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Which Is Better: Medical Sonography Certificate or Degree?

sonography ultrasound tech field

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

Medical sonography is a unique and rewarding career. You’ll be an active part of a patient treatment team, seeking answers to medical questions. From tracking the progress of a pregnancy to checking for breast cancer, the possibilities of this career are limitless.

For prospective medical sonographers, there are several ways to break into this field. You can study through medical sonography certificate programs or professional degree programs. Both are great ways to achieve a successful career in the allied healthcare industry.

The question remains: What’s the right path for you to become an ultrasound tech?

What Is Diagnostic Medical Sonography?

Sonographers and ultrasound techs are essentially the same, as are their responsibilities and educational requirements. These professionals identify patients’ ailments in a variety of ways, and play the exciting role of detective by searching the body for signs of illness or injury.

The terms ‘sonogram’ and ‘ultrasound’ are often used interchangeably. Ultrasounds are the vibrations and sounds used to create a medical image. Sonograms are the medical image that is created from ultrasounds.

These pieces of equipment are used for everything from checking a baby’s health during pregnancy to searching for kidney stones, and are performed everywhere from hospitals to physician’s offices to medical