Studying Sonography

I’m interested in studying sonography. What can you tell me?

Sonography, which is also called diagnostic medical sonography and ultrasound technology, is the process of using imaging equipment and sound waves to look inside the body and diagnose medical conditions. For example, medical professionals use sonography for a variety of non-invasive tasks, from exploring the chambers of the heart to determining the sex of a developing infant. Although sonography relies on highly technical medical equipment, you do not need a medical degree in order to become a sonographer. In fact, you can start a career in sonography with only an associates degree, although your job prospects will improve if you earn a 4-year bachelors degree. Therefore, sonography attracts many students who want to work in the healthcare field without attending a long and costly medical school program.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Kristen Thomas

Kristen Thomas

Student, Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography,George Washington University

“When I first considered studying diagnostic medical sonography, I expected the course material to be engaging based on my numerous conversations with sonographers working in the field. In fact, I have never encountered a sonographer who doesn’t enjoy their job or have positive things to say about their education.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Suzanne Kelley

Suzanne Kelley

Assistant Professor of Sonography,George Washington University

“The most important trait for a sonographer to have is precise hand-eye coordination and the ability to focus for long periods of time on small details in an image.”Read the Full Interview

Sonographer Overview

What exactly is a sonographer?

Sonographers are also called ultrasound technicians. They produce images of the inside of the body using specialized imaging equipment like transducers and ultrasound machines. Sonographers spread a thin gel over the area of the body that they want to scan, and then use probes called transducers to emit high frequency sound waves into the body. Then those sound waves bounce back from the inside of the body, which causes echoes that the ultrasound machine processes and displays as images. The resulting images can be digitally recorded, transmitted or photographed so that physicians can examine them. Many sonographers specialize in particular parts of the body. Some common specialized sonography positions include obstetric sonographers, breast sonographers, neurosonographers and musculoskeletal sonographers.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Krislynn Barnhart

Krislynn Barnhart

Registered Vascular Sonographer,Swedish Medical Center

“Initially, I thought that because I was in the medical field helping people, I would receive more thanks. But this isn’t a job that provides many accolades, so it has to be self-fulfilling. You won’t get a lot of glory or recognition for being a sonographer, so you have to be happy knowing that you are helping people without necessarily being told that you are making a difference.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if sonography would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a sonographer. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I am a people person and I can inspire trust in others.

Sonographers interact with their patients in intimate situations that could be uncomfortable. As an ultrasound technician, you will need to put your patients at ease.

I care about people and I like to help others.

Like other healthcare professionals, sonographers should be invested in the care and comfort of their patients. If you enjoy taking care of other people, you may find that sonography is a rewarding career.

I pay close attention to detail.

Sonographers must examine ultrasound images closely so that they can spot abnormalities inside of the body. The ability to focus on details like exact measurements will be an essential part of your sonography job.

I am a compassionate person and I can identify with the feelings of others.

Sonographers often work with patients who feel anxious or distressed. Accordingly, the most successful sonographers are sympathetic to their patient’s feelings.

I am not easily distracted when I need to concentrate on a task.

Sonographers must obtain high quality medical images so that doctors can accurately diagnose health issues. You will need to focus on your job even when your workplace gets hectic.

I work well as part of a team.

Sonographers work with doctors, nurses and other medical professionals daily. If you want to work in this field, you must be comfortable cooperating with other people.

I like to use technology to accomplish tasks.

Sonographers use and maintain sensitive and complex imaging equipment every day. You will need to be comfortable with machines and technology in order to diagnose or rule out potential health issues for patients.

I have good hand-eye coordination.

Sonographers use an on-screen visual to determine where to move their sonogram equipment in order to produce quality images. Therefore, dexterity is particularly important in this field.

I am productive when I work on my own.

Although sonographers are part of a medical team, they must be able to perform ultrasounds independently. You should be able to manage your time well and stay on task if you want to be a sonographer.

I am willing to be a lifelong learner.

Sonography technology advances rapidly as new techniques are discovered. Therefore, you will need to stay current in your field by paying attention to new developments and learning to use emerging technology.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful sonographer.

By my assessment, a career as an ultrasound technician is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career as an ultrasound technician may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career as an ultrasound technician. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if sonography is the right choice for me?

Aside from personality, you should consider the qualifications that you will need to meet in order to become a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer.

