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Differences Between Cardiac Sonography and Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Difference Between Diagnostic Cardiac & Medical Sonography

Stanford EdTech / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s hardly surprising that interest in allied healthcare careers like cardiac sonography and diagnostic medical sonography is on the rise. Everyone – from students who want a career in medicine without spending years in medical school to people looking for a career change – is taking an interest in these fast-growing fields.

The bigger question for most is, “Which field is best for me?” Here, we look at two popular careers and break down all the differences you need to understand to choose the best allied healthcare career for you.

What Is Diagnostic Cardiac Sonography?

Cardiovascular Sonographer

First, let’s clarify some terminology. This career is also known as an echocardiography technologist. The two terms are often interchangeable, so different job postings and training programs may use one or the other.

Now that the name of the program has been cleared up, let’s address what’s at the heart of this program: Sonography.

How Sonography Works

At its most basic level, sonography is seeing through solid material with sound. It works a bit like sonar, except instead of sending sound waves through water to find ships and submarines, it uses sound waves to create images of bones, tumors, and even babies.

The other main difference is in frequencies. Sonar sticks to very low frequencies, around 5 Hz. Sonograms, also known as ultrasounds, use sound waves of around 20,000 Hz. The good news is that this is just at the high end of human hearing (which is about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz), so you’re unlikely to hear anything yourself.

Why the big difference? With sonar, the sound waves travel for many miles, while ultrasound only travels a few inches. Luckily for cardiac sonographers and diagnostic medical sonographers, this higher frequency also makes the resulting images far more precise. That precision allows for the same basic set of technology to do different things for different specialists. How does it work in diagnostic cardiac sonography?

How Sonography Works for Cardiac Specialists

Ekko / Wikipedia / CC0

This specialization focuses on using sonograms to look at the human heart. This is where the advantages of the latest ultrasound technology come into play. The two most important things here are the structure of the heart and the blood flow within it. Luckily, you can see both, as well as even more detailed information like the types of molecules present.

Today, a diagnostic cardiac sonographer can create a three-dimensional image of a patient’s heart and see where blood is flowing within it. This is used to diagnose a wide variety of heart issues, from fatty tissue buildup to cancer. This is at the core of what these vital healthcare workers do: use their skill with these tools to create an image of the heart before using the rest of their knowledge to diagnose any problems which might exist.

But aside from the tools, what does the rest of this job involve?

Cardiac Sonographer Training

What Is Diagnostic Cardiac Sonography?

N A I T / Flickr / CC BY-ND

Of course, the exact type of training is going to vary depending on which cardiac sonography program you choose, but the general length of training is around 18 to 24 months. Compare that to an average of seven years of school and other training between beginning medical school and practicing medicine as a doctor in the US.

Most programs cover a number of different subject areas including foundational courses like medical terminology and anatomy & physiology. Patient care is an important part of any healthcare training program. And students will also learn about the physics and instrumentation involved in ultrasound.

Cardiac sonography programs train students in the Adult Echocardiography specialty. This involves learning both the technical specifications of the ultrasound machines used by cardiac sonographers as well as details of human anatomy with a focus on the heart.

Learning the psychomotor skills involved in ultrasound is a key element of any program. Students learn how to properly maneuver the ultrasound wand in order to build a complete image of the area of the body they’re trying to diagnose.

Relevant Certifications

Certification is extremely important in the field of sonography. Your employment opportunities will be limited if you apply for jobs prior to becoming a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Songrapher (RDCS) or a Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS). Most employers are looking for cardiac sonographers who are registered/certified through ARDMS or CCI. One way to ensure you will be eligible for a certification exam is to attend a cardiac sonography program that has been programmatically accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Why obtain these certifications? In short, they boost your ability to get hired as a diagnostic cardiac sonographer. Some employers may require one or more of these certifications, but in any case, having obtained a professional certification makes your resume look stronger when looking for a job. So what is the cardiac sonographer job outlook today?

Employment Opportunities

If you’re looking for one reason to consider diagnostic cardiac sonography, the employment opportunities should be right at the top of your list. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a full range of data on the subject. First, the most eye-catching statistic is that the field is projected to grow an astonishing 22% between 2014 and 2024. The Bureau itself labels that as “much faster than average.”

On top of those growth numbers, the 2015 median pay is $54,880 per year, coming out to about $26.38 per hour. Considering the typical entry level requirement is a certificate or an associate degree, those numbers are well above average. Then there’s the question of where you can work.

Diagnostic cardiac sonographers generally work in hospitals, cardiologist offices, diagnostic imaging centers, and mobile imaging companies. This means that in most areas, you can find a range of public and private employment opportunities. Combined with the high demand for this career, the outlook is definitely positive.

How Is Diagnostic Medical Sonography Different?

diagnostic sonography monitors

Much of what’s been written above applies to diagnostic medical sonography. The main difference is that diagnostic medical sonography programs primarily focus on the general concentration of ultrasound (Abdomen and OB/GYN) and often take longer to complete. Let’s look at these differences in more detail.

