An ultrasound technician can also be called a diagnostic medical sonographer, or sometimes just a sonographer. These terms will be used interchangeably here. Let's find out more about this field, including what an ultrasound technician is and does, and what a typical day might look like for this career path. We will also explore information about ultrasound technician salary.
WHAT IS AN ULTRASOUND TECHNICIAN?
Ultrasound technicians use equipment that takes images of the body by using sound waves. Many people think of ultrasounds and they think of the images of an unborn baby. Ultrasound technicians create the images of the unborn baby and assist in watching out for the health of the baby and mom. Ultrasound technicians also help to take images of organs and other parts of the body. These images can be used by physicians to discover diseases or conditions that require medical treatment. Some physicians use ultrasound imagery to help locate cancers in the breast, prostate, and testicles.
The Science Behind Ultrasounds
Ultrasound or sonography is used to capture images of the inside of the body. It is a non-invasive technology that uses sound waves. These sound waves are at high frequencies that are not detectable by the human ear. Images can be generated to view the internal parts of the body such as blood vessels, organs, muscles, or soft tissues. Ultrasounds may also be used to capture the growth and development of a fetus inside of a woman's uterus. These images may help monitor the growth and development of the fetus, detect problems with the fetus, or assist with surgeries and procedures.
The ultrasound machine consists of a probe device called a transducer that is connected to a monitor. The technician slowly passes the probe over the area to be imaged and the transducer produces sound waves. These sound waves bounce off the structures of the body and the machine measures the intensity and speed of the echoes produced. An electronic image results and displays on the monitor. The ultrasound technician may enter patient data by using a keyboard and print copies of the image produced using a printer.
New Ultrasound Technology
When ultrasound technology was introduced, it could produce one or two-dimensional images. Now three and four-dimensional ultrasound machines are available to produce 3D images of a fetus. The fourth dimension is considered time, with imagery being produced in real time. In addition, ultrasound machines can be purchased in a more compact form. In 2009, a handheld ultrasound device was introduced. This technology allows ultrasound machines to be more easily utilized in emergencies or moved around in areas where healthcare is offered. In addition, this handheld device was significantly less expensive than the traditional ultrasound machine. Another benefit to this type of machine is its ability to be used in remote areas where medical care is not easily accessible, thus providing much-needed care to people in isolated communities.
The Role of Ultrasounds in Diagnosing Disease
Ultrasounds play a vital role in the diagnosis of disease. Ultrasounds allow physicians to view tumors that do not show up on x-rays. This makes sonography a vital part of diagnosing cancer. Physicians will sometimes use ultrasound in conjunction with a needle biopsy to help visualize and guide the needle.
Ultrasound is also effective in viewing soft tissue damage that does not display well on x-rays. It is a useful technology because it can be accomplished quickly without a lot of preparation of the patient. Ultrasounds do not expose people to radiation either as x-rays do. There are some limitations to ultrasound, however. It cannot go through bone or through air in the lungs. Ultrasound images are not as detailed as those from other scans, such as CT or MRI scans.
The Link Between Bats and Ultrasound Technology
Many animals, such as bats, dolphins, and whales, use echolocation to move around. Echolocation allows animals to orient themselves to their surroundings when they emit sound waves that bounce off objects. The animals then can use the resulting echoes to determine how far away an object is located. Bats produce sounds that are high-frequency and cannot be heard by human ears. High-frequency sound waves and echoes are also a vital part of how medical ultrasound works.
Job Duties & Description
Sonographers work as part of a healthcare team by providing their images to physicians for review. They assist with readying patients for procedures. They also help with the upkeep of equipment. They take patient histories and may assist in interpreting the ultrasound imagery.
The majority of ultrasound technicians work in hospitals. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 75% of sonographers work in hospital environments, which includes those who work in emergency rooms and those who perform ultrasounds in patient rooms. The remainder of those surveyed worked in other environments such as a physician's offices, laboratories, outpatient facilities, or other healthcare environments. A new field for ultrasound technicians is that of a temporary or traveling sonographer. Many people find this type of work of appealing because it offers a change of environment, more flexibility, and sometimes a higher wage.
A Day in the Life
Most sonographers work 8-hour shifts. During this time, they interact with patients, physicians, other technicians, and support staff. Many perform 10-15 sonograms during their shift and are required to complete accompanying paperwork with each image that is taken. Emergency situations may arise which require working more hours.
Career Path & Ultrasound Technician Salary
This career has a great outlook for demand over the next ten years. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that sonographers will have job growth of 23% over ten years. An ultrasound technician salary is quite competitive. It has been identified as one of the top paying careers for those without a bachelor's degree. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an ultrasound technician salary is at $71,410 (median). An ultrasound technician salary can range from around $50,000 at the low end to up near $100,000 on the high end. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, medical and diagnostic laboratories pay the highest wages to ultrasound technicians.
It usually takes two years to finish a degree in sonography. Most ultrasound technicians complete an Associate Degree of Science in that span of time. Sonographers study in the classroom and laboratory settings. You can also earn a bachelor degree in the field of sonography if you would like to specialize in the field. This option is also available to those who would like to manage others in this field. Certificate programs can be earned by people already employed in the healthcare industry as radiology or cardiovascular technicians.
As with many jobs, the more experience you have in a field, the more you are likely to earn. If an ultrasound technician has more certifications or a more advanced degree, salary may also increase accordingly. Where you work is also a factor of an ultrasound technician salary. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the ultrasound technician salary also increases in an outpatient care center as opposed to other facilities. Other location options for jobs include hospitals, laboratories, or physician's offices. Geographical area matters, too. Employees in California, Washington D.C., Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii have the highest ultrasound technician salary as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Some states require additional licensing certifications. Although some states do not require this licensing by law, many employers prefer their ultrasound technicians have these credentials. This additional licensing may give technicians an edge on their competition when applying for jobs. There are a number of organizations that offer credentials for ultrasound technicians:
Ultrasound technicians can specialize in the following areas of sonography:
Comparison to Similar Jobs
Ultrasound technicians make more, on average than those in similar careers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Ultrasound Technicians make approximately $38,000 more than Medical Assistants, on average. They make around $24,500 more than Surgical Technicians. They make around $14,000 more than Cardiovascular Technicians. They make around $12,000 more than radiologic Technologists.
The ultrasound technician salary makes it a very attractive option for many people. It offers a competitive salary that can be earned with an associate degree in science. Even more opportunities could be available for those with advanced or specialized degrees. This field has a great opportunity for growth with the need increasing for ultrasound technicians over the next ten years. All these factors lead to the conclusion that a career as an ultrasound technician is a great possibility for those interested in science and healthcare.