WHAT THEY DO:
Diagnostic medical sonographers are an integral part of the diagnostic team. Often referred to as “ultrasound technologists”, they utilize specialized equipment to create sonograms – or ultrasound scans – of structures inside the human body. This could be the abdomen, the heart, blood vessels or a baby in utero.
The following are examples of types of diagnostic medical sonographers:
Abdominal sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s abdominal cavity and nearby organs, such as the kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or spleen. Abdominal sonographers may assist with biopsies or other examinations requiring ultrasound guidance.
Breast sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s breast tissues. Sonography can confirm the presence of cysts and tumors that may have been detected by the patient, physician, or a mammogram. Breast sonographers work closely with physicians and assist with procedures that track tumors and help to provide information for making decisions about the best treatment options for breast cancer patients.
Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in imaging muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. These sonographers may assist with ultrasound guidance for injections, or during surgical procedures, that deliver medication or treatment directly to affected tissues.
Pediatric sonographers specialize in imaging child and infant patients. Many of the medical conditions they image are associated with premature births or birth defects. Pediatric sonographers may work closely with pediatricians and other caregivers.
Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system. Many pregnant women receive sonograms to track the baby’s growth and health. Obstetrical sonographers work closely with physicians in detecting congenital birth defects.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING:
There are bachelor’s programs in sonography, but most students get two-year associate degrees, and many students already have undergraduate degrees in math or science. The curriculum includes anatomy, physiology, instrumentation and other medical courses.
Most employers prefer a candidate who has passed a certification exam by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). That usually requires clinical experience, a more likely component of an accredited program (the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education keeps a list of such programs).
Median Salary: $68,390
The best-paid 10 percent earned more than $93,850, while the lowest-paid earned less than $46,930. Areas of the industry that pay well include specialty hospitals, outpatient care centers and colleges, universities and professional schools.
The American Society of Radiologic Technologists performs a periodic salary survey of registered technologists, both members and non-members. In its 2010 survey, the average yearly income of sonographers was $68,821 or $33.09 per hour. The ASRT provides a further breakdown by position, with staff sonographers earning $31.85 per hour, and supervisors averaging $38.29 per hour. Experience is also a factor. Sonographers with two years’ experience or less averaged $26.89 per hour, while those with six to 10 years’ experience earned $29.73 per hour. Veteran sonographers with 21 to 30 years’ experience averaged $34.83 per hour.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for sonographers will grow sharply between 2010 and 2020. It anticipates that 44 percent more technologists will be needed to fill the expected number of new positions. This is much higher than the average for all occupations. Many diagnostic procedures that were traditionally performed in hospitals are now done in smaller clinics and even doctors’ offices, which accounts for much of this increase. The modest educational requirements, strong demand and relatively high pay make sonography an attractive career option.