How to Become an Ultrasound Tech

  • Diagnostic imaging professionals such as medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists use specialized imaging technology to produce images or perform tests(1).  
  • Most companies want to hire diagnostic imaging professionals with professional certification(2).
  • Pursuing a career path in ultrasound technology may require passing the state licensure exam or certification program.

Sonographer Vs. Ultrasound Tech

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) notes virtually no difference between “sonography” and “ultrasound technology(3).”
Sonography and ultrasound technology typically use ultrasound equipment to perform medical imaging and diagnose medical conditions.
Most of the time, “sonographer” and “ultrasound technology” are two interchangeable medical terminologies(4).
Moreover, diagnostic medical sonographers and ultrasound technicians have overlapping vocational tasks(5).
Sonographers and ultrasound technicians are allied health professionals trained in imaging procedures using sound waves and patient care.
However, healthcare institutions may require sonographers to complete additional training and certificate programs in some cases.
Diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in producing images of the body’s organs and tissues. Sonograms or ultrasounds are the terms for these images.
Physicians often order a sonogram as the first imaging procedure when they suspect abnormalities(6)

Usually, “ultrasound tech” means the same as:

  • Ultrasound technicians(7)
  • Ultrasound technologists
  • Diagnostic medical sonographers(8)
  • Sonographers(9)

There are two types of medical ultrasound: diagnostic and therapeutic(10).
Diagnostic ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic method for imaging the body’s inside.
Meanwhile, diagnostic sonography creates images of the inside of the body using high-frequency sound waves.
The sonographer scans the portions of the patient’s body under observation using an ultrasound transducer. The transducer sends out sound pulses that bounce back, creating echoes.
Afterward, an ultrasound machine receives these echoes, interprets them, and shows them as images for doctors to diagnose.
A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) handbook indicates the following specialty areas in medical sonography(11):

  • Pediatric sonography
  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonography
  • Musculoskeletal sonography
  • Vascular technology
  • Cardiac sonography, e.g., pediatric echocardiography, adult echocardiography, and fetal echocardiography
  • Abdominal sonography
  • Breast sonography

The BLS puts medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, and vascular technologists within the same category(12).
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians produce pictures and perform diagnostic exams involving the heart and lungs. A cardiac sonographer, in particular, photographs a patient’s heart for diagnostic purposes.
Vascular technologists (vascular sonographers) capture images of blood vessels and gather data to help doctors diagnose blood flow problems. Physicians order vascular ultrasounds to monitor patients’ blood pressure and volume in their arms, legs, fingers, and toes.
Specializations in cardiovascular technology include the following:

  • Cardiovascular invasive specialists
  • Cardiographic or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians
  • Pulmonary function technologists or cardiopulmonary technologists

Education: Prerequisites, Requirements, Degrees, Programs, and Certificates

Several training options are available to individuals interested in beginning a career path in sonography.
Students can enroll in associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs depending on their academic needs and goals.
The following steps refer to the typical prerequisites and education requirements for working as an ultrasound tech or sonographer:

  1. Earn a high school diploma.

Ultrasound techs or sonographers should have a strong understanding of physics and mathematics and possess interpersonal and critical thinking skills.
Aspiring ultrasound techs may prefer to focus on the following high school subjects to prepare for higher education:

  • Computer sciences
  • Physiology
  • Biological sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Algebra

    2. Attend and complete an accredited program.

Ultrasound technicians usually finish two to four years of academic study or training program(13).
Students may choose from the following options(14)

  • Two years to earn an associate’s degree 
  • Four years to earn a bachelor’s degree
  • A year to get a vocational certificate

The coursework in an associate’s degree in the sonography program may include(15):

  • Obstetricsgynecology (OB/GYN) sonography
  • Vascular sonography
  • Echocardiographic pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Echocardiography
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology Lab
  • English
  • Introduction to Health Sciences
  • Algebra
  • Medical Terminology
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Fundamentals of Speech
  • Physics
  • Sonographic Physics and Instrumentation
  • Sonography Anatomy
  • Abdominal Sonography

Pursuing an associate’s degree program is one of the most common educational paths sonographers take(16).
On the other hand, professionals already working in ultrasound technology and aiming to enhance their careers often prefer completing a four-year degree program in sonography(17).
A vocational certificate in sonography usually takes a year to complete.
Through a vocational program, students can learn the fundamentals of ultrasound technology through hands-on practice and seminars on sectional anatomy, obstetrics, and pathology.
This option may also require students to take prerequisite math, biology, and English coursework before admission.
Employers can hire people who have a sonography certificate. However, companies may prefer individuals with a higher-level degree or clinical experience(18).
In the United States, employers typically hire graduates of a Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)-accredited program.

Certification and Licensing

Most employers prefer to recruit diagnostic imaging professionals who have earned professional certification(19). These companies may require their employees to take a certification exam soon after they start working.
Many insurance companies and Medicare will only pay for procedures if a certified sonographer, technologist, or technician conducts the test(20).
Credentialing agencies for medical sonographers include the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), and American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS).
Most diagnostic imaging professionals have at least one professional(21) certification. However, interested individuals may apply for more credentials.
Some states may require licensure exams for medical sonographers. North Dakota, Oregon, New Mexico, and New Hampshire are the only states that mandate licensure for sonographers(22).

Types of Ultrasound and Sonography Certification

CCI specialties include(23):

  • Advanced Cardiac Sonographer (ACS)
  • Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT)
  • Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician (CRAT)
  • Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS)
  • Registered Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist (RCES)
  • Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS)
  • Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS)
  • Registered Phlebology Sonographer (RPhS)
  • Registered Vascular Specialist (RVS)

ARRT credential options include(24):

  • Sonography
  • Breast sonography
  • Vascular sonography

ARDMS exams include(25):

  • Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS)
  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS)
  • Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
  • Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS).

Individuals who want to earn professional certification may need to check the examination prerequisites for each program.
For example, ARDMS may require a degree diploma and documentation of full-time clinical experience before admitting an applicant to their program(26).

Experience: Coursework, Internships, and Externships

Students may take extensive ultrasound courses as part of a certificate or degree program in ultrasound technology.
Pre-professional (or prerequisite) courses and courses connected to the profession of sonography are two categories of core ultrasound classes.
Prerequisites may differ per school. However, some examples of standard courses needed to begin a degree program are below.
One course requirement most schools require is a minimum 2.0 GPA(27).
Pre-professional coursework may include

  • English Composition
  • Biology (Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology)
  • Psychology and Sociology
  • College Algebra
  • General Physics
  • Medical Terminology
  • Anatomy and Physiology.

Some of the standard courses students can expect to take as part of a two-year associate’s degree program are(28):

  • Introduction to Sonography
  • Ultrasound Physics and Instrumentation
  • Abdominal Scanning and Pathology
  • Sonography Patient Care
  • OB/GYN Scanning and Pathology
  • Vascular sonography
  • Superficial and Small Parts Scanning
  • Cardio sonography
  • Clinical Internships and Labs

A bachelor’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography usually takes four years. This degree program prepares students for careers in the allied health profession.
During the first two years of enrollment, students receive training in the introductory fields of sonography. In the final two years, students may begin to take specialized classes.
Clinical rotations are a critical aspect of the program because it allows students to train at local hospitals and health care providers. Schools design clinical rotations to familiarize students with how to perform a general ultrasound examination(29).
General science and math courses are also part of the first and second years of enrollment. Moreover, elective courses allow students to focus on a specific field of diagnostic medical sonography over the final two years.
In addition to the introductory sonography courses above, the advanced courses required for a bachelor’s degree may also contain the following:

  • Conflict Resolution in Healthcare
  • Health Policy
  • Ultrasound Physics
  • Healthcare and Aging
  • Healthcare and Aging
  • Academic and Professional Writing
  • Healthcare Ethics
  • Introduction to Epidemiology

Why Become an Ultrasound Technician?

