Your Guide to a Career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Every day as a diagnostic medical sonographer brings new surprises.You might start your morning in the OB/GYN department guiding a nervous young woman through her first ultrasound scan.
Later in the day, you find yourself calming an elderly gentleman as he waits to find out if his cancer is in remission. He’s nervous, but you’re here to help him. That afternoon a nurse consults you about the results from an ultrasound on a cardiovascular patient.
It’s a fast-paced day, but as a diagnostic sonographer (also known as ultrasound technologist), you wouldn’t have it any other way… Does this kind of work sound like a perfect fit for you?
Then you may be ready to start a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer.
Jobs in the field combine skills in high-tech medical technology with a genuine desire to help people. It’s a great fit for people who are passionate about medicine and want to feel connected to their patients.
But what does this career entail? Well, we’re glad you asked.
Tell Me More About Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS)
Diagnostic medical sonography is a field of medical technology using imaging equipment and soundwaves to diagnose different medical conditions. Medical sonographers help in the treatment and diagnosis of many internal health issues.
Careers in medical sonography are growing as medical professionals pivot from invasive diagnostic procedures and rely more on medical sonography. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for medical sonographers and ultrasound technologists continues to grow at a rate higher than overall averages.
Whether you have been working in healthcare for years or are completely new to the field, anyone can pursue training in diagnostic medical sonography.
How Does Diagnostic Sonography Work?
At its most basic level, diagnostic sonography is when sound waves are used to create images of organs, tissues, and even blood vessels inside the body. At 20,000 Hz, these sounds are usually not audible (although the family dog can probably pick them up). Their frequency is so high, they’ve come to be known as “ultra-sounds.”
DMS technology can be used for many different purposes in a medical context. It can help medical professionals verify blood flow, look for signs of cancer, and see detailed views of tissues, internal organs, and even something as tiny as a molecule. DMS technology is a sort of all-purpose tool for doctors to use.
The in-depth view diagnostic medical sonography gives us is hard to replicate in any other way. While the tech may sound complicated, what sonographers really do is take images that allow doctors to better understand what’s going on inside of us.
Think of the relationship as that of a journalist and a photographer; doctors tell and investigate what’s happening internally to our bodies, but need sonographers to show what’s really happening. The role of a diagnostic medical sonographer or ultrasound technologist is critically important in helping doctors make accurate diagnoses.
Wait, Are Ultrasounds and Sonograms Different?
The sonogram vs. ultrasound debate can be confusing, as the two are often used interchangeably. Ultrasounds are the sounds and vibrations that are used to create a medical image. A sonogram is the medical image that was created from the ultrasounds.
Ultrasound techs and diagnostic medical sonographers are essentially the same profession. Regardless of the job title, the job responsibilities and the required education will be the same.
From Bats to Neurology: A 5-Minute History of Medical Sonography
If the idea of using sound to create an image is hard to wrap your head around, you’re not alone. Scientists have been working to understand sonography since the 1700s.
Modern sonography owes a big thank-you to the little bat. The earliest studies of ultrasound began when scientists wanted to better understand the high-pitched frequencies bats use to locate prey. In their studies, scientists realized they could replicate this technology, harnessing the power of sound to find or see a particular object.
While scientists understood the potential of sonar, it wasn’t until the last century that technology finally caught up. Physicist Paul Langévin is arguably one of the “fathers” of modern sonography. A contemporary and friend of Albert Einstein, he was at the forefront of sonar tech.
During World War I, Langévin developed tools that would allow people to search deep underwater for objects like submarines. He would direct sonar sound waves through the ocean, until the sound waves hit an object and bounced back. The sound frequencies then produced the coordinates from the depths of the sea.
The same technology was soon applied to medicine, where doctors used much higher frequencies to create images from inside our bodies.
While the technology is the same, the shorter travel distance allows us to produce much sharper and precise images. Neurologist Karl Dussik was the first to try this, using sonography to pinpoint the location of tumors inside a human skull. His work helped pave the way for doctors to test sonography’s potential in other medical fields like obstetrics and cardiology.
