Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Cardiac Sonographer, Cardiac/Vascular Sonographer, Cardiovascular Sonographer   More Names
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Echo Tech (Echocardiographic Technician), Medical Sonographer, Polysomnographic Technician, Polysomnographic Technologist, Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer, Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), Sonogram Technician, Sonographer, Sonography Technician, Staff Sonographer, Ultra Sound Technician, Ultrasonic Tester, Ultrasonographer, Ultrasound Technician (Ultrasound Tech), Ultrasound Technologist (Ultrasound Tech), Ultrasound Tester, Vascular Sonographer

Use high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to obtain images of organs and tissues in the human body to help in the diagnosis of medical conditions. During an ultrasound examination a device, known as a transducer, is placed in contact with a patient's body.

The transducer emits high-frequency sound waves that pass through the body, sending back echoes as they bounce off organs and tissues. Special computer equipment converts these ultrasound echoes into visual images that may be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician. Diagnostic medical sonographers are employed in hospitals, specialized imaging centers, urgent care clinics, and private physicians' offices. Some also work for imaging centers of local, state, or federal government agencies.

Diagnostic medical sonography, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), is a specialty offshoot (i.e., post-primary) branch of the radiologic technologist occupation. Special knowledge and skill is required in the use of ultrasound imaging equipment, which relies on non-invasive techniques based on high-frequency sound waves rather than radiation that is used in many other imaging procedures. They also use their knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, and sonography to safely and efficiently operate ultrasound equipment to produce the images that physicians will use in the assessment and diagnosis of various medical conditions. Sonography is often associated with obstetrics, especially the use of ultrasound imaging during pregnancy. This technology, however, has many other applications in the detection and diagnosis of medical illness and disease. For example, sonography is increasingly being used in the detection and treatment of heart disease, heart attack, and vascular disease that can lead to stroke. As a diagnostic tool, it is used to examine many parts of the body, including the abdomen, breasts, female reproductive system, and prostate as well as the heart and blood vessels.

When preparing to perform an ultrasound, a diagnostic medical sonographer explains the procedure to the patient and records any relevant medical history. They select the proper equipment, position the patient, and usually spread a special gel on the skin to aid the transmission of sound waves. They then perform the exam, watching the screen during the ultrasound scan to look for any subtle visual cues that contrast healthy areas with unhealthy ones. They decide if the images are satisfactory for diagnostic purposes and select which ones to store and show to the physician, along with comments on their preliminary findings.

To be a diagnostic medical sonographer requires good eye-hand coordination, an analytical mind, and a compassion for patients. They are typically moving the transducer on some part of the patient's body and reading the monitor at the same time. They need strong problem solving and technical skills and capacity to understand patient and family concerns. They need to be good communications who can work cooperatively with physicians and other members of the medical team. They also need to be able to interact appropriately with patients, visitors, and other members of the hospital staff. In addition, they help keep patient records, adjust and maintain equipment, and evaluate equipment and supply purchases.

As an offshoot branch of the radiologic technology field, the diagnostic medical sonographer is at the upper end of the broader radiography/medical imaging career ladder, with a next step that may include supervisory responsibilities. In addition, some diagnostic medical sonographers choose to further specialize in areas such as cardiac sonography (images of the heart); vascular sonography (images of blood vessels); obstetric and gynecologic sonography (images of the female reproductive system); breast sonography; abdominal sonography (images of the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas); or neurosonography (images of the brain and other parts of the nervous system).

Credentials Needed: Many states regulate the occupation of diagnostic medical sonographer by requiring licensing or registration. Requirements vary among the states, but typically applicants for licensure must be at least 18 years of age, pass a criminal background check, and meet the educational and testing requirements set by the state in which they intend to practice.

As part of the licensure process, a number of states require applicants to attain certification sponsored by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). To obtain more detailed information on state licensing requirements for the diagnostic medical sonographer occupation, the ARRT lists contact information for the states that require licensure on its website. In states that do not require ARRT certification for licensing or registering diagnostic medical sonographers, or that have no licensure or registration requirements at all for this occupation, attainment of this credential is voluntary although still highly valued by employers.

An individual can achieve ARRT certification as a diagnostic medical sonographer using one of two pathways. First, a person can study and train to be a sonographer and then pass this certification exam; this is the primary pathway. Second, a practitioner who is already ARRT certified in radiography, radiation therapy, or nuclear medicine, and who can document their sonography clinical competencies, may become additionally certified as a diagnostic medical sonographer by passing this certification exam; this is the post-primary pathway.

Two other professional organizations also sponsor voluntary certifications for diagnostic medical sonographers. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) offers a number of general and specialty ultrasound credentials, including the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS), Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT), and Registered in Musculosketeal Sonography (RMSK) credential. Eligibility and related information about these certifications and their associated examinations is available of the ARDMS website. Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) also offers several specialty credentials for sonographers, including the Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS) and Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS) credentials. More information about these certifications and their associated examinations is available of the CCI website.

Some Key Things to Remember: Diagnostic medical sonographers use high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to obtain images of organs and tissues in the human body that are used in the diagnosis of medical conditions. Special computer equipment then converts these ultrasound echoes into visual images that may be then videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician.

A two-year associate's degree in diagnostic medical sonography from an accredited postsecondary education and training program is the most common form of education attainment for entry-level diagnostic medical sonographers. This occupation is recognized as both a primary and post-primary occupation for training and certification purposes, with many states regulating this occupation by requiring licensing or registration.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
26% - Much faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $57,530 - $82,320    Hourly: $28 - $40
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

Perform for a prolonged period without breaks, e.g., typical shift of eight hours.

Push mobile equipment, and maneuver around patient's bed and through hallways in surgical suites.

Push and pull a wheelchair with patient the seated in the wheelchair. Lean over to lock the wheelchair and lift footrests.

Push and pull a stretcher with patient resting on stretcher, lock and unlock stretcher for patient to transfer.

Ability to ascend and descend stairway in case of fire or absence of elevator.

Descend to the floor, resting on knees for performing chest compressions. Use extended arms and force of shoulders and upper back to compress chest 2 inches. Demonstrate manual dexterity in handling of items such as cassettes, syringes and needles, sterile items and transducers.

Ability to manipulate mechanical and patient care equipment simultaneously, i.e. dials, switches, push buttons, keyboards, transducer, and blood pressure equipment. Ability to respond appropriately to equipment signals such as sound and light.

Ability to visually assess a patient's condition.

Ability to visually assess the sonographic image. Demonstrate adequate visual acuity to differentiate among subtle shades of grey/color used in diagnostic sonography image formation.

Ability to respond appropriately to sounds, i.e. patient voice and movements, at a normal conversational volume.

Ability to verbally instruct patient in a clear, concise, easily understandable manner.

Read and comprehend written communications (i.e. charts, exam requisitions). Provide written communication to medical and technical staff.

Interact appropriately with patients, co-workers, visitors, and hospital staff.

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(Data Drawn from O*NET)

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

26% - Much faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $57,530 - $82,320

Hourly: $28 - $40