How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

When you’re expecting a baby, who gives you your first peek at your little bundle of joy? An ultrasound technician. And they don’t just get to look at little babies, although that’s what most people think of when they hear the word “ultrasound.” Ultrasound technicians can also take diagnostic images of veins, the pancreas, kidneys, even the brain, among other organs. They use a method called sonography, and it involves a transducer, which sends out sound waves that become pictures. As a diagnostic medical sonographer (or ultrasound tech), you have the knowledge to properly use this equipment to get the best image of the area in question. You’ll know enough about the body to form an opinion on what’s going on in there, good or bad, and forward your report on to a doctor who will use that information to diagnose and treat patients accordingly. The equipment you’ll be using isn’t exactly that pair of X-ray specs you’ve always wanted, but pretty close. You’ll get to see through people’s skin and not be considered a creepy pervert!

Years of Education

2–4 years after high school

Degrees & Licenses

  • Associate of Applied Science in Sonography
  • or

  • Bachelor of Technical Studies in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
  • or

  • Certificate of Completion in Sonography

Job Availability

Expected to rise 18% by 2018.

Income

Low

$44,900

Average

$64,900

High

$88,400

Perks

  • Never wonder what to wear again. Scrubs. Lots of them.
  • You know, helping people and stuff.

1. Get your degree in sonography from an accredited school.

Sonograph machineLearn necessary skills by completing a 2–4 year program. Program length can vary, but that’s the general timeline. Programs can be offered by universities, tech schools, and even hospitals. You’ll cover stuff like anatomy and other sciences, patient care, and you’ll also have to get through clinicals—practicing with real patients in real facilities. Either an associate or bachelor’s degree will qualify you for sonography jobs, most go with the associate degree. A bachelor’s might give you more options in the future, though. You’ll also decide if you want to specialize. Yes, there’s the obstetric/gynecological ultrasound, but there is also vascular or cardiac, breast, neurological, and abdominal. If you’re already in a health care profession and want to ramp up your qualifications, you can squeak by with just a one-year program.

2. Get certified through an organization such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

After completing your degree, pass an exam to become registered. Technically speaking this is not a required step, but most employers will prefer it. This way they know you are actually capable of performing the required duties of the job. There are several institutions to go through, check with your school and see which ones they recommend for your specialty and geographical area. Besides passing the examination in your subject area, in order to keep your certification current, you’ll have to keep up with the times and take more classes after initial employment. Medical practices can change, and it’s good to know the most current information throughout your career in order to best help your patients.

3. You have the training and are certified, now find work.

Black and White picture of someone with welding helmet onYou have the title of certified ultrasound technician, go put it to use. You can work at hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, or labs. You can even be a “freelance” diagnostic sonographer, which means you will be a casual employee of multiple facilities. Obviously, if you have a specialty in gynecological/obstetric sonography, you’ll want to apply somewhere with an OB/GYN department, not at a cardiac clinic. And yes, job hunting sucks. But you can make it easier on yourself by having some great references who will vouch for you. Get to know your professors and staff members in the facilities where you had your clinicals. It’s all about networking and those sorts of people can make the whole process easier.

4. Advance your career in the sonography field.

So now I’m an ultrasound technician, is that the highest I can go? Nope! If you love what you’re doing at this point, then don’t worry about working your way up the managerial food chain. Just keep on rocking at life. But if you want more, there are possibilities for becoming a supervisor or manager in the department, depending on the facility. Another great way to increase your options is to become certified in more than one area. You’ll become more valuable to your current employer, or gain the skills to grab a new position that might be more lucrative, satisfying, or in other ways just a better deal.

You need both technical skills and people skills.

Ultrasound monitorsWhen you decide to go into a health care profession, you not only need to know your area of expertise backward and forward, but you also need to be able to interact well with others. I worked in a hospital during my college years, and trust me, you deal with all kinds of people. Funny, crabby, emotional, kind, angry, and just plain weird. Sickness doesn’t discriminate, you see all walks of life. And you have to take it all in stride, performing the necessary tests to help doctors come to the correct diagnosis. As an ultrasound technician, you’ll need to be able to talk to patients about the test you’re performing and what you find out from it. Some of your patients might be anxious about the reason for their test with you, and if you’re good at making people feel comfortable, you’ll be great in your new profession.

Further Reading for Aspiring Ultrasound Techs

Pocket Guide to Sonography (Regina Swearengin). This handy little book has all kinds of info you’ll need to know as a diagnostic medical sonographer, and it’ll fit in your scrub pocket! You can even search by symptom to easily find possible conditions or disorders.

Radiology Today magazine. All diagnostic imaging techniques are discussed in this monthly magazine, allowing you to always be up-to-date. A nice option if you’re interested in more than just sonography.

Sonography Tech: Essentials of Physics & Sound, Image Interpretation, Tools, Techniques, Equipment & Terminology (Kathryn Almquist and Jacqueline Stawicki). What a title for such a short guide. Only a handful of pages, but it is packed with the stuff you need to know. A great school study guide.