Becoming a Sonographer

What Does a Sonographer Do?

sonographer with pregnant patient

A sonographer uses high frequency sound waves to create detailed images of various areas of the human anatomy. The sound waves bounce off of internal organs and return to an ultrasound device, which transforms them into real-time images. As an imaging modality, ultrasound has very specific uses, providing information that X-rays or other radiologic procedures often cannot.

Ultrasound is most commonly known for producing amazing pictures of a fetus in the womb, and is used to detect and monitor many types of pregnancy complications and fetal abnormalities. However, sonography is used for so much more than pregnancies. It is often a doctor’s first choice to view fluid-filled or soft tissue structures in the body, such as the heart, kidneys, liver, and most internal organs. It also is highly valuable when looking at blood vessels and detecting problems with blood flow and blockages within arteries and veins. The images that sonographers create help radiologists and other physicians pinpoint the locations of soft tissue problems that can’t be seen well using other medical imaging techniques. Because ultrasonography uses simple, high-frequency sound waves, it is safe to use on all patients, from pregnant women to babies, children, and the elderly.

Given that there are so many uses of ultrasound, sonographers usually specialize in one or two areas of the body, such as the abdomen, breast, urology, musculoskeletal system, or obstetrics and gynecology. They direct the ultrasound waves to the region under examination via a handheld device known as a transducer. Sonographers must be tech-savvy enough to apply this sophisticated technology to manipulate and optimize the images, yet also be personable enough to put patients at ease who might be nervous or uncomfortable. These professionals use their own judgment and understanding of pathology to record images that represent possible abnormalities. What looks like a grainy image to the rest of us provides a wealth of valuable information to a skilled sonographer.

Turning sound waves into images sounds like magic, but that’s what diagnostic medical sonographers do on a daily basis. Their skills and expertise help the medical team to safely and painlessly assess and diagnose medical conditions that otherwise could only be detected with more invasive and often risky procedures.

Workplace Details

Most sonographers (about 60 percent) work in hospitals. Often, hospital-based sonographers will get rotations of being on-call, which means they will have to be ready to return to the hospital at any hour of the night, weekend, or holiday if an emergency ultrasound is needed. Most other sonographers work in doctors’ offices, diagnostic facilities and outpatient centers where the hours are predictable and shifts can be anywhere from a few hours a week to full-time work, depending on the job.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$93350
Texas
$77370
Florida
$62650
New York
$71570
Pennsylvania
$66010

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA
Median Salary: 
$54,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$45,610$58,890$76,050
Huntsville$37,190$54,730$71,620

ALASKA
Median Salary: 
$82,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$49,180$79,950$98,270

ARIZONA
Median Salary: 
$83,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $60,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$61,580$84,340$101,270
Tuscon$64,050$77,980$98,440

ARKANSAS
Median Salary: 
$58,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$29,430$58,830$78,230
Fort Smith$46,610$67,530$79,080

CALIFORNIA
Median Salary: 
$96,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $60,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $135,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 250

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$63,090$87,270$123,430
San Francisco Bay$82,490$118,620$154,220
San Diego$60,510$92,250$122,060
Sacramento$80,270$110,610$129,130

COLORADO
Median Salary: 
$79,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $63,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 61%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$64,430$81,050$102,690

CONNECTICUT
Median Salary: 
$74,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $99,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$39,820$74,170$100,820
Bridgeport$53,990$64,750$94,340
New Haven$58,050$78,610$100,650

DELAWARE
Median Salary: 
$71,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $91,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$55,740$71,370$91,440

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Median Salary: 
$89,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $66,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $113,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$53,000$77,810$100,630

FLORIDA
Median Salary: 
$61,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 40%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 280

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$45,700$62,490$79,490
Orlando$44,670$62,700$82,110
Tampa$44,110$63,370$79,830
Jacksonville$50,410$60,520$77,850

GEORGIA
Median Salary: 
$61,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$48,440$63,340$80,300
Augusta$51,240$65,560$78,050

HAWAII
Median Salary: 
$79,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $49,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$54,070$86,840$102,900

IDAHO
Median Salary: 
$67,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$51,920$65,000$79,380

ILLINOIS
Median Salary: 
$75,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$55,600$77,730$99,580
Rockford$55,780$74,920$95,770

INDIANA
Median Salary: 
$63,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $49,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$52,290$68,260$85,370
South Bend$38,280$58,800$75,880
Fort Wayne$51,620$62,350$77,290

IOWA
Median Salary: 
$61,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$50,040$64,160$78,960
Cedar Rapids$51,570$61,820$81,110

KANSAS
Median Salary: 
$66,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $49,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,300

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$52,680$66,570$90,620
Kansas City$54,290$71,280$93,470

KENTUCKY
Median Salary: 
$60,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 43%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$42,950$58,920$76,890
Lexington$43,350$61,460$79,530

LOUISIANA
Median Salary: 
$58,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$44,010$60,640$77,600
Baton Rouge$43,170$58,740$83,130
Lafayette$33,930$51,660$71,190

MAINE
Median Salary: 
$73,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$53,600$79,960$141,320

MARYLAND
Median Salary: 
$72,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 40%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$55,790$72,060$94,300
Frederick$64,710$76,230$97,320

MASSACHUSETTS
Median Salary: 
$83,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $105,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$51,720$85,280$110,780
Worcester$63,320$76,090$105,520
Springfield$54,590$73,110$93,530

MICHIGAN
Median Salary: 
$59,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$45,990$61,470$77,020
Grand Rapids$45,100$57,900$74,800

MINNESOTA
Median Salary: 
$75,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $57,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $96,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$57,270$75,150$95,780
Rochester$64,390$78,900$99,020

MISSISSIPPI
Median Salary: 
$61,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$50,120$64,110$78,280
Gulfport$43,680$61,560$78,420

MISSOURI
Median Salary: 
$66,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $86,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$44,460$63,960$84,900
Kansas City$54,290$71,280$93,470

MONTANA
Median Salary: 
$69,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,900

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$52,190$65,700$81,850
Missoula$29,310$69,210$96,040

NEBRASKA
Median Salary: 
$63,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$51,820$64,780$79,240

NEVADA
Median Salary: 
$75,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $57,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 43%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$56,930$75,620$97,570
Reno$62,450$74,700$96,120

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Median Salary: 
$76,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $96,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$58,380$80,380$97,450

NEW JERSEY
Median Salary: 
$73,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $96,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$55,400$73,720$97,130
Trenton$52,760$74,080$96,650

NEW MEXICO
Median Salary: 
$65,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $83,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$52,870$67,020$80,550
Las Cruces$44,100$58,370$79,480

NEW YORK
Median Salary: 
$69,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $49,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$51,190$71,800$95,330
Buffalo$52,330$66,860$79,160
Rochester$51,680$68,510$88,550
Albany$52,200$68,070$89,000

NORTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$64,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$51,370$62,680$79,290
Raleigh$52,470$65,170$79,720
Greensboro$52,450$66,400$83,400
Winston - Salem$52,350$66,220$81,170

NORTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$66,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Bismarck$47,330$65,690$77,630

OHIO
Median Salary: 
$62,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$49,800$62,800$81,120
Columbus$49,640$62,470$78,200
Cincinnati$51,720$68,550$81,720
Dayton$50,360$63,500$77,260

OKLAHOMA
Median Salary: 
$65,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$47,270$65,460$93,830
Tulsa$51,710$65,350$79,880

OREGON
Median Salary: 
$88,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $67,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$70,900$89,940$105,390
Salem$67,060$84,320$110,930

PENNSYLVANIA
Median Salary: 
$63,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $45,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $89,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$52,610$72,610$95,120
Pittsburgh$42,860$55,810$73,620
Harrisburg$51,780$64,560$78,860
Allentown$45,140$62,130$86,180

RHODE ISLAND
Median Salary: 
$70,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$49,540$71,580$96,270

SOUTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$59,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$47,350$64,360$79,910
Columbia$29,870$57,850$80,090
Charleston$52,450$63,690$84,390

SOUTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$60,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$42,910$57,510$77,350
Rapid City$52,020$65,230$76,080

TENNESSEE
Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 52%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$44,950$64,280$80,790
Memphis$43,060$60,080$82,080
Knoxville$43,440$58,240$77,470
Chattanooga$45,070$64,580$178,120

TEXAS
Median Salary: 
$68,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $99,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 46%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 290

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$51,990$70,660$97,370
Houston$53,120$71,380$175,860
San Antonio$45,070$64,580$178,120
Austin$53,600$69,310$97,120

UTAH
Median Salary: 
$73,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 44%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$53,540$73,480$96,250
Ogden$49,740$77,250$105,170

VERMONT
Median Salary: 
$72,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$69,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $49,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$49,250$65,550$80,250
Richmond$50,570$67,450$87,290

WASHINGTON
Median Salary: 
$85,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $64,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$66,850$86,870$109,160
Spokane$60,900$84,160$99,750

WEST VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$56,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$43,960$62,180$78,520
Charleston$42,780$55,200$70,950

WISCONSIN
Median Salary: 
$75,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $96,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$41,740$81,370$100,030
Madison$64,360$80,710$96,120

WYOMING
Median Salary: 
$61,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports sonographers’ annual median wage as $68,970. Salaries range from about $48,720 to over $97,390. The highest mean salaries are reported for sonographers working in outpatient care centers and specialty hospitals.

