If you want to get into a medical field, diagnostic medical sonography can be a great profession. You will get to interact with many patients and experience some of the best moments in their lives without making critical medical decisions. However, you may not yet have a clear picture of what medical sonographers do each day or a sense of what qualifications are required to become one.
Before deciding this is the career you want to pursue and dedicating yourself to an educational program, it is important to review a few available programs and get a clear picture of what the profession involves. It is crucial to know what a diagnostic medical sonography career is all about and what sonographers do on a day-to-day basis. You will also need to know the education and certification requirements. Recognizing how hard it may be for you to find time to conduct this research, we have simplified the job for you. This article provides you with some vital information about diagnostic medical sonography
What Is Diagnostic Medical Sonography?
Diagnostic medical sonography is a branch of diagnostic medical imaging, which involves the use of medical ultrasound for making a medical diagnosis. It is a field within medical technology where imaging equipment and sound waves are used in diagnosing patients' medical conditions. A medical sonographers’ primary responsibility is to help in the diagnosis and treatment of internal health issues. Sonographers typically use non-ionizing ultrasound in the production of 2D and 3D images of a patient’s body.
Diagnostic medical sonography is a growing field, which is one reason why we can recommend choosing this career if you believe it will suit you. This growth is due to the high demand for noninvasive diagnostic procedures among medical professionals across all specialties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the demand for ultrasound technologists and diagnostic medical sonographers continues to grow at a rate higher than the average for all occupations.
Diagnostic medical sonographers can specialize in creating diagnostic images (ultrasounds or sonograms) of the body’s organs and tissues. These images are often the first ones to be taken for tests when a disease or internal injury is suspected. Diagnostic medical sonography entails the use of high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the internal body parts, organs, and tissue.
A medical sonographer uses an ultrasound transducer to scan parts of the body that require examination. Essentially, the transducer emits sound pulses that "bounce back" like echoes. These echoes are typically sent to an ultrasound machine, which then processes them and displays them as images that physicians use to make their diagnoses.
Applications of Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Sonography isn’t only useful during pregnancy as some mistakenly believe. This career path offers several opportunities and avenues to pursue. Once you earn your degree and certification, you can apply the knowledge you acquired to imaging and diagnosis necessary to treat a myriad of conditions in the breast, abdomen, blood vessels, heart, the musculoskeletal system, and throughout the entire body.
Sonographers can also apply their work results alongside X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other products of diagnostic nuclear medicine to accurately detect a wide range of internal health issues. Sonography, coupled with other imaging techniques, can also be used in performing surgical procedures with precision as it allows surgeons to better view the internal "landscape" before cutting. They can see blood vessels, among other sensitive areas, which makes the surgical procedure safer.
Duties of Medical Sonographers
Diagnostic medical sonographers often carry out the following duties, among others:
Specializations in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
The following are some of the areas of specialization chosen and pursued by diagnostic medical sonographers:
- Breast diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in imaging breast tissue to detect cysts and tumors
- Abdominal medical imaging sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s abdominal cavity and the nearby organs, including the kidney, gallbladder, pancreas, liver, and spleen.
- Cardiac diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in imaging of the heart, its vessels, chambers, and valves. The images obtained in these procedures are known as echocardiograms.
- Obstetric and gynecology diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system, mostly for monitoring the health and tracking the growth of developing babies. This helps in detecting congenital birth defects and many risks.
- Musculoskeletal diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in imaging joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones to offer guidance for injections and surgical procedures intended to treat and heal injured tissue.
- Pediatric diagnostic imaging sonographers specialize in performing scans on infants and children.
- Vascular diagnostic medical sonographers create images of blood vessels and gather data that helps other medical practitioners diagnose disorders that affect blood flow. They measure the blood pressure of patients and the respective volumes of blood in the arms, legs, fingers, sometimes detecting blockages in arteries and veins or dangerous blood clots.
Education & Certification
You must first secure proper, focused education before getting certified as a diagnostic medical sonographer. Universities and colleges offer both Bachelor’s and Associate’s degree programs in sonography. One-year certificate programs are also available from some hospitals and colleges. The program you choose should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Diagnostic medical sonography programs usually include courses in medical terminology, anatomy, and applied sciences. Besides classroom study, most of these programs include a clinical component where learners earn credit while working under an experienced sonographer in an imaging lab, a physician’s office, or hospital. Students in high school interested in this career should take as many courses as possible in physiology, biology, anatomy, and math.
Employers typically prefer to hire sonographers who have already earned certification. Sometimes, employers can hire you without certification with the expectation that you’ll obtain it soon after your hire date. Certifications are available from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.
You can earn certification by graduating from an accredited program or amassing a combination of work experience and education. All candidates must pass an exam to become certified, and the most certifications in this field are for specialists in diagnostic imaging. Candidates who have a basic life support (BLS) certification are often highly preferred.
Five Things to Know About Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Here are five things you should know about diagnostic medical sonography:
- Diagnostic Medical Sonography pays well. According to the BLS, the average annual wage is about $60,350, but remember that this varies by clinic, specialty, location, and other factors.
- There is strong projected job growth in diagnostic medical sonography. This career has a great outlook due to the ever-increasing reliance on imaging equipment by physicians to make diagnoses and monitor patient conditions. The BLS report estimated that the average job growth for all professions was 11% between 2012 and 2020, while growth in diagnostic medical sonography trended at about 39%.
- Minimum requirements for becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer include having an appropriate education (Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree) and passing the certification exam. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers offers excellent information about the certification examinations and other information pertinent to this career path.
- Medical sonography is physically demanding. Most sonographers work full time or overtime, many weekend hours, and you may even have on-call coverage duties. While working, sonographers are on their feet attending to patients, walking from one patient room to another, and standing while conducting the imaging procedures. They may also need to help lift and turn patients for imaging in some situations. Therefore, you need physical strength and proper lifting techniques to be a medical sonographer.
- Ultrasound and sonogram are different terms. You should understand these differences well before enrolling in an education program. To clarify a bit, ultrasound is basically the use of sound waves, which form to create a sonogram. The sonogram is the image rendered.
Diagnostic medical sonography entails the use of ultrasound techniques for making a medical diagnosis. Sonographers help in creating diagnostically useful images of the body’s organs and tissues. These images are often the first to be taken for tests when a disease or injury is suspected. Diagnostic medical sonography uses high-frequency sound waves in the production of sonograms. Sonography has many applications beyond imaging during pregnancy; a myriad of specializations exist, including breast, abdominal, cardiac, obstetric, musculoskeletal, pediatric, and vascular diagnostic medical sonography.
To become a sonographer, you must first secure education and become certified. The program you choose should be accredited by the CAAHEP. Besides classroom study, most of the programs include a clinical component where learners earn credit while working under an experienced sonographer in an imaging lab, a physician’s office, or in a hospital, for example. Certification is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International.
Diagnostic Medical Sonography pays well, with recent U.S. government agency reports putting the average annual wage at about $60,000. We hope this article has helped you better understand what diagnostic medical sonographers do, along with the job outlook, education, and certification procedures you can look forward to if you choose this career.