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Becoming a Sonographer or Ultrasound Tech

From choosing a program to landing a job, this guide will teach you how to become a sonographer. Discover schools, course structure, and distance learning options today.

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Imagine the incredible moment of being the professional who presents first-time parents with their baby’s initial ultrasound image or being a vital member of the healthcare team that identifies a severe illness, enabling the patient to begin receiving lifesaving treatment. That’s all in a day’s work for sonographers sonographers and ultrasound technicians, two titles that often refer to the same profession.

These skilled professionals use advanced diagnostic equipment to generate images of patients’ internal organs, helping medical teams detect potential health issues. If you’re considering a career in sonography, various educational pathways are available, ranging from certificate programs to associate and bachelor’s degrees. Each option equips students with the essential knowledge and hands-on experience needed for success in this exciting field. Keep reading to discover the path that best aligns with your aspirations and goals.

Make Sure Sonography is Right for You

Anyone thinking about a first or new career should ask themselves a few questions. The most important question to ask yourself is, “Does a career as a sonographer align with my skills, traits, and interests?” Being in the healthcare field in general and a sonographer in particular requires specific traits that will be crucial to your success. Here are a handful of questions to get you started thinking about if this career is where you should be.

  • Are you a naturally compassionate person?
  • Do you have excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity?
  • Are you confident in your ability to detect tiny abnormalities within complex images?
  • Do you have the ability to display emotional stability and maturity?
  • Are you passionate about helping diagnose sick and injured patients?
  • Are you analytical and data-oriented?
  • Do you have the necessary communication skills to explain ultrasound procedures to patients?
  • Are you interested in anatomy and physiology?
  • Can you stand for long periods of time?
  • Are you willing to continue learning throughout your career?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’re ready to learn the next step in how to become a sonographer. Continue on to read more about this career choice.

Sonographer vs. Ultrasound Tech: Is There a Difference?

Sonographers and ultrasound technicians have the same job description and education requirements. People who want to pursue sonography need to understand exactly what sonography means and where the terms ultrasound and sonogram come into play.

Ultrasound: An ultrasound machine uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image — referred to as a sonogram — of tissues, organs, and blood vessels. This technology is beneficial to patients because it produces an image without exposing them to radiation. The person operating an ultrasound machine is often referred to as an ultrasound tech.

Sonogram: When performing an ultrasound, the visual image produced by the machine is called an ultrasonogram, or sonogram. The person who performs this task can also be referred to as a sonographer.

Relation: Sonographer and ultrasound tech are interchangeable names for the same profession. Through ultrasound technology, sonograms are created, which are the images necessary for diagnosis. It is the job of the sonographer (or ultrasound tech) to operate the ultrasound machine and produce the sonogram used to properly diagnose the patient. Depending on what program you attend or where you end up working, you may refer to yourself as one or the other.

Explore Sonography Training Options

People interested in pursuing a sonography career have several training options. There are various degree programs students can enroll in based on their education needs and goals, as well as different types of schools that offer sonography programs. The following is a deeper look at the options within sonography programs available to prospective students.

Certificate or Degree?

Students who study sonography may choose a certificate program, or a degree that takes longer to complete. The following provides information on these different types of programs.

Vocational certificate

A sonography certificate takes one year to complete, making it a good option for people who want to finish their training and start looking for a job quickly. Students learn fundamental concepts through classes on sectional anatomy, obstetrics, and pathology, as well as hands-on experience. To be admitted to a program, students may be required to complete prerequisite classes in mathematics, biology, and English. Although employers do sometimes hire people who have only earned a sonography certificate, they generally hire those with a higher-level degree or job experience in the health care field which augments their certificate.

An associate degree

This is a good option for those who want to get a more in-depth and well-rounded education. Students take sonography-based classes in echocardiography, abdominal sonography, and anatomy and physiology, and are also required to complete general education classes, such as physics, communication, and math. These two-year degree programs are the most common educational path sonographers take. Once graduates earn their certifications, they are able to begin searching for employment.

A bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in sonography offers a more comprehensive education, broader career opportunities, and the potential for higher salaries compared to an associate degree. It often includes advanced coursework and specialized training, leading to leadership roles, research positions, or better prospects in competitive job markets. A bachelor’s degree in sonography is often pursued by professionals already in the field seeking career advancement.

Therefore, people with a sonography certificate or associate degree can complete their bachelor’s in around two-and-a-half years through advanced coursework. High school graduates without sonography experience can also enroll in bachelor’s programs if they meet specific requirements, such as maintaining a minimum 2.0 GPA and a 2.5 average in prerequisite classes like mathematics, physics, and anatomy and physiology.

The Right Sonography (or Ultrasound Tech) School for You

Depending on the type of training you intend to complete, you can enroll in a technical school, community college, or four-year college or university.

  • Technical colleges
    Students who want to earn a certificate can enroll in a technical college and gain an intensive education that can be completed in less time than it would take to earn a higher-level degree. Technical colleges offer flexibility for career changers who work full-time jobs during the day, by offering evening and weekend classes. However, since these programs are not as in-depth as higher-level degrees, employers may give preference to job candidates with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. In addition, those with certificates may earn lower salaries than their counterparts with degrees.
  • Community colleges
    Community colleges offer associate degrees, which are a good option for future sonographers who desire more of an in-depth education than they may find at a technical school. Students take courses designed to prepare them for sonography careers along with general education classes that hone additional skills. Community colleges are usually affordable and offer smaller class sizes and flexible schedules.
  • Colleges and universities
    Bachelor’s degrees in sonography are earned from a college or university, a good option for people who want to advance in their careers and command higher salaries. In addition to landing diagnostic medical sonographer positions, this degree allows graduates to get other jobs in the health care field, such as sales and research positions. Those who want to start a new career can enroll in these programs, though they will spend more time than they would in technical schools or community colleges.

Pick Your Program

Choosing the right school to study sonography is a big decision, and it’s important that prospective students really think about what degree program and type of school is right for them. Once they have considered this, people should then ask themselves the following questions to help them make an informed decision on how to become a sonographer, and select the right way to earn the necessary education.

  1. Is the school accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP)?
  2. What are the entrance requirements?
  3. What specialties does the program provide training for?
  4. Is the coursework offered partially, mostly, or fully online?
  5. What are the financial aid options available to sonography students?
  6. What kind of ultrasound equipment is available on campus?
  7. Do students have access to academic advising and tutoring services?
  8. What are the options for clinical experiences offered by the school?
  9. What is the professional background of the instructors?
  10. What percentage of students in the program pass the certification exam?

Ensure Your Program is Accredited

To ensure you’re getting the education necessary to find a job in the field, make sure you enroll in a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. When this organization accredits schools, it reviews the curriculum of the program, as well as visits the campus, to verify that students are getting the quality education necessary to meet the demands of the job, earn their certification, and land a position after they graduate. Choose a school that is certified in teaching ultrasound technology to get the best possible training in sonography.

Apply & Enroll

After deciding on your school, it’s time to start submitting applications. There are a few things to keep in mind as you begin putting your materials together.

  • Prerequisites
    Although the exact prerequisite courses that must be completed differ from school to school, generally students should have passed classes in English composition, algebra, physical science, and statistics. In addition, students are expected to have at least a 2.5 grade point average. In some cases, schools may require that applicants have a certain number of hours of work experience in a patient care position.
  • Application process & fees
    During the application process, people may be expected to submit transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation. Also, prospective students may participate in an interview in order to be admitted. The fee to apply to a sonography program is about $50.

Pass Your Sonography Classes & Labs

Sonography programs provide both theoretical and hands-on training, which allows students to develop a solid foundation to build their careers on. During the first part of the program, students take instructional courses, some of which can be completed online, to teach them the theories that will be the basis of their daily work. Depending on the program, these courses may cover gynecological, obstetrical, abdominal, and vascular sonography, as well as medical ethics, health care informatics, and patient care methods. In addition, students may be required to take a case study course that reviews how patient histories and sonography results are presented.

After completing these courses, students then move on to receive clinical training, which gives them hands-on experience with both routine and specialized types of imagining. In addition, students get the opportunity to get in-depth training on the specialty they want to focus their career on.

Find a Sonographic Specialty

There are several areas of sonography that professionals can concentrate on. In order to work in these specialties, a particular certification must be obtained. This section explores the different areas of sonography and the credentials professionals need to earn to work within a specialty.

Types of Sonography Certificates

There are three main bodies that issue certifications for sonography specializations. Here’s a look at these credentialing organizations and the process professionals undergo to earn a special certification.

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (ARDMS)

ARDMS credential, professionals must complete their education requirements from an accredited program and have 12 months of full-time clinical sonography experience. ARDMS specialties are:

  • Abdomen
  • Breast
  • Fetal Echocardiography
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatric Sonography
  • Adult Echocardiography
  • Vascular Technology
  • Sonography Principles and Instrumentation
  • Musculoskeletal Sonographer
  • Midwife Sonography

The American Registry of Radiological Technologists (ARRT)

The ARRT requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an accredited sonography program, as well as documented performance of sonography procedures completed. ARRT exam specialties include:

  • Vascular Sonography
  • Breast Sonography

Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)

A combination of education and clinical experience is required for CCI certifications and the requirements vary depending on the specific exam. CCI specialties include:

  • Advanced Cardiac Sonographer
  • Register Congenital Cardiac Sonographer
  • Registered Cardiac Sonographer
  • Registered Phlebotomy Sonographer
  • Registered Vascular Specialist

Apply for Sonography & Ultrasound Tech Jobs

After sonography students have completed their education and earned their credentials, it’s time for them to start looking for a job. Just as with other fields, it’s important for job hunters to carefully craft their cover letters and resumes in order to attract the attention of potential employers. To do this, sonographers should focus on the things that are most important to health care organizations—such as education, professional experience, and volunteer work—when they create their resumes and cover letters. The following sites include examples of resumes and cover letters that people can use to guide them through this process.

  1. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Resume Samples
  2. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Resume Example
  3. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Resume Samples
  4. Sonographer Cover Letter

Prepare for the Interview

At the same time you prepare your cover letters and resumes, you should also start thinking about what you want to say in your job interviews. It’s imperative that job candidates are equipped to impress potential employers. Think about the questions you might get asked during an interview, and consider having answers ready to the following possible interview questions:

  1. How comfortable are you handling medical imaging equipment?
  2. Describe a time you successfully helped diagnose a patient.
  3. Are you confident with medical terminology?
  4. Are you able to work well under pressure?
  5. How would you handle a patient who is nervous about getting an ultrasound?
  6. How would you explain the ultrasound process to a patient who has never had one before?
  7. Why did you decide to become a sonographer?
  8. What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  9. How comfortable do you feel working as part of a team?
  10. Why should we hire you?