Is Becoming an Ultrasound Technician Worth the Hype?
Ultrasound technicians, often referred to as medical sonographers, play a crucial role in the medical field by assisting in the diagnosis of various conditions through noninvasive and painless medical imaging techniques.
These healthcare professionals are responsible for creating the initial images of unborn babies for expectant parents and are part of teams that detect potentially life-threatening health issues, such as blocked arteries and enlarged spleens. In times of significant life changes for patients, they often serve as a comforting presence and a source of support.
Becoming an ultrasound technician doesn’t require a medical degree and is recognized as one of the less stressful professions in healthcare. Additionally, it offers competitive compensation, experiences high demand, and provides fulfillment to many individuals.
Even if you never envisioned yourself working in a medical setting alongside doctors, this career path is accessible to almost anyone willing to put in the effort. So, what are the steps to get started? This article explores the process of becoming an ultrasound technician, including the necessary education and certification requirements.
What Is an Ultrasound Technician?
Ultrasound technicians operate ultrasound machines, which are instrumental in diagnosing and treating various medical conditions across different specialties, including plastic surgery and pain management.
What Does an Ultrasound Machine Do?
Ultrasound machines use high-frequency sound waves to produce images of organs and tissues beneath the skin. While they are commonly associated with monitoring fetal development during pregnancy, these machines serve numerous essential functions in the medical field. They can detect kidney stones, assess heart function, and even guide surgical instruments within the body.
Roles and Responsibilities of Ultrasound Technicians
Ultrasound technicians do more than operate advanced equipment. They also prepare patients by explaining procedures and addressing their questions and concerns. Additionally, they maintain and operate imaging equipment, record patients’ medical data, and review and analyze results before doctors make their diagnoses.
Types of Ultrasound Technicians
Ultrasound technicians can specialize in various areas, including:
- Cardiac Sonographers (Echocardiographers): Specialize in imaging the heart.
- Abdominal Sonographers: Focus on imaging abdominal organs like the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.
- Pediatric Sonographers: Specialize in imaging infants and children.
While over half of ultrasound technicians in the United States work in hospitals, others find employment in physician offices, diagnostic medical laboratories, and outpatient care centers. They work collaboratively with doctors, registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals. However, the job may involve working in dimly lit settings and requires standing for extended periods. It may also involve overtime, evening shifts, and weekend work.
Steps to Become an Ultrasound Technician
Becoming an ultrasound technician follows specific steps and requires training from an accredited program, as well as an associate degree and certification (which includes passing an exam). In four states, licensure is also mandatory.
1. Obtain Your GED®
To initiate professional training as an ultrasound technician, a high school diploma is essential. If you lack one, there are multiple pathways to earn a General Education Development (GED) credential. You can attend classes through a local school district or community college, take a high school equivalency test at a local testing center, or pursue online GED programs.
2. Earn a Degree from an Accredited Sonography Training Program
A degree in diagnostic medical sonography is a prerequisite for obtaining entry-level ultrasound technician positions and preparing for licensing exams. The program’s curriculum typically covers subjects such as anatomy, algebra, medical terminology, pharmacology, and echocardiography. Students can choose from various educational paths, including:
- A two-year associate degree in sonography (the most common choice).
- Bachelor’s degrees in sonography.
- One-year certification programs for those already trained in other medical fields.
It’s crucial to select programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). This accreditation ensures adherence to high-quality standards in health science programs and facilitates credit transfers between institutions.
3. Obtain Certification as an Ultrasound Tech
After completing your sonography program, certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS®) is the next step. This certification involves selecting one of four prerequisite pathways, each requiring successful completion of the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation exam and corresponding specialty exams.
While most states only require an associate degree and professional certification for ultrasound technicians, four states—New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon—also mandate licensure.
Given the hands-on and highly technical nature of sonography, practical experience is invaluable. Most degree programs include a clinical internship component to provide students with real-world experience. To explore job opportunities, you can visit the ARDMS website, which offers a career center and up-to-date information on ultrasound technology.
In conclusion, a career as an ultrasound technician offers an accessible and fulfilling path within the medical field, providing opportunities to make a meaningful impact on patients’ lives. By following these steps and acquiring the necessary education and certification, you can embark on a rewarding journey as an ultrasound technician.