Diagnostic medical sonographers operate sonographic equipment, which collects reflected echoes and forms an image that can be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed. The imaging results are then interpreted by a physician and used in diagnosis. Sonography uses sound waves to create images used in obstetrics as well as in many other areas. Sonographers take patients’ medical histories and then explain the procedure to them . They then select the correct equipment and position the patient in the appropriate position. They usually spread a gel on the patient’s skin and then use a transducer to transmit sound waves in a beam to the area of the patient’s body being imaged. They search for differences between healthy and unhealthy by viewing the image on a screen.
Diagnostic medical sonographers may specialize in different areas of the field. Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers study the female reproductive system and use sonography to examine the fetuses of pregnant women. Abdominal sonographers specialize in conditions of the gallbladder, bile ducts, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and spleen. Neurosonographers specialize in the nervous system, which includes the brain. They focus on neurological disorders in premature infants and scan blood vessels for abnormalities. Ophthalmologic sonographers study the eyes, aiding in the insertion of prosthetic lenses, diagnosing tumors, and identifying other eye-related ailments.
Diagnostic medical sonographers should have a solid background in science and mathematics. They also need to have good communication and interpersonal skills because of the sensitivities involved in explaining procedures to patients who are nervous about the test and their diagnosis.
In 2002, diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median annual salary of $48,660. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $35,800, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $66,680.
Training and Education
Diagnostic medical sonographers receive their training from hospitals, vocational-technical institutions, colleges and universities, or the Armed Forces. High school graduates are usually considered for admission into programs, while some programs prefer applicants who have some training in science or experience in the field of healthcare. Formal training in a college or university setting usually lasts between 2 and 4 years and results in the granting of an associate or bachelor’s degree. 2-year programs are the most common form of training. More than 100 programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs, and most include courses in anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care, and medical ethics.
Some nurses and technologists choose to train in sonography in order to increase their marketability. This training usually takes the form of a 1-year program resulting in a certificate. Sonographers are not required to obtain State licenses, although they can become registered through the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). This greatly increases their chances of employment because employers usually prefer to hire applicants who are registered. In order to become registered by ARDMS, applicants must pass a general physics and instrumentation exam, along with an exam in a specialty. Diagnostic medical sonographers must renew their registration by completing continuing education courses.
In 2002, diagnostic medical sonographers held about 37,000 jobs. More than 50% worked in hospitals. Most of the rest worked in offices of physicians or in medical and diagnostic laboratories.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to increase faster than the average. This will be mainly due to a growing and aging population, which will increase the need for diagnostic imaging services. Sonography is becoming a more attractive field than radiologic procedures, due to patient safety concerns. Employment will grow fastest in offices of physicians and in medical and diagnostic laboratories, although hospitals will continue to be the major employers.
For more information on becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer, please see our directory of Ultrasound Schools