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Ultrasound technicians, also known as sonographers, use sound wave tools for medical imaging, such as echocardiograms, images of developing fetuses, and breast examinations. They play a vital role in the growing medical diagnostics field. Keep reading to learn about what ultrasound technicians do and how to pursue employment in the field.
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What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?
Ultrasound technicians use specialized medical equipment to create images of the inside of patients' bodies. The equipment sends sound waves through the body and forms a picture to aid in testing for or diagnosing conditions.
It is also part of routine care during pregnancy and cancer prevention to detect any potential issues early on. While they do not diagnose conditions or prescribe treatments, ultrasound technicians review images for potential abnormalities and report them to clinicians. They may also provide imaging during surgeries or other complex medical procedures.
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- Preparing patients for imaging procedures
- Explaining procedures
- Using ultrasound equipment to create images
- Ensuring that the image is clear and noting any abnormalities
- Passing the images to clinicians, along with notes
- Reassuring presence and bedside manner
- Strong attention to detail
- Comfortable with complex equipment
- Fast learner to keep up with new developments
Where Do Ultrasound Technicians Work?
Most ultrasound technicians work in hospitals, physician's offices, and diagnostic and medical laboratories such as urgent care.
Ultrasound technicians can handle different functions in the hospital, depending on their specialty. They may perform prenatal ultrasound examinations or work in emergency, pediatric, or cardiology departments.
Ultrasound technicians work in independent physician offices, typically in specialty offices such as obstetrics and gynecology. They may also find employment in high-volume urgent care centers.
Diagnostic and Medical Laboratories
Prospective ultrasound technicians can pursue work in diagnostic and medical laboratories, such as standalone imaging centers. These laboratories may be owned by hospitals, healthcare systems, or independent companies.
How to Become an Ultrasound Technician?
There are several pathways to becoming an ultrasound technician. Candidates can earn two-year or four-year degrees in sonography. Alternatively, an individual with a healthcare degree can take a sonography certificate course. During their studies, each enrollee chooses a specialty, such as abdomen, breast, or pediatric sonography.
Only four states — New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon — require sonographers to hold licensure, but most employers require certification in sonography. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offers a general sonography certification, and the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ADRMS) offers several different ultrasound technician specializations.
ADRMS certification requires passing first a general examination and the applicable specialty examination, along with completing a certain number of hours practicing in a specialty.
Learn more about how to become an ultrasound technician.
Ultrasound Technician Specializations
Vascular ultrasound technicians perform imaging on blood vessels, looking for obstructions or abnormalities. According to Salary.com data from July 2022, the median annual income for this specialty is $77,650.
OB/GYN ultrasound technicians specialize in ultrasound imaging of the female reproductive organs and fetuses. Salary.com data indicates an average annual salary of $75,930 for the specialization as of July 2022.
Cardiac ultrasound technicians specialize in imaging the heart. They may perform this work as a part of diagnostics teams or during surgeries.
How Much Do Ultrasound Technicians Make?
Ultrasound technician salaries vary by experience, education, certification, and geography, but nationally, the median salary for ultrasound technicians is $77,740, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The lowest-paid 10% earn $59,640 or less, and the highest-paid 10% earn $101,650 or more. Salaries are highest in California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Washington state, and Oregon. The BLS also projects a 14% growth in ultrasound technician employment from 2020-2030, which is above the national average.
Frequently Asked Questions about Ultrasound Technicians
How long does it take to become an ultrasound technician?
It takes approximately two years to earn an associate degree in sonography to become an ultrasound technician. If you already have a degree in a related healthcare field, you may be able to take a one-year certificate course.
What's the difference between an ultrasound technician and a sonographer?
For most purposes, there is no difference between ultrasound technicians and sonographers. Diagnostic medical sonography, though, is a specialization that focuses on using sonography for diagnoses.
Do ultrasound technicians interpret ultrasound results?
Ultrasound technicians are not authorized to diagnose conditions or report findings to patients. However, they are educated to recognize potential indicators and share their interpretations with clinicians.
Is an ultrasound technician a stressful job?
Stress levels depend on the setting and your ability to handle difficult situations. Ultrasound technician work can be physically demanding, especially if you move or lift patients into position. It also calls for close attention to detail. The high-stakes nature of emergency department ultrasound work can create stressful scenarios.
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