Program Length

While a diagnostic cardiac sonography program takes around 18 to 24 months to complete, diagnostic medical sonography programs will often take more than 2 years. The difference in length is usually the result of a program that covers multiple specialties.

The breakdown of classroom and lab hours versus clinical hours is roughly the same, with slightly more time being dedicated to classroom and lab instruction. In general, this program is an average of about one year longer than that of a diagnostic cardiac sonographer.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Training

COD Newsroom / Flickr / CC BY

All of the basic skills you’ll learn in a diagnostic cardiac sonography program will also be covered in this specialization. That includes basic human anatomy, how to use an ultrasound machine, how to diagnose specific conditions and how to handle patients.

But as diagnostic medical sonography covers a much wider range of body areas and diseases, there are other subject areas you’ll cover, specifically, anatomy of the abdomen and reproductive system. Instead of focusing on the heart, you’ll need to learn to image and diagnose a variety of other organs and conditions.

Relevant Certifications

Programs in diagnostic medical sonography can also be programmatically accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Students enrolled in a CAAHEP accredited diagnostic medical sonography program are able to sit for the Abdomen (AB) and Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) specialty exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).

While obtaining these additional certifications isn’t a legal requirement to work in most states, many employers do require them. In addition, being certified will certainly help your future career prospects.

Employment Opportunities

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has diagnostic medical sonographers earning a median income of $68,970. That’s about $14,000 per year more than diagnostic cardiac sonographers earn, largely based on the extra training involved for greater specialization.

This field is also experiencing the same rapid growth as diagnostic cardiac sonography. Many of the workplaces are similar, including hospitals, imaging centers, physicians’ clinics, and mobile imaging companies.

The difference is that while diagnostic cardiac sonography is a more specific field, medical sonographers can work work in multiple specialties. Where you’d like to specialize is up to you.

Program Requirements

Diagnostic medical sonography programs are typically more difficult to get accepted in. This has a lot to do with the popularity and demand of this field. Stricter admission requirements including prerequisite courses, healthcare experience, college degrees, and/or high GPAs are not uncommon.

Interested in Applying? Learn More!

Both of these programs offer fantastic prospects for students ready to take on the challenge. But there’s a lot more to learn about them.

Be sure to check out our Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Occupational Guide, or visit our DMS Program Page.

However, if you’re interested in cardiology you may want to check out our Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer Program Page.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about either program!

11 thoughts on “Differences Between Cardiac Sonography and Diagnostic Medical Sonography

  • Angela says:

    Some of that information is correct but as a Cardiac sonographer there are 2 years of prerequisites and and 2 years of program totaling 4 years so the BS is far more efficient use of time. In addition I make the same as a general sonographer counterpart with equal experience and far more than the median income listed above. Neither job is more accomplished than the other just ask anyone who has done both. The hemodynamics of the heart are complicated, the pathologies are numerous and complex not to mention in constant motion. One difference not noted above is the investigation that is involved in both is more intense in echo as we must investigate based on the symptom listed, as generic as shortness of breath, and sequentially eliminate various causes or include them based on the normal or abnormal findings. General sonographers also do this but because they do not have hemodynamics to contend with each organ individually is a bit simpler not to say their job is easier as they must deal with all the organs and babies.

    • Lida says:

      Angela thank you for more information, I am wondering to know, do you know is it possible to transfer Associate degree to university in order get the BS of this major or not? My advisor told me you can not do that. I really love this major, but I don’t want to study 3 or four years just in AS degree which can not improve it!

      • erin says:

        Hi Lida,
        Im currently in school for cardiac sonographer. The program I’m taking is 2 years, included with an externship of 6 months. It is for associates and I’m pretty sure depending the certificate you can transfer for a bachelors program. I agree with you, I love this major but I didn’t want to go to school for 3-4 years, so this perfect. Good luck !!!

    • Kiyana says:

      I’m looking into cardiovascular sonography and was looking for Bachelor’s Degrees. Is there a difference between cardiovascular technician and cardiovascular sonography?

      • Kade says:

        Yes there is a difference, there are cardiac technicians that work in the Cath Lab where they assist in inserting catheters in different blood vessels, this is called an invasive cardiac technician. Then there are cardiac technicians (usually called cardiac sonographers or Echocardiographers) that use non invasive techniques (Ultrasound) to help diagnose different pathologies and abnormalities.

  • […] to the number of years required to become a doctor or nurse, cardiac sonography programs can be completed in 2 years or less. You can receive an excellent education and start your career […]

  • Esme says:

    I’ve been accepted into a 4 year program for cardiac and vascular sonography (BS). Is there any upward mobility if someday I want to go back to school, will the BS count towards anything? Or is it pigeon holed?

  • […] are various types of sonography programs, and the job duties will be a little different, depending on the one you decide to […]

  • Michelle says:

    Are there any online programs for this field?

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