Diagnostic imaging workers are in high demand and can earn a considerable entry-level wage. Many advanced health care providers work in this field(30)

Salary

The median yearly wage for diagnostic medical sonographers was $77,740 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $101,650(31).
The following table describes the median annual salary for diagnostic medical sonographers working in the primary industries(32):

Outpatient care centers $78,590
Medical and diagnostic laboratories $74,660
Hospitals; state, local, and private $60,230
Physicians’ offices $62,220

In contrast, the median annual wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $60,570 in May 2021(33).
The data below describes the median annual wages for cardiovascular technologists and technicians working in significant industries(34):

Outpatient care centers $100,990
Medical and diagnostic laboratories $74,660
Hospitals; state, local, and private $60,230
Physicians’ offices $62,220

Medical sonographers’ rate per hour may depend on their credentials or work experience.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects diagnostic imaging workers to expand from 2020 to 2030 at a greater rate than the average for all occupations(35).
Over the next ten years, the BLS anticipates about 12,000 opportunities for medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists, and technicians. These positions are likely to arise due to the need to replace people who shift occupations or leave the workforce for various reasons, such as retirement(36).
The need to diagnose medical issues such as blood clots and heart disease may expand as baby-boomers age(37). Imaging equipment is necessary to perform diagnoses.
Medical institutions may also need diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, and vascular technologists in hospitals to give an alternative to radiation-based imaging procedures.

List of Ultrasound Technician Schools

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) website has an extensive list of accredited programs.
Students researching their options may filter their search results according to profession name, the field of study (concentration), accreditation category, and state. Interested individuals may also filter the options according to each school’s programs(38).

How Long Does It Take to Become an Ultrasound Tech?

Ultrasound technicians usually complete two to four years of coursework or training program(39).

Students may select from the following options(40)

  • Two years to get an associate’s degree 
  • Four years to earn a bachelor’s degree
  • A year to finish a vocational certificate program

Researching the School

Students can attend a technical school, community college, or four-year college or university, depending on the type of training they choose to pursue.

Technical Colleges

Students interested in earning a certificate can enroll in a technical college and receive an intensive education that usually takes less time than a higher-level degree.
Technical colleges may provide flexibility for career changers who work full-time during the day by offering evening and weekend programs.
Employers may prioritize job candidates with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees because these technical college programs are less in-depth than higher-level degrees.
Furthermore, individuals with certificates may receive lower salaries than those with degrees(41).

Community Colleges

Community colleges provide associate’s degrees that can be suitable alternatives for aspiring sonographers who want a more advanced education than a technical school can provide.
Students in community college programs can take courses that prepare them for professions in sonography and general education subjects that help them develop other abilities.
Community colleges do not provide the same level of scheduling flexibility as technical institutions. This condition may not be a viable option for individuals with full-time jobs.

Colleges and Universities

Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in Sonography through a college or university program. This degree program is an excellent option for individuals intending to grow in their jobs and make more money.
A bachelor’s degree helps graduates gain employment in the health care industry, including diagnostic medical sonographer, sales, and research positions.
Bachelor’s degree programs are also available to individuals who aim to start a new career.
However, career-shifters may have to spend more time than students who attend technical institutions or community colleges.

Researching the Program

After choosing a program, the individual may visit the institution’s website or contact the program director for more information. Here are some such questions to consider:

  • What specific topics does the program cover?
  • What does the practicum involve?
  • How long does it usually take to finish the program?
  • What are the tuition costs and financial aid options?
  • What are the academic prerequisites?
  • What percent of the program’s students/graduates pass certification exams?

Costs

The overall cost of studying and training to become an ultrasound tech or sonographer may vary depending on the type of school or training program.
Aspiring diagnostic imaging professionals may examine their options individually for accurate computation.

Is It Hard to Become an Ultrasound Tech?

Adjusting from high school to an ultrasound technician career may not be as difficult as some individuals believe.
Ultrasound tech courses typically do not include any formal math classes. However, ultrasound techs must be able to understand mathematical equations and do simple algebraic calculations. 

What Medical Ultrasound?

There are two types of medical ultrasound: diagnostic and therapeutic.
Diagnostic ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure that allows doctors to observe the body’s inside.
Usually, ultrasound technicians place diagnostic ultrasonography on the skin. However, ultrasound techs can also insert probes into the body through the gastrointestinal system, vaginal canal, or blood vessels to improve picture quality.
Therapeutic ultrasonography uses sound waves that are above the human hearing range. However, this procedure does not produce images.
The goal of therapeutic ultrasonography is to interact with body tissues to effect an alteration or elimination(42).

