Ultrasound technicians, also called sonographers, work with special sound wave equipment to collect body images of patients. These painless sound waves create images of internal organs; muscles, tendons and ligaments; fetuses; and the nervous system, brain and spinal cord, helping doctors diagnose problems and monitor changes in a person's body.
Although sonography is a non-invasive way to look within a patient's body, ultrasound technician must be skilled at putting patients at ease and keeping them informed. Ultrasound technician education requirements are designed to help sonographers serve as the physician's right hand by providing relevant diagnostic information, keeping accurate records and maintaining sonography equipment.
Ultrasound Technician Prerequisites
To prepare yourself for a career as an ultrasound technician, you'll want to:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED
- Maintain a good GPA and a strong SAT/ACT score for college admission
- Take high school courses in such sciences as physics, biology and math
- Explore elective courses in anatomy and medical terminology if offered in your high school
Ultrasound Technician Degrees and Coursework
Associate degree: Most ultrasound technicians have earned at least a two-year degree in sonography or cardiovascular and vascular technology. They train in hospitals, vocational-technical institutions, colleges or universities, or the Armed Forces, and take courses in anatomy, microbiology, physiology of disease, ethics, ultrasound physics, abdominal and obstetrical sonography, vascular technology and computing.
Bachelor's degree: Four-year programs allow you to take upper-division courses in such areas as Human Cross Sectional Anatomy, Medical Pathophysiology, Gynecological Sonography and Abdominal and Small Parts Sonography. This knowledge could expand the number of jobs graduates are qualified for.
One-year certificate programs: These typically are designed for working medical professionals, such as radiation therapists, who want to expand their skill set and job options.
Hands-on training: Your education will likely include supervised clinical practice, where you get experience working with licensed ultrasound technicians. Schools typically require these supervised clinical stints to run from 800 to 1,500 hours. You'll assist at a variety of medical institutions to give you a feel for a wide range of facilities, patients and circumstances.
Regardless of the type of degree they earn, ultrasound technicians have to be certified and may need to be licensed to work in certain states.
Certification: To be certified by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, ultrasound technicians must graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam in their specialty. Some graduates get certified in a number of areas.
Continuing education: Ultrasound technologists are required to take a number of annual classes to stay current and maintain their license and certification.
Preparing for job demands: According to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, ultrasound technicians also must be able to:
- Routinely lift more than 50 pounds, push and pull, bend and stoop, and have full use of both hands, wrists and shoulders
- Distinguish audible sounds
- Adequately view sonograms, including color distinctions
- Stand for 80 percent of their work shift
- Compassionately communicate with patients, including sick or injured individuals and their families
- Communicate clearly with doctors and other medical professionals
- Organize and accurately perform the individual steps in a sonographic procedure in the proper sequence
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Aug. 24, 2015 http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
- Rochester Institute of Technology: College of Health Sciences and Technology, Sept.. 17, 2015, https://www.rit.edu/healthsciences/undergraduate-programs/diagnostic-medical-sonography/bachelor-science
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, So you want to be a sonographer, Aug. 19, 2015, http://www.sdms.org/career/career.asp