Allied Health Guides

Sonographer Career Overview

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN
April 4, 2023
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What is a Sonographer?

Diagnostic ultrasound is also called sonography or diagnostic medical sonography. A sonographer is a medical professional who uses ultrasound imaging equipment to acquire and analyze images that are used to diagnose and treat a variety of medical conditions. 

Since imaging is used on several parts of the body, a sonographer can be specially trained and certified to look for issues in the abdomen, reproductive organs, brain, and in children. An individual can choose to be a general sonographer or specialize as a cardiac sonographer, vascular sonographer, musculoskeletal sonographer, and obstetric sonographer.

What Does a Sonographer Do?

Ultrasounds are used for many reasons, including evaluating blood flow, examining a breast lump, checking the thyroid gland, or diagnosing gallbladder disease. While a sonographer who specializes in specific areas of the body will use specialized skills, the typical job duties and responsibilities are similar and include:

  • Reviewing images to ensure they are of good quality
  • Operating imaging equipment
  • Preparing patients for procedures
  • Educating patients throughout the ultrasound exam
  • Identifying normal and abnormal results
  • Alerting physicians to urgent medical problems
  • Working collaboratively with other healthcare professionals to coordinate care
  • Recording imaging results in patient records

What Skills Does a Sonographer Need?

In addition to the technical aspects of acquiring and reading images, a good sonographer must also have good eye-hand coordination. Each image must tell a story of what's going on in the patient's body. This requires that the sonographer move the transducer that picks up the images while watching a computer screen. 

Sonographers must be detail-oriented and be able to remain calm during an emergency. Depending on the patient population, sonographers may also require physical strength and the ability to stay on their feet for hours at a time. 

Sonographers may spend up to 30 minutes with patients who are struggling with health issues. They must have strong communication and interpersonal skills to make connections with their patients and work seamlessly with the rest of the healthcare team.

Work Settings For Sonographers

A sonographer’s work setting varies depending on their specialized skills and the patient population. For example, vascular sonographers more frequently work in inpatient hospital settings while obstetric sonographers more frequently take positions in private practices. 

The work setting also dictates a sonographer's work hours. For example, cardiac sonographers or vascular stenographers will work weekends and may take on-call shifts. However, obstetric sonographers working in private practices usually work Monday through Friday during business hours.

Common Cases Sonographers Encounter

The type of health condition a sonographer encounters varies depending on the specialty. For example, a cardiovascular sonographer uses ultrasound to acquire images of the heart and conditions that may affect the cardiovascular system. They can use 2D and 3D imaging to examine structures and irregularities in the heart. 

An abdominal sonographer uses imaging technology to help physicians diagnose medical conditions such as tumors, tissue damage, or stones in the gallbladder or kidney. They evaluate the integrity of the abdominal or aorta, liver, pancreas, and spleen. An obstetric sonographer specializes in images taken during pregnancy that are used to evaluate the growth and development of the growing baby. 

Sonographers can also specialize in the musculoskeletal system for which they use imaging to identify conditions affecting the tendons, joints, ligaments, and nerves. This includes broken bones, trapped nerves, arthritis, and hernias.

Education Requirements & Helpful Certifications

The most common educational path is a two-year degree through an accredited training program. This offers a more in-depth and well-rounded education than a vocational certificate which takes one year to complete. 

A bachelor's degree is usually chosen by professionals already working as a sonographer and who want the additional education to advance their careers. It is crucial the program and the school are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health/Education Programs (CAAHEP). 

Accreditation ensures that the education meets or exceeds standards. An accredited program will not accept transfer credits from an unaccredited program, which means these credits cannot be used to further your career. 

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) administers certification examinations and awards credentials for individuals in a variety of specialties, including the abdomen, fetal echocardiography, obstetrics, pediatrics, breast, vascular, and musculoskeletal. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) also offers several certifications in sonography. 

These certifications require you to take and pass an examination. Although certification is not required to practice, most employers are seeking certified sonographers, which helps advance your career and increases your employment opportunities and salary potential.

How to Become a Sonographer

The length of time it takes to become a sonographer depends on the level of education you are seeking. Many choose an associate degree which can be completed in two years when the student attends full-time. Depending on the specialty in which you want to practice, an employer may require a bachelor's degree. 

Students should connect with sonography programs in their local area to learn the admission requirements for the program. Many local organizations and states have scholarships, grants, and awards that can help pay for tuition. Before applying, be sure the program is accredited and offers training for the specialty you desire.

How to Advance Your Career as a Sonographer

Sonographers are at the forefront of disease prevention and critical healthcare. There are several avenues for advancement, including furthering your education and achieving certification in your specialty. These steps allow you to expand your role, including moving into a management position, research, or education.

Average Salary For Sonographers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national mean annual wage is $80,680 and the national median hourly wage is $37.38. The majority of diagnostic medical sonographers are working in general medical and surgical hospitals. The salary range is similar for those who work in hospitals and physician offices. 

Outpatient care centers employ fewer sonographers but the salary is nearly $30,000 more. California, Texas, and New York have the highest level of employment for medical sonographers and California holds the top 10 spots in the top-paying metropolitan areas.

The Pros of Being a Sonographer

  • The work varies each day
  • Your schedule is flexible
  • You have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings
  • There is a high demand for sonographers
  • You can find a travel position
  • Opportunities for career growth
  • Multiple specialization options

The Cons of Being a Sonographer

  • Physically demanding
  • The patients can be challenging
  • Most employers require certification
  • You may work weekends, holidays, and nights
  • There are repetitive duties
  • You must work well under pressure

Specialty Organizations & Communities

  • Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) - The organization serves to promote the field and educate members. They offer Continuing Medical Education (CME) hours and give members access to salary data, professional liability insurance, and a career center. 
  • American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) - Membership includes sonographers, physicians, scientists, and engineers working to provide education and resources for medical schools. 
  • Traveling Sonographers - This Facebook group was set up to help traveling sonographers connect and communicate.
  • Sonographers Spill the Tea - This Facebook group does not allow recruiters, employers, vendors, or agencies so sonographers can feel free to vent, share resources, and ask questions without fear of retaliation or repercussions.

Ideal Personality Traits

In addition to the technical skills a sonographer must utilize each day, there are soft skills or personality traits that are ideal to handle the work and interactions with patients and healthcare providers. These include:

  • Work well under stress
  • Detail oriented
  • Compassionate
  • Investigative mind
  • Conscientious
  • Engaging
  • Adaptable
  • High Stamina
  • Problem-solver

If this sounds like the right career for you, check out Trusted Health's Allied Jobs to search for sonography opportunities all over the country and get started today!

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN

Amanda is a nurse with over ten years of experience in clinical settings. She is an expert in family medicine as well as various specialties. Her holistic approach to health focuses on wellness and preventative care. She now writes content for health and wellness brands under her company name, Locksley Content.

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