Registration

Most employers require sonographers to be registered with the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). You must pass an exam that is administered by the ARDMS in order to earn the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer certification. You can also specialize in various sonography concentrations like abdominal or breast sonography and obstetrics and gynecological (OB/GYN) sonography. It is important to note that only graduates of accredited sonography programs are eligible to take this exam and become registered.

Sonography Professions

What sonography specializations can I choose from?

Some of the major sonography specializations that you can choose from include:

Education Required:

Associates (2 years)

Average Salary:

$73,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

Abdominal sonographers specialize in taking images of blood vessels, soft tissues and organs in the midsection like the stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver and gallbladder. Abdominal sonographers look for health problems like abdominal aortic aneurysms, kidney stones and liver dysfunction.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years)

Average Salary:

$72,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

Breast sonographers evaluate patients who have discovered cysts or lumps on their breasts, primarily as a result of mammograms and cancer screening exams. Breast sonographers take images so that doctors can determine whether these lumps are cancerous tumors or benign cysts.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years)

Average Salary:

$67,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

Cardiac sonographers perform echocardiograms to take images of the heart and its blood vessel structures. In addition, cardiac sonographers can assess how the heart functions after medication has been administered. Some cardiac sonographers specialize in congenital cardiac sonography. These sonographers evaluate heart defects that are present in infants at birth.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years)

Average Salary:

$73,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals, birth centers

Job Description:

OB/GYN stands for obstetric and gynecological sonographers. They produce images of the female reproductive organs and developing infants. Sonographers in OB/GYN look for abnormal signs in the bladder, ovaries, uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes. Their images also help doctors to monitor the health, growth and development of fetuses during pregnancy.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years)

Average Salary:

$60,000

Work Environment:

Hospitals

Job Description:

Neurosonographers specialize in obtaining images of the brain and spinal cord. Many neurosonographers focus on the care of premature infants, who have underdeveloped nervous systems and brain functions after they are born. Their work helps doctors to identify unusual physical functions or developments in babies who were born too early.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years)

Average Salary:

$67,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

Vascular sonographers use images to evaluate blood flow, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, cerebral circulation, peripheral circulation and abdominal circulation. This work is often performed prior to surgical procedures in order to make sure that patients are healthy, and after surgery to monitor patients’ recoveries.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years)

Average Salary:

$62,000

Work Environment:

Medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

Musculoskeletal sonographers produce images of muscles, bones and their surrounding tendons, ligaments and soft tissues. These sonographers examine the parts of the musculoskeletal system for healthcare problems such as muscle tears, soft tissue tumors and early signs of rheumatoid arthritis.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for sonographers?

The job outlook for sonographers is excellent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 53,700 sonographers working in the United States in 2010. However, employment of sonographers is predicted to grow by about 44% over the next 10 years as more patients opt for ultrasounds rather than more invasive medical procedures. The growth rate for sonographers is much higher than the average job growth projected across all occupations. Although hospitals will continue to be the largest employer of sonographers, job opportunities are also expected to increase in medical clinics and research laboratories.
Profession Employment Projected Average Growth

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a sonographer?

It typically takes 2 to 4 years to become a sonographer, depending on the type of degree that you choose to pursue. Ultrasound technicians usually need a 2-year associates degree to get an entry-level job. Buts if you want to advance your career more quickly and earn a broader education, you can earn a 4-year bachelors degree.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while studying sonography?

As a sonography student, you can expect to grow in medical knowledge and skills.

KNOWLEDGE

Anatomy and Physiology

Anatomy is the study of the human body’s internal and external structures. This subject explores the development and maturity of body systems like the nervous system, cardiovascular system and reproductive system. Physiology is the study of the way that the human body works. Teaching methods may include dissection of cadavers and deceased animals.

Pathology

Pathology studies the causes and effects of diseases. These courses are designed to teach students about the features of human disease that can be seen via ultrasound images. Although sonographers cannot diagnose patients, sonography students will learn to spot signs of disease and medical problems in their images so that they can alert doctors to troubling conditions.

Pathophysiology

Pathophysiology courses address the ways that organ systems can fail in the presence of disease. This subject discusses the identification of medical issues that can change the normal ways that the body functions. It explores physical signs and symptoms of various diseases as well as the best ways to manage and treat them.

Ultrasound Physics

Ultrasound physics courses teach the fundamental principles of sound and ultrasound as they relate to medical imaging. In particular, the student will learn the principles of sound wave characteristics, Doppler and color flow physics, tissue interaction, artifacts and quality assurance. They will also discuss the safety and effect of the sound waves on humans.

