How Long to Become
Certificate or Associate
An ultrasound technician, also known as a medical sonographer, is a career for someone seeking a healthcare job that combines technology, science, and service.
An ultrasound technician is one of the fastest-growing career paths in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), projects job growth to increase by 14% from 2020 to 2030. This accounts to over 12,000 job openings because of the increase in demand for imaging technologists.
Continue reading to discover how to become an ultrasound technician, what they do, and the difference between sonography certifications and licensure.
What Is an Ultrasound Technician?
An ultrasound scan, also referred to as sonography, uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound technicians create images of blood vessels, organs, and other body structures.
Diagnosticians use the produced sound images to diagnose medical disorders and decipher the best medical treatment.
Although the terms ultrasound technologist and sonographer are often used interchangeably, there is a difference. Primarily, a sonographer needs to complete additional training,
Ultrasound technicians must be detail-oriented and possess a high skill level to operate the ultrasound equipment effectively. Ultrasound technicians prepare patients for the procedure, perform patient teaching, operate imaging machines, and assess the images to ensure they are accurate and of high quality.
They also interact with healthcare providers via phone or email to consult on how to capture images of specific organs or body tissues.
Certified ultrasound technicians often specialize in various areas of practice, such as:
- Pediatric echocardiography
- Neurosonology (taking images of the brain & nervous system to help diagnose conditions, such as aneurysms or strokes).
- Gynecology & obstetrics (monitor the growth of the fetus during pregnancy to screen for abnormalities).
- Diagnostic cardiovascular sonography (need an associate or bachelor’s degree)
- Abdominal sonography (often required to have an associate degree)
- Musculoskeletal sonography (often work in hospital emergency departments or urgent care centers, taking images to diagnose broken bones or muscle tears).
Steps to Becoming an Ultrasound Technician
If you did not graduate from high school, you can take the GED high school equivalency test at a local official testing center, or earn a high school diploma by taking classes through your local school district or a community college.
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) evaluates health sciences education programs to ensure quality standards. Graduating from an accredited program ensures students enroll in a quality program. Accreditation also guarantees credits earned can transfer to other schools.
The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) certifies ultrasound technicians. Their website not only provides certification information, but offers current news about ultrasound technology.
The ARDMS website also has a career center. New ultrasound technicians can use it for resources to gain experience in the field. They can also gain ultrasound experience by participating in internships or working at entry-level jobs under the mentorship of an experienced technician.
A specialty board certification validates an ultrasound tech’s knowledge and experience. Becoming a certified ultrasound technician may be optional, depending on your state’s legislation.
But even in geographic areas that do not require licensure or certification, you may opt for certification to get an edge in the job market. Many employers require certification. Ultrasound technicians can become certified through the ARDMS.
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Ultrasound Technician Education
Ultrasound technician training may take one year to complete. Some programs can involve 24 – 30 months of coursework and practicums. An associate degree is the most common path to work as an ultrasound technician.
An associate degree in sonography, from an institution accredited by The CAAHEP, prepares students to sit for the certification exam.
Some states require licensing; this may involve completing a two-year associate degree. Check with your state of residence before enrolling in an educational program.
Certificate in Sonography
An ultrasound certification program is best suited either for someone starting out in the field who wants the quickest path to a job, or someone with an existing medical degree wanting to work as a specialty sonographer (in a field such as a cardiac sonography or echocardiography).
The fast-track program requires a high school diploma or GED certificate. Students must be at least 18. Most programs require some college prerequisite courses. Prerequisites for certification depend on the specialty. Learn more about specific specialty prerequisites.
Coursework focuses on OB/GYN and abdominal sonography, and practicums offer an opportunity for hands-on experience in a clinical environment.
12 – 30 months (depending on the type of certification)
The proper use of the technical ultrasound equipment and how to perform abdominal, gynecological/OB ultrasounds
Associate Degree in Sonography
The most common path for ultrasound technician training is an associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography. This degree prepares students for entry-level positions and certification.
An associate degree program educates students on how to successfully image the patient’s organs and other body parts for diagnosis, pregnancy monitoring, and other medical needs.
Must be at least 18, have a GED certificate or high school diploma, and pass required placement tests such as the ACT or SAT test.
Anatomy & physiology, sonography physics, abdominal sonography, OB/GYN sonography, vascular imaging, clinical practicums
Utilization of medical technology for sonography, how to perform complete diagnostic sonographic exams, communication skills to provide patient care and education
Bachelor’s Degree in Sonography
The role of sonographer does not require a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is, however, the best path for pursuing leadership or managerial roles in the sonography field.
A bachelor of science in diagnostic medical sonography requires 1680 hours of clinical practicums, performing 1,200 sonography exams.
Completion of pre-clinical course requirements, a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 for transfer credits, and at least 100 hours documented patient care as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), a CNA certification to work in practicums, a personal essay, minimum score on placement tests (ACT or SAT), professional references, and a minimum of eight hours of job shadowing.
Anatomy & physiology, medical terminology, physics, biology, pathophysiology, medical law and ethics.
Producing ultrasound images of internal organs, proficiency in technology used for each type of ultrasound, the use of electrocardiogram (EKG) equipment for cardiovascular ultrasounds, how to create an initial interpretation before a diagnostician plans a conclusion on the ultrasound image.
Ultrasound Technician Licensure and Certification
The benefits of certification for ultrasound technician include a potentially higher rate of pay and a significant advantage in the job market. Many employers will not hire sonographers without certification.
There are various certification courses available for ultrasound technicians. Some are entry-level courses that provide students with the basic skills to work in the field. Others are concentrated in specific areas, and are for medical professionals who already have a medical degree (such as nurses).
Most states require certification to work as a sonographer (ultrasound technician). Institutions that provide certification include the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). The prerequisites to enroll in the program vary depending on the type of certification.
Applicants must pass two exams, including the Sonography Principles & Instrumentation (SPI) examination, and at least one specialty examination. First-time applicants must select an area of practice/prerequisite, such as AB (abdomen), AE (adult echocardiography), BR (breast), and others.
Four U.S. states mandate licensure. Each has its own requirements, and each administers their own licensing exam. States that require licensing include:
- North Dakota
- New Mexico
- New Hampshire
Working as a Ultrasound Technician
Ultrasound technicians can work in a variety of settings, including:
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories (e.g., cardiac catheter lab)
- Ambulatory care centers
- Physician’s offices
According to the BLS, the job outlook has an expected growth of 14% from 2020 to 2030. August 2022 Payscale data reports the average salary range for sonographers is $33 /hour, with a range of $35 to $42 /hour depending on specialty type, experience, and geographic location.
There are online sources with job postings for entry-level ultrasound technicians such as the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers featured jobs page.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Ultrasound Technician
How many years does it take to become an ultrasound technician?
It takes 1 – 4 years to become an ultrasound technician, depending on the type of degree/program.
What is the quickest way to become an ultrasound technician?
The fastest path to an ultrasound technician is a one-year certification course.
How hard is it to become an ultrasound technician?
To be successful as an ultrasound technician, you must be tech savvy and take some challenging courses, such as physics and anatomy & physiology. Consult with a program expert to get the facts before you start your journey.
Do ultrasound technicians get paid well?
Ultrasound technicians are well compensated. According to August 2022 Payscale data, the average salary range is between $35 to $42 /hour depending on specialty type, experience, and geographic location.