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Ultrasound Technician Schools and Training Programs
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An ultrasound technician operates special equipment to direct high-frequency sound waves into areas of a patient’s body to create images that can be used by a physician to make a diagnosis.
Ultrasounds are used most commonly on pregnant women to check on the health of an unborn child, but they can also be used to diagnose a number of health problems.
Ultrasound technicians may specialize in creating and analyzing images of particular areas, such as the female reproductive system, the abdominal cavity, or brain and nervous system.
Educational and Training Requirements for Ultrasound Technicians and Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
There are a variety of ways to become an ultrasound technician or diagnostic medical sonographer. Employers may accept formal education in sonography, training in the workplace, or a combination of both. However, employers typically prefer applicants who graduated from an accredited program or completed training in an accredited practice, and who are registered. Accredited programs are offered by colleges and universities. Some hospital programs are accredited as well. In 2008, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredited over 150 training programs.
Ultrasound Education and Training Opportunities
Aspiring ultrasound technicians may train in hospitals, vocational or technical institutions, colleges or universities, or the Armed Forces. Some training programs prefer applicants with experience in other healthcare professions or high school graduates with courses in mathematics, health, and science.
Colleges and universities offer formal training in both two-year and four-year programs. Associate degree programs are the most common. Coursework includes classes in anatomy, physiology, instrumentation, basic physics, patient care and medical ethics. A few one-year programs that typically result in a vocational certificate also are accepted as educational qualification by employers. These programs are useful usually only for workers already employed in a healthcare occupation who seek to expand their skill set into sonography.
Certification and Licensure for Ultrasound Technicians
Licensure is not required in any state to begin practice as an ultrasound technician. However, becoming credentialed by one of the professional certifying bodies provides an objective measure of an individual's professional standing, and can make one a more desirable candidate for a job.
The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) certifies each person who passes the exam as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). Candidates must qualify to take the exam by completing the proper education, training or work experience. ARDMS also certifies certain ultrasound specialties, such as abdominal or nervous system. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologist also offers credentials in the areas of breast and vascular sonography.
Typically, sonographers must complete a required number of continuing-education hours to maintain registration. For specific details on credentialing, contact the certifying organization.
Employment and Advancement Opportunities for Ultrasound Technicians
The field of diagnostic medical sonography is expected to see faster than average growth between 2010 and 2020 – about 44 percent (bls.gov, 2011). One of the factors in this growth is that healthcare providers are turning to ultrasound imaging as a safer and more cost-effective alternative to radiological procedures (X-rays). With an aging population, the U.S. will require more professionals to carry out such diagnostic procedures. In addition, sonography itself is a developing technology that will likely be perfected to use on other parts of the body. Sonographers with multiple specialties or multiple credentials can have particularly good prospects of employment.
Salary for Ultrasound Technicians and Medical Sonographers
Ultrasound technicians earned an average annual salary of $64,380 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2011). The top level of sonographers, with the most experience and education, made as much as $88,490.
Additional Resources for Individuals Pursuing Ultrasound Technician Degrees
Campus and Online Sonography Schools