Medical Terminology

Medical terminology is the technical language that healthcare professionals use to discuss clinical procedures, anatomy and legislation. Diagnostic medical sonographers are members of the medical care team and must know medical terms and abbreviations in order to communicate effectively with other team members.

SKILLS

Transducer Manipulation

As a sonographer, you will use ultrasound transducers to produce sound waves and receive the echoes that create images. Transducer manipulation will teach you how to move the ultrasound transducer to obtain medical images. Basic transducer movements include sliding, rocking, tilting, rotating and compression.

Image Production and Optimization

As a sonographer, the quality of the ultrasound images that you are able to produce will directly affect the accuracy of the diagnoses that doctors make. Therefore, in your sonography training program you will learn how to use ultrasound technology and equipment to obtain clear images of the internal human body.

Ergonomic Safety

Ergonomics relates to the safe and proper use of work equipment and devices. Sonographers are at high risk for occupational injuries because their jobs require them to perform repetitive motions. Ergonomics courses will teach you the most effective ways to decrease self-injury by properly positioning your patients and by using updated equipment.

Communication

As a sonography student, you will learn important communication techniques that help you to put your patients at ease during examinations and ultrasound imaging appointments. These techniques include greeting the patients warmly, listening to their medical history without judgment and clearly describing ultrasound procedures so that they know what to expect.

Data Management

As a sonographer, you will need to keep track of complex information about your patients and their health. Your classes will emphasize the need to carefully measure and record data so that it is easily accessible for other sonographers as well as other members of the healthcare field. You will learn to use electronic databases to store this information.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of sonography?

Most people only study sonography at the undergraduate level. You can earn associates and bachelors degrees in this field, or you can earn an undergraduate certificate. Masters programs in sonography are very rare, and only a limited number of schools offer these degrees.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Certificate
  • Associate’s
  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s

Certificate

If you want to learn sonography without pursuing a degree, you should consider earning a certificate. Certificate programs take less time to complete than associates or bachelors degrees.

What are the different types of certificates that I can earn in sonography?

You can earn a certificate in sonography while you are an undergraduate or after you finish your bachelors degree in 1 of the life sciences. Certificates are best if you are already involved in healthcare and you want to expand your skills by learning sonography.

How long will I have to study to earn my certificate in sonography?

The time that is required for a sonography certificate varies greatly, from about 30 to 60 credit hours. Most students are able to complete sonography certificates in 1 to 2 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my certificate in sonography?

As you study for a sonography certificate, you will take classes in anatomy, diagnostic imaging equipment and patient care. You will also practice your sonography skills through hands-on clinical practicums.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a certificate in sonography?

A sonography certificate will prepare you to take the Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography Exam, which qualifies you to work as a general sonographer or in a subfield of ultrasound technology.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my certificate in sonography?

The most important thing to consider when you are choosing a sonography school is accreditation. You should only attend sonography certificate programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. This organization bestows accreditation on high-quality sonography programs. In this field, accreditation is important because you are can only take the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography exam after you have graduated from an accredited sonography program.

What about getting an online certificate in sonography?

A limited number of schools offer online sonography certificates. However, you should only attend an online sonography program if it is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). As of 2012, only 2 online sonography certificate programs were accredited by the CAAHEP. Even if you do plan to earn your sonography certificate online through 1 of these programs, you should be aware that you will need to participate in lengthy clinical practicums so that you can practice your hands-on skills.

Associates Degree

An associates degree in sonography is the most common degree for sonographers to pursue. When you are looking for a program, you should keep in mind that this subject is sometimes called diagnostic medical sonography.

What are the different types of associates degrees that I can earn in sonography?

Associate in Science AS

An AS in sonography has science and math classes in addition to sonography courses to give you a technical education. The AS is the best choice if you want to transfer your credits into a bachelors degree program, but you can also begin working after graduation.

Associate of Applied Science AAS

An AAS in sonography has classes that are designed to prepare students for entry-level sonography positions. The AAS is preferable if you want to begin working as an ultrasound technician immediately after you graduate.

How long will I have to study to earn my associates degree in sonography?

Most schools require students to complete 60 to 72 credit hours in order to earn an associates degree in sonography. Students are typically able to complete associates degrees in about 2 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my associates degree in sonography?