Are There Risks in Using Ultrasound?

Diagnostic ultrasound is typically safe because it does not emit ionizing radiation like X-rays(43).
However, ultrasonography can produce biological effects on the body under the right circumstances and conditions. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates diagnostic ultrasound equipment to function within specific parameters.
The FDA and several other professional organizations discourage using ultrasound for non-medical purposes, such as making memento recordings, and recommend the technique’s usage only when necessary(44).

Similar Occupations

 Below is a list of jobs that have similar responsibilities to medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians(45):

  • Registered Nurses
  • Radiation Therapists
  • Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
  • Nuclear Medicine Technologists
  • Radiologic and MRI Technologists

  1. Summary
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-1
  2. How to Become a Medical Sonographer or Cardiovascular Technologist and Technician
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-4
  3. How to Become a Sonographer
    https://www.ardms.org/how-to-become-a-sonographer/
  4. Ibid.
  5. Diagnostic Medical Sonography vs. Ultrasound Technician
    https://pci.edu/dms-vs-ultrasound-technician/
  6. What Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians Do About this section
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-2
  7. Prepare for a Career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
    https://www.sjvc.edu/guides/career-guide-diagnostic-medical-sonographer/
  8. Diagnostic Medical Sonography vs. Ultrasound Technician
    https://pci.edu/dms-vs-ultrasound-technician/
  9. How to Become a Sonographer
    https://www.ardms.org/how-to-become-a-sonographer/
  10. Ultrasound
    https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/ultrasound
  11. What Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians Do
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-2
  12. Ibid.
  13. Becoming a Sonographer or Ultrasound Tech
    https://www.edumed.org/how-to-become/sonographer-ultrasound-tech/
  14. Ibid.
  15. Program Overview: Diagnostic Medical Sonography
    https://www.cambridgehealth.edu/diagnostic-medical-sonography-program/
  16. Becoming a Sonographer or Ultrasound Tech
    https://www.edumed.org/how-to-become/sonographer-ultrasound-tech/
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. How to Become a Medical Sonographer or Cardiovascular Technologist and Technician
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-4
  20. Ibid.
  21. How to Become a Medical Sonographer or Cardiovascular Technologist and Technician
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-4
  22. State Licensure
    https://www.sdms.org/advocacy/state-licensure
  23. Credentials
    https://cci-online.org/CCI/Credentials/CCI/Content/Credentials.aspx?hkey=8770022b-951e-4b38-aa50-c2920ea6a7d6
  24. Credential Options
    https://www.arrt.org/pages/earn-arrt-credentials/credential-options
  25. About ARDMS
    https://www.ardms.org/discover-ardms/about-ardms/
  26. SPI Examination Requirement
    https://www.ardms.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/ARDMS-General-Prerequisites.pdf
  27. Becoming a Sonographer or Ultrasound Tech
    https://www.edumed.org/how-to-become/sonographer-ultrasound-tech/
  28. Online Sonography Associate Degrees: Program Overviews
    https://bestaccreditedcolleges.org/articles/online-sonography-associate-degrees-program-overviews.html
  29. Sonography Degree Programs and Majors Overview
    https://bestaccreditedcolleges.org/articles/sonography-degree.html
  30. How to Become a Sonographer
    https://www.ardms.org/how-to-become-a-sonographer/
  31. Pay
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-5
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Job Outlook
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-6
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Find A Program
    https://www.caahep.org/Students/Find-a-Program.aspx
  39. Becoming a Sonographer or Ultrasound Tech
    https://www.edumed.org/how-to-become/sonographer-ultrasound-tech/
  40. Ibid.
  41. Becoming a Sonographer or Ultrasound Tech
    https://www.edumed.org/how-to-become/sonographer-ultrasound-tech/
  42. Ultrasound
    https://www.nibib.nih.gov/science-education/science-topics/ultrasound
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Similar Occupations
    https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-8

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