Are you considering earning your sonographer certification?
Are you fascinated with a career choice which allows you to use the latest in ultrasound technology to help diagnose and manage a wide range of medical conditions for patients?
Working as a sonographer offers you considerable job opportunities and room for growth within the field. This career choice does not have significant barriers to entry and comes with an impressive average salary for skilled professionals. Keep reading for a detailed career overview of this role, includin the career path, salary, and step-by-step guide to earning your sonographer certification.
Sonographer Career Overview
Examining the Role
Sonographers are trained to utilize ultrasound technology to analyze the blood vessels, tissues, and organs of the human body. Ultrasound technology comprises high-frequency sound waves that take images of the inner workings of the body. To take these images, the sonographer holds a tool known as an ultrasound transducer to the area of a patient’s body that is being studied.
A sonographer maintains close patient contact, providing an invaluable service to identify and manage many tenuous medical situations, like heart problems, cancer, and high-risk pregnancies. This career promises excellent opportunities for job growth and advancement. It also offers an excellent salary that promises a very comfortable quality of life. The field is booming in terms of demand, and entry-level professionals need only have an associate’s degree to embark upon this career path.
These medical professionals are employed in a variety of work environments, including imaging clinics, medical laboratories, diagnostic laboratories, doctor’s offices, and hospitals. Sonographers interact face-to-face with patients daily, performing most of their job at a diagnostic machine in a dark room for imaging purposes.
Sometimes, sonography professionals operate the diagnostic equipment directly at a patient’s hospital bedside. A professional in this field can expect a varied schedule as emergencies occur at all hours of the day or night. This means that a sonographer might work nights, overnight, or on weekends besides regular work hours.
Career Path & Salary Job Outlook
The field of sonography is an ever-growing one, with employment opportunities expected to increase in congruence with an aging baby boomer generation. In fact, U.S. News and World Report has identified this field as third on their list of the best careers in the healthcare support industry.
If you work in diagnostic medical sonography, you will have picked a field which is growing about 10 percent faster than the national average when compared to all other industries. In fact, job opportunities in this field are expected to increase by as much as 17 percent by the year 2026. This figure is particularly true for sonographers who become certified in more than one area of specialty.
Opportunities for Advancement
If you are interested in advancing within this field, there are plenty of opportunities to transition into similar disciplines, such as working as a clinical laboratory technician, a nuclear medicine technologist, or a radiologic technologist. Your opportunities for advancement correlate directly with your education and experience.
As the demand for skilled, certified sonographers is so high, you can expect to find plenty of job opportunities both in large cities and small towns. The work is challenging, interested, and varied. You must have a keen understanding of pathology and anatomy to identify the best images to take for the purpose of diagnosing and managing medical conditions.
The average salary for this field is very good, with a median figure of about $71,000 per year. This means that about half of professionals in the field earn more than this amount and half earn less. The highest earners bring home about $100,000 and beyond each year, while those earning on the lower end of the spectrum may receive under $51,000 annually.
Sonographers who work in outpatient care centers earn the most in terms of a median wage, at around $81,000 per year. Professionals employed by diagnostic or medical laboratories earn considerably less, at approximately $70,000 per year. With that being said, even professionals earning lower salaries on this career path can expect to enjoy a more than comfortable living wage, particularly when compared to starting salaries in other fields.
How to Earn Your Sonographer Certification & Why Become Certified?
Before we discuss how you can earn your certification, it is important to understand why you should become certified. There are no state requirements currently in place which mandate that sonographers earn a certification to be employed in the field. However, you will experience the most career potential as a certified professional, as this is the measuring stick for your knowledge and expertise in your area of specialty. Most individuals working in diagnostic imaging have a minimum of one certification under their belt.
Employers look for certified professionals, as your credentials are the measuring stick for field knowledge and best patient practices in medical safety. Most employers and insurance companies look for sonographers who have earned a certification in their respective specialty. If you want to be a competitive candidate when searching for a sonographer job, certification is the best route. In fact, many insurance companies will only cover diagnostic imaging for patients if the procedure was done by a certified professional.
The basic steps for earning your certification require you to complete a program from an accredited institution, finish any clinical aspects required by your program, and pass the certification exam. To become certified, you must first complete a 1-year certificate program, a 2-year associate’s degree, or a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Most professionals in this field have an associate’s degree, but a bachelor’s degree is also a good option that will allow you to choose between various specializations. If you go the certificate route, most of these programs are 12 to 18 months.
Certificates are meant for professionals with prior education and experience in healthcare who are interested in entering the diagnostic medical sonography field. Certification programs are offered by colleges and a number of hospitals, too. Whichever type of program you select, most of them use a combination of classroom and clinical aspects to provide experience.
You should always choose a program that is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or a similar approved accrediting body. You can conduct a search on the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program’s website to see a full list of accredited programs. Upon finishing your educational program and any clinical aspects needed, you are required to pass an exam or exams to become fully certified.
You can choose between a number of certification specialties within the field of diagnostic medical sonography. The three different certifying bodies offering these certifications and the associated exams are the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, and Cardiovascular Credentialing International.
American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography Certifications
Under the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, you can become certified in specialties such:
To maintain your certification:
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists Certifications
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists offers the following certifications:
To maintain your certification, you must:
Cardiovascular Credentialing International Certifications
Any credential earned from Cardiovascular Credentialing International is in force for 9 to 12 months upon passing the exam. They offer the following certifications:
To maintain your certification, you must:
After fulfilling the educational prerequisites for the certifying body you have chosen, you must pay for the exams before taking them. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography typically charges $225 to $250 in examination application fees. Examination application costs for The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists typically fall somewhere around $200 to $400, while fees for Cardiovascular Credentialing International are usually about $365 to $450 total.
Earn Your Certification
The time it takes to become a certified sonographer depends on whether you earn a certificate, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree in the field. Each certifying body has a different procedural process.
American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
Cardiovascular Credentialing International
For a credential from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, you must complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a related discipline. You must also have a year of clinical experience to apply for and pass the exam.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists requires an associate’s degree or higher if you earn one credential. If you earn a credential in a second specialty, you must have a certain amount of clinical work done before applying.
Cardiovascular Credentialing International mandates education and clinical prerequisites before applying for an exam, but the exact requirements vary depending on the specialty you choose. You may apply to take one of their exams if your degree falls under one of their approved programs or you have a certain amount of full-time work experience under your belt.
Becoming certified in this field is essential to afford yourself opportunities for advancement and salary increases. Employers look for professionals who have earned their sonographer certification and put in the effort to maintain their credentials, so consider the specialty or specialties you wish to focus on when carving out the career path you desire.