From 2014 to 2024, medical sonography jobs should grow much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of 26 percent. This substantial growth is due in part to the fact that ultrasound technology procedures are being ordered more frequently in the medical community as a first-line exam because they are radiation-free, less expensive, and less invasive than many other diagnostic tests. More job growth is expected in physicians’ offices and outpatient diagnostic centers. Sonographers with multiple certifications will have even more job opportunities.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$71800 Per Year

$34.51 Per Hour

Houston TX Median Pay

$71380 Per Year

$34.31 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Sonographer

1

Identify desirable educational programs (and avoid the bad ones).

Aspiring sonographers have a number of educational routes available which can be quite confusing. When looking at programs, the most important thing to verify is whether or not it is an accredited program. Unlike X-ray, ultrasound is considered non-hazardous, which unfortunately means that there isn’t enough state or federal regulation of ultrasound schools. A student may be drawn to a school that offers a part-time degree in a short period of time, but finding a job after graduation will be nearly impossible. Most employers will only hire sonographers who have attended an accredited program. Accreditation information can be found at the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Verify that your school is on this list!

2

Earn an associate or bachelor's degree or attend a non-degree program, depending on your circumstances.

Many two-year colleges offer an associate degree program, which often follows completion of an X-ray or other allied health program. The associate degree path is the most common path for aspiring diagnostic medical sonographers. There are also four-year bachelor’s degree programs, which give students the most exposure to the various ultrasound specialties and a strong knowledge of other imaging modalities. If a student already has some healthcare education and experience, there are 12 to 15 month ultrasound-specific programs, often university- or hospital-based. Sonography programs include classes in related health topics such as anatomy and physiology, ultrasound physics, and clinical training in the interpretation of sonographic images.

Show Me Schools »

In addition to classroom time, most accredited schools require and provide over 1,000 hours of on-site, hands-on clinical training, where students work side by side with qualified sonographers and doctors to learn the equipment, techniques, and necessary protocols to perform ultrasound examinations.

3

Get licensed, based on your state's requirements.

In some US states, sonographers can only practice ultrasound if they have a license that proves they graduated with a certificate from an ultrasound program.

4

Pass a specialty exam.

Most employers are less interested in the certificate of graduation and will only hire students who have passed either the ARDMS (American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography) or ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists) specialty exams. Once a student passes these exams, they are considered “registered” with the credential RDMS (Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer). Sonographers can obtain a single registered certification by passing an exam in any one of the multiple specialty areas, such as fetal ultrasound or adult echocardiography, or they can be registered in multiple specialties.

5

Entertain your options for career advancement as experience grows.

Since there are so many settings in which a sonographer can work, advancement potentials are limitless. In a hospital setting, sonographers can work up to lead and management roles in the department. Private practice sonographers also have management and administration potential. There are plenty of opportunities beyond patient care, such as becoming involved in ultrasound education or working directly for ultrasound equipment manufacturers in sales, training, and applications.

Explore Degree Paths

CERTIFICATE PROGRAM

1 year (not including prerequisites)

Many employers require that sonographers be certified, and some states require certification as a condition of licensure. It’s therefore important to choose an educational pathway that will allow you to sit for the certification exam — preferably right after graduation.

Beginning in 2018, the quickest way to become certified will be to complete a certificate program in diagnostic medical sonography accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Community colleges, career schools, technical colleges, and hospitals all host accredited certificate programs.

The big advantage of a certificate is that it gets you working quickly and with fewer expenses. Sonography certificate programs can also be ideal for professionals who hold a degree in another allied health field. (Indeed, many are designed with these students in mind.)

The downside of a certificate is that you usually won’t earn college credit unless your program has an agreement with a local college or university. Not having a degree can also make it harder to find a job or move between jobs.

Before enrolling in a certificate program, students must fulfill prerequisites in college algebra, physics, communications, human anatomy, ethics, computers, and medical terminology. Coursework or clinical experience in patient care may also be required.

