Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Career and Job Highlights
Medical Sonographer Career Information and Job Description
Several types of equipment and processes are used in diagnostic imaging in order to diagnose illnesses. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates an image by using magnets and radio waves, different than x rays that use radiation to form the image. Ultrasonography and sonography create images by using sound waves. While many people automatically connect ultrasounds with pregnant mothers and viewing the baby in the womb, it can be used to diagnose a number of health problems.
In an ultrasound, high frequency, nonionizing sound waves are passed into the patient’s body. The waves are reflected and then collected by equipment operated by diagnostic medical sonographers, or ultrasonographers. The images can be recorded on video or still images for later review by the patient’s doctor.
Sonographers prepare the patient by taking their medical history and moving them into the most appropriate position. They set the equipment settings and often spread a gel onto the part of the patient’s body where the waves will need to go. They then examine that part of the body using the transducer, which is the piece of equipment that actually transmits the waves.
During the ultrasound, the sonographer looks for problem areas or other concerns which they will record and indicate to the physician. They also determine the quality of the images and edit them in order to give the doctor the most relevant footage.
There are many specialties that sonographers can choose: ophthalmologic sonography deals with the eyes; abdominal sonography deals with the pancreas, spleen, gallbladder, liver, and kidneys; neurosonography deals with the brain; obstetric and gynecologic sonography deals with the female reproductive system; and echocardiography and vascular technology.
Ophthalmologic sonography allows for very accurate measurements of the eyes, assisting doctors with prosthetic lens placement. Other uses include detailed examination of the retinas, blood vessels, and tumors or other abnormalities. The transducers ophthalmologic sonographers use are smaller than those used in other specialties, and are made exclusively for use with the eyes.
Abdominal sonography examines the organs and tissue found in the abdomen: specifically, the kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, and gallbladder. Abdominal sonographers do not typically examine the heart—echocardiographers perform that examination.
The brain and nervous system can be examined via neurosonography. Fetuses’ brains can be scanned in order to diagnose brain disease or other related health problems. Infants with sickle-cell anemia sometime have strokes that can be identified by scanning their blood vessels. Neurosonographers use differently shaped waves and frequencies transmitted from the transducer in order to examine the brain.
Perhaps the most well-known branch of sonography is obstetric and gynecologic sonography, which examines the female reproductive system. Ultrasounds can b e used to examine a fetus still in the womb to determine the baby’s gender and health.
Diagnostic medical sonographers may manage work and patient schedules or an entire imaging department. They service equipment and update patient records, in addition to contributing their knowledge toward equipment purchases.
40-hour weeks are the norm among full-time sonographers, though those working in hospitals often must be on call and ready to work on evenings and weekends.
Sonographers typically spend much of their time at work on their feet. They can work either at an imaging laboratory or sometimes travel to patients’ homes in vans carrying their diagnostic imaging equipment. Sonographers may be required to physically maneuver immobile patients into the proper position for imaging.
Medical Sonographer Career Training and Job Qualifications
There are several options to receive training to become a sonographer, including hospitals, institutions of higher education, branches of the military, and technical colleges. While some programs prefer that their students have some kind of science or health profession background, most will take applicants with a high school education in either the sciences or liberal arts.
Four-year Bachelor’s and two-year associate degrees are available, though the latter is much more prominent. Students of these programs can expect to study ethical issues, anatomy, physiology, bedside manner and patient care, elementary physics, and sonography equipment. There were approximately 100 programs in 2003 that were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied health Education Programs.
Employment opportunities can be enhanced for sonographers who specialize in one branch of sonography by studying another specialty. Additionally, health professional such as nurses or x ray technicians can increase their marketability by completing a 1-year certification program in sonography.
The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) registers competent sonographers, though there are no State licensing requirements. Many hospitals, labs, and doctors like to hire registered sonographers because registration indicates an unbiased vote of confidence in the sonographer’s abilities. Potential ARDMS-registered sonographers must pass a general equipment and procedure test and a test in their chosen specialty. Continuing education courses help sonographers stay current on advances in technology as well as maintain their registration.
A foundation in math and science are definite assets for potential sonographers. Good bedside manner and interpersonal skills are important in order to be able to explain the procedure and calm down nervous patients.
Medical Sonographer Job and Employment Opportunities
Job openings will become available as current sonographers leave the profession for good. Additionally, due to the aging population and increased demand for imaging services, through 2012 job growth for sonographers is expected to be faster than average.
As people seek out safer alternatives to radiological imaging, demand for diagnostic medical sonographers will increase. Because of the relatively harmless sound waves used in sonographic imaging, multiple exposures to the procedure are safe for the technician and patients. New technologies are being developed rapidly, including 3D-imaging for examining fetuses; the high cost of new technology may limit the rate at which they are proliferated.
Though hospitals will continue to be their biggest employers, an increasing number of sonographers will be employed by doctors and laboratories through 2012 as technological advances allow for cheaper and more mobile equipment and insurance company focus shifts to outpatient care.
Historical Earnings Information
Annual earnings differed slightly between doctors’ offices and hospitals in 2002, averaging $50,390 and $47,530 respectively. The median overall earnings for diagnostic medical sonographers were $48,660. The highest and lowest ten percent earned $66,680 and $35,800 respectively, while the middle half made between $41,420 and $56,020.