DMS scanning technology continues to evolve today, expanding the 3D and 4D imaging field.
Career Prospects in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
The field of diagnostic medical sonography is growing. The average annual salary for ultrasound technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers is estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics at $64,280 per year or $30.90 per hour. The security and opportunities for growth also mean you will feel safer about your education investment.
And security isn’t the only perk. As recent studies have shown, a career in diagnostic medical sonography is one of the least stressful jobs, scoring а 4.0 on a ten-point scale. So this might very well be your best shot at keeping a steady pulse as a professional in the medical field.
Just keep in mind – while the job may be calm, it doesn’t mean you’ll be bored…
Life as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Given that sonography is a multi-purpose tool, as a medical sonographer you could work very different cases day to day.
As a medical sonographer your job duties may include:
- Meeting with patients and explaining how the DMS scanning technology works
- Answering any questions patients may have
- Applying gel and conducting the ultrasound.
- Coordinating with nurses and doctors to evaluate sonograms
While medical-know how is important in this job, it’s also important to be a good communicator. Patients will be looking to you to make them feel safe and comfortable during ultrasound procedures.
The actual work will always stay the same, but the population you work with can vary from place to place. With a position as an ultrasound technologist in a busy hospital, you may find yourself helping people with a diverse array of medical challenges, as you serve a wider community.
Work schedules can vary depending on the type of place you are hired – usually your choices include hospitals and imaging centers. Because of high demand, many medical sonographers are hired on a full-time basis. A traditional 40-hour work week is not uncommon either.
If you’re working part-time, though, some places will expect you to work weekends, nights, or holidays.
If you’re working in a hospital specializing in a specific area of medicine (i.e. cardiology or obstetrics and gynecology) you may get to develop skills tailored to that specific medical specialty.
Many people already working in medical sonography suggest getting certifications in multiple areas to make yourself a more marketable job candidate.
Popular specializations for ultrasound technicians include:
Focuses on the heart and surrounding structures, and often uses doppler sonography to measure blood-flow. Given the high rates of heart disease today, cardiac sonographers play an increasingly important role in the medical field.
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Specializes in measuring the health of a fetus and expectant mother, as well as detecting or analyzing potential abnormalities with female reproductive organs.
Dealing with joints, tendons and ligaments, this is a growing specialization, especially in sports medicine.
Sonographers can help perform routine check-ups on the health of breasts, as well as help diagnose the presence of breast cancer.
Abdomen and Small Parts
In this specialty, sonographers can help diagnose conditions that affect the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, or bladder
Education Choices for DMS
A career as a medical sonographer might be the right choice for you, but how do you get there?
Most people have two options. You can earn your certificate after completing a two-year certificate program or through a 2 or 4-year degree program. In either case, it’s important to choose a DMS program that meets your schedule needs and career goals.
Certificate and degree programs for medical sonographers have their share of similarities and differences. Ultimately, only you can decide which path is best for you.
- Takes about two years to complete
- Include exciting and fast-paced internships
- Many certificate programs are offered through vocational or training schools
- Compared to a degree program, DMS certificate programs take less time to complete
- Often a good fit for people who are balancing jobs or family-life commitments
- Can help fast-track your path to find a job
- Degree programs may take longer than certificate programs
- You can earn an associate or bachelor’s degrees in diagnostic medical sonography
- May lead to a higher salary
- Cost of degree programs tends to be higher
- Can give you more time to practice and train for certification exams
- May give you the opportunity to study more specialties
For more info check out our blog post on the different DMS education paths.
Accredited Sonography Programs
If you want to get hired as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, completing your education and obtaining your sonography certification is an absolute must.
Certification for most sonographers is provided by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Songraphy (ARDMS). Certification testing through ARDMS includes the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) exam and a specialty exam.
Students who graduate from a DMS program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) will be eligible to take the certification exams offered by ARDMS.
Ready to Start Your Career?
If a career as a diagnostic medical sonographer is right for you, there are lots of resources to help you.
Check out our diagnostic medical sonography program page. Learn how you can get training and certification, and make a difference in people’s lives.