Diagnostic imaging utilizes a variety of procedures that assist in diagnosing disease and illness. The most common type includes magnetic resonance imaging and x-rays. In some cases other technology besides radio waves may be used, including sonography, also known as ultrasonography. This type of technology utilizes sound waves in order to produce an image that can be assessed to provide a diagnosis of different medical conditions. Sonography is frequently thought of in connection with obstetrics but it can be used in a variety of other applications.
Medical Sonographer Job Responsibilities
Sonographers utilize special equipment in order to direct high frequently sound waves into areas of the body. By operating special equipment, reflected echoes can be collected in order to form an image that can then be videotaped and even transmitted or photographed for further interpretation and diagnosis by a doctor. Sonographers may explain the procedure to patients as well as record medical histories that might be relevant to the condition. They are responsible for choosing the correct equipment settings and directing the patient to move into positions that will offer the best view. A transducer is used to transmit sound waves in a rectangle or cone shaped beam. Techniques can vary according to the area that is being examined. Sonographers also use a special gel that is applied to the skin to assist in the transmission of sound waves.
During the scan, sonographers will look for cues that can contrast unhealthy areas from healthy areas. They will then determine whether the images are satisfactory enough for the purposes of diagnosis and choose which images will be stored to show to the doctor. Sonographers may also take measurements as well as calculate values and analyze the results of the findings for doctors.
Along with working with patients, sonographers also usually take medical records and maintain and adjust equipment. Other job duties may include evaluating the purchase of equipment, preparing work schedules and managing a diagnostic or sonography department.
In some cases a sonographer may choose to specialize in abdominal sonography, obstetric and gynecology sonography, neurosonography or breast sonography. Other areas of specialty include cardiac and vascular sonography. Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specifically specialize in imaging involving the female reproductive system, including examining a fetus in order to track the health and growth of the baby during pregnancy. Abdominal sonographers specialize in inspecting the abdominal cavity in order to diagnose as well as treat conditions that might involve the kidneys, spleen, liver, pancreas, gallbladder and male reproductive system. Neurosonographers specialize in the nervous system, which includes the brain. Breast sonographers track tumors in the breasts as well as monitor the supply of blood.
Sonographers usually work in healthcare facilities. They may need to be on their feet for long periods of time and may also need to turn or lift patients who are disabled. In some cases, sonographers may need to travel to other healthcare facilities. Most sonographers work approximately 40 hours per week. Weekend and evening work may be necessary if on call.
Sonographers must have good interpersonal and communication skills. They must also have excellent eye-hand coordination. Sonographers who wish to advance within their career field will need to obtain competency in multiple specialties. They may also obtain multiple credentials in order to attain advancement.
Medical Sonographer Training and Education Requirements
There can be many different paths for entry into this career field. Training, formal education or a combination can be accepted by employers. Most employers do prefer applicants who have receive training or education from an accredited program as well as those who are registered. Training may take place in vocational-technical institutions, hospitals, colleges or the Armed forces. Some training programs prefer to admit applicants who have healthcare experience. Both two and four year training programs are offered by colleges and universities, which result in an associate or bachelor’s degree. The most common are two year programs. Common coursework includes physiology, anatomy, basic physics, instrumentation, medical ethics and patient care.
Medical Sonographer Salary and Wages
In 2008 the median annual wage of sonographers was $61,980. Wages can increase with additional training and responsibility and may also vary according to geographic location and employer.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Medical Sonographer Certifications
Licensure in medical sonography is not required in any state. Sonographers that have become credentialed by a professional certifying body may have improved employment opportunities; however. Registration offers an objective measure of the professional standing of a sonographer. In order to become registered it is necessary to be eligible to take the exam, which includes completion of proper training, education or work experience. The exam usually includes an instrumentation and physics exam within a sonography specialty. A certain number of continuing education hours must be completed in order to maintain registration. Registration is offered through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, resulting in a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer designation. Credentials can be obtained for different specialty areas.
Medical Sonographer Professional Associations
Professional associations for sonographers include the following:
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
- American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine