of different ways someone can work in diagnostic medical sonography or ultrasound work:

  • Certification programs for people already trained in a medical or allied health profession, such as a radiology technician; typically take about one year to complete
  • Associate degree programs; typically take two years
  • Bachelor's degree programs; typically take at least four years

At least some type of certification and sonographer schooling is necessary to secure an ultrasound technologist or other type of sonography job. Coursework and curriculum for any diagnostic medical sonography program is likely to cover topics such as anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, and patient care.

While you can choose to earn a bachelor's degree to become a sonographer, the most common education path is earning an associate degree. Sonographers or ultrasound techs have one of the better-paying job opportunities with a degree at that education level, per the BLS, so may want to take your salary end-goal might into consideration when you choose a program. 

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 imaging technician. Make sure your school is accredited; you can see accredited diagnostic medical sonography programs listed on this page.

Keep in mind additional state requirements for graduates in the diagnostic medical sonography field can exist, so be sure to check out your local allied health career resources for more information. 

Are there different types of sonographers?

Yes, there are various types of sonography careers, not limited to ultrasound technology careers. When you are deciding to enter the field and choosing a diagnostic medical sonography program, or if you are a graduate looking for a new angle, you can consider specialty options.

Specialty options range from abdominal sonographer to cardiovascular technologist and those working in cardiac sonography, to an obstetric and gynecologic (OB-GYN) sonographer or ultrasound technician.

With work experience as a sonographer, you may eventually consider other related careers and jobs if looking for a change or scenery or a possible salary boost. These types of health sciences careers could include transitioning away from clinical work to ultrasound equipment sales and manufacturing. Or, you might consider aiming for a salary change by directing ultrasound or sonography departments, working in imaging administration, and teaching in the diagnostic medical sonography field.

Where do sonographers work?

While you may be able to find a job as a sonographer in any state, certain states have more employment opportunities or a higher-paying salary than others. The BLS reports that the five states with the highest concentration of jobs in 2016 were:

  • South Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • West Virginia
  • Tennessee
  • New Mexico

Keep an eye out for sonography careers with positive job growth in your state. As a reminder, depending on the state you embark on your sonography career, local requirements to be credentialed as a diagnostic medical sonographer, in a clinical setting or otherwise, can vary, as can a typical ultrasound tech's salary.

How much can sonographers make?

Like all professions, the salary of workers in the diagnostic medical sonography field can vary. In 2016, the average annual salary for diagnostic medical sonographers in the U.S. was $69,650, according to the BLS.

Some states have a salary range reported that's even higher: the average annual wage for the top 10 percent of workers in the nation was $99,100, reported by the BLS in 2016. As with many fields, furthering your sonography education could mean a higher salary in the long run.

Here are salary details for the four top-paying states for diagnostic medical sonographers, as reported by the BLS in 2016:

  1. California: $93,350
  2. Texas: $77,370
  3. New York: $71,570
  4. Florida: $62,650

Check out the "How to become a sonographer" infographic below to learn more about sonography training and a diagnostic medical sonographer salary, plus enjoy the quick reference guide to education paths and advancement opportunities for the field.

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How to Become a Sonographer
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