An associates degree in sonography program will require you to take classes that are specific to the field like sonography physics and instruments, scanning labs, vascular sonography and breast sonography. You will also take more general classes like anatomy, biology and medical terminology. In addition, many associates degree programs allow you to choose a specialization, like cardiac sonography or OB/GYN sonography. Therefore, you will take additional classes in those areas of specialization.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with an associates degree in sonography?

An associates degree in sonography prepares students for entry-level sonography jobs. You may also be able to specialize in a particular type of sonography, such as OB/GYN sonography or cardiac sonography.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my associates degree in sonography?

When you are looking for a sonography school for your associates degree, you should make sure that the schools that you are considering have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. If a school is accredited, that means that it has been officially recognized as a quality program. In this field, accreditation is essential because you must graduate from an accredited program to be eligible for certification or registration as a sonographer.

What about getting an online associates degree in sonography?

Generally speaking, an online sonography associates degree is not a good idea. Although earning your sonography associates degree online may seem appealing, as of 2012 the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredited only 2 online sonography associates degree programs in the United States. You must graduate from an accredited program in order to take the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) exam, which most employers require. And if you decide to attend an accredited online sonography program, you will spend a significant amount of time learning hands-on sonography skills at clinical sites. Therefore, you should be aware that your sonography degree cannot be completed fully online.

Bachelors Degree

Bachelors degrees are generally regarded as the highest degree in this field, although there are a few masters degree programs available in sonography. Most schools offer general sonography bachelors degrees and students are required to choose a specialty. In addition, some sonography programs are listed under a different name, like Imaging Sciences or Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in sonography?

Bachelor of Science BS

A BS in sonography has many science and math classes to supplement the sonography curriculum. The BS degree is a good choice if you want to work as a sonographer.

Bachelor of Applied Science BAS

A BAS in sonography technically has more of a career focus, but it hardly differs from the BS. The BAS is also a good option if you want to find a sonography job.

How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in sonography?

Bachelors degree programs in sonography normally require students to complete 120 to 128 credit hours. Students can typically complete bachelors degrees in about 4 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in sonography?

If you decide to pursue a bachelors degree in sonography, you will take courses about the theory of sonography and the practical use of imaging equipment. For instance, you will take classes in anatomy, pathophysiology and ultrasound physics. You will also take classes in specific areas of sonography, like vascular, abdominal and gynecologic sonography. In addition, a significant portion of your courses will consist of clinical practicums so that you will have a chance to practice your sonography skills.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in sonography?

A bachelors degree in sonography or ultrasound technology will prepare you for any sonography job. For example, you could work as a gynecologic sonographer, breast sonographer or cardiac sonographer. But you should remember that a bachelors degree is not necessary if you want to find an entry-level position in the field. However, it will improve your job prospects and help you to stand out among other job applicants.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my bachelors degree in sonography?

When you are deciding on a school to pursue your bachelors degree in sonography, you should look for programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). If your program is accredited by the CAAHEP, you know you are getting a quality education. In addition, you need to have a degree from an accredited program in order to become a certified or registered diagnostic medical sonographer.

What about getting an online bachelors degree in sonography?

If you are considering an online sonography bachelors degree program, you should be very cautious. In 2012, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredited just 1 online sonography bachelors program, although this could change in the future. Even so, online sonography programs are not completed entirely online because you will have to practice your clinical skills in on-site practicums. Therefore, while you may be able to learn theory through an online sonography school, you will still have to physically attend courses frequently.

Masters Degree

A few schools offer masters degrees in sonography, but these programs are rare. You do not need to complete a masters degree to become a sonographer.

Licensing Information

What else should I keep in mind when considering studying sonography?

Before you commit to a sonography degree, you should consider alternative options for sonographers.

Alternative Paths to Sonography

Some medical centers have developed unique sonography training curricula for current employees who are interested in the field. You can also learn sonography and radiology through the military. However, you should keep in mind that sonographers who are educated through these on-the-job training programs are required to have 1 full year of experience before they can take the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography exam and become registered sonographers.

Questions & Answers

Select a category to find answers to your questions

Resources

What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree or certificate in sonography?

AIUM – American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine

American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography

American Registry of Radiological Technologists

ASE – American Society of Echocardiography

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

CSDMS – Canadian Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Cardiovascular Credentialing International

CAAHEP – Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs

ISCU – International Society of Cardiovascular Ultrasound

SDMS – The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography

SVU – Society for Vascular Ultrasound