Sonography certificate programs can be generalist or focused on a modality like obstetrics or abdominal scanning. Expect courses in:

Medical sonography theory

Introduces the equipment, science, and terminology of ultrasound.

Sonography physics

Study how sound waves can be used to visualize body structures.

Sonographic anatomy and pathology

Learn about common conditions affecting the abdomen and how to scan for them.

OB/GYN scanning

Use ultrasound to visualize the reproductive system of pregnant and non-pregnant women.

Accredited certificate programs also include extensive hands-on training at local clinics and hospitals.

ASSOCIATE DEGREE

2 years

This is currently the most common pathway for sonography certification. You can find AAS programs in sonography at universities and community and technical colleges. These can be generalist or focused on a modality like cardiac, OB/GYN, or vascular sonography.

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The associate degree curriculum combines the typical sonography prerequisites (algebra, college physics, intro to patient care, etc.) with classroom and hands-on learning in sonography. The second year curriculum is very similar to that of the certificate program. In addition to the subjects listed above, expect to cover:

Ethnic and cultural diversity

Learn about how group values and experiences impact health and healthcare.

Instrumentation

See how ultrasound equipment translates acoustical signals into images and data.

Sectional anatomy

Study the structure of the body as observed in planes and quadrants during imaging tests.

Sonography procedures

Practice scanning techniques and patient care on mannequins and live volunteers.

Associate degree students also complete clinical rotations at local hospitals and clinics. If your program is CAAHEP-accredited, your practicum classes will fulfill the experience requirement for certification.

Some associate degree programs have transfer agreements with bachelor’s programs in sonography. This can be helpful if your ultimate goal is to earn a four-year degree or attend graduate school.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

Having a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science (BSRS) can make it easier to land sonography job. It also opens up doors to management, teaching, research, and graduate studies if those interest you.

Bachelor’s degree students typically take 2–3 years of general education and prerequisite classes followed by 1–2 years of sonography training. The final two years of the bachelor’s degree program are very similar to an associate degree curriculum.

In addition to the associate-level classes listed above, bachelor’s students might study:

Echocardiography

Develop your knowledge of heart anatomy and scanning techniques.

Fetal scanning

Use a variety of calculations and observations to assess fetal health and development.

Healthcare ethics

Discuss how to recognize and resolve dilemmas related to values conflicts that arise during patient care.

Vascular sonography

Practice scanning blood vessels of the brain, extremities, and other body parts for abnormalities.

Keys to Success as a Medical Sonographer

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Thorough knowledge of anatomy

Ultrasound is unique in imaging because it is so operator-dependent. The sonographer must have a thorough understanding of anatomy and be able to detect any existing pathology in order to document it and pass it along to the reading doctor, who often never actually sees or scans the patients themselves.

Attention to detail

Since small changes in an image may signal a problem within a patient, precision is necessary to create a quality image using complex equipment.

Ability to multitask

Sonographers must be able to concentrate when performing a diagnostic test, even as they interact with the patient.

Good physical health and strength

Sonographers are on their feet for extended time periods and often must help to move ill or disabled patients.

Dexterity in both arms

The left hand is used to operate the machine while the right hand scans.

Additional Credentials

The following organizations offer primary and advanced certifications for sonographers:

American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography

  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS). Modalities: abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiography, OB/GYN, pediatrics
  • Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS). Modalities: adult echocardiography, fetal echocardiography, pediatric echocardiography
  • Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
  • Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS)

American Registry of Radiologic Technologists

  • Registered Radiologic Technologist, Sonography Certified (RT(S)). Advanced certifications: breast sonography, vascular sonography

Cardiovascular Credentialing International

  • Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS)
  • Advanced Cardiac Sonographer (ACS)
  • Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS)
  • Registered Phlebology Sonographer (RPhS)
  • Registered Vascular Specialist (RVS)
Elizabeth Burton, RDMS, RVT

Elizabeth Burton is a registered diagnostic sonographer (RDMS) in the Abdomen/Small Parts and OB/GYN specialties. She also is a Registered Vascular Tech (RVT). Elizabeth has 24 years of practice in diagnostic medical sonography and 18 years of experience specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. She is currently chief/staff sonographer for two private, busy OB/GYN practices in New Jersey. Additionally, Elizabeth is an experienced medical writer with published peer-reviewed articles in the Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography as well as co-authoring a book on Prenatal Tests and Ultrasound: The Facts, published by the Oxford University Press.

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