Considering a career in ultrasound? Here’s what you need to know about the education and training requirements, as well as the job outlook.
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Education and Training
To work as an ultrasound technician, also known as a diagnostic medical sonographer, you’ll need at least an Associate’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography. However, many employers prefer candidates with a Bachelor’s degree. In addition to your degree, you’ll also need to complete a clinical internship.
An associate’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography is the most common type of educational program for ultrasound technicians, according to the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. Many community colleges and technical schools offer this type of degree. The length of an associate’s degree program varies, but most take two years to complete if you attend school full time. Through your coursework, you’ll learn about human anatomy and physiology, medical ethics and patient care. You’ll also complete supervised clinical training, which gives you the opportunity to work with patients and use ultrasound equipment under the supervision of a licensed professional.
While a two-year associate’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography is the most common type of educational program, more and more employers are beginning to prefer applicants who have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in the field. In addition to coursework in mathematics and the sciences, these programs include classroom instruction and clinical practicums.
An ultrasound technician typically needs at least a master’s degree in order to work in this field. However, there are some positions that may only require a bachelor’s degree. There are also a few schools that offer associate’s degrees in ultrasound technology, but these are generally not as common.
Certification is the main factor in becoming an ultrasound technician. There are different types of certification that are available, but the most common is the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) certification. This certification is offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).
Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS)
The Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer credential is the most common certification that ultrasound technicians hold. To earn the credential, candidates must graduate from an accredited diagnostic medical sonography program and pass examinations administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). The examinations cover general and specialty areas of sonography, including abdominal, breast, fetal echocardiography,neurosonology, obstetric and gynecologic sonography, and pediatrics.
Certified Ultrasound Technician (CUT)
A certified ultrasound technician is a health care professional who has completed an accredited ultrasound technology program and has passed a certification exam. Certification is not required in all states, but most employers prefer to hire certified technicians. Most hospitals and diagnostic imaging centers require certification as a condition of employment.
The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) offers a variety of certification exams for ultrasound technicians. To be eligible to take the exam, candidates must have completed an accredited ultrasound technology program. The exam covers topics such as physics, instrumentation, patient care, and safety. Candidates who pass the exam are awarded the credential of Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS).
Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
The Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) credential is the most common way to become an ultrasound technician. To earn the RVT credential, you must have completed an accredited vascular technology program and pass a national exam administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). Once you have earned the RVT credential, you will need to renew it every three years by completing continuing education credits and passing a recertification exam.
Salary and Job Outlook
Ultrasound technicians, also called diagnostic medical sonographers, operate special equipment that produces sound waves used to create diagnostic images. The images are then used by physicians to make decisions about patient care. The median salary for an ultrasound technician in 2018 was $71,410 per year, and the job outlook is projected to grow by 14% from 2018-2028.
The median annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, was $67,530 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,100, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $96,630.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for diagnostic medical sonographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
Hospitals; state, local, and private: $68,490
Offices of physicians: $67,790
Outpatient care centers: $65,590
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: $64,560
Diagnostic imaging centers: $63,620
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to grow 33 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing use of diagnostic medical sonography in a variety of settings, such as expanded primary care facilities and outpatient centers, will result in strong job growth. As the baby-boom generation ages and people live longer, there will be an increased demand for diagnostic medical imaging procedures, such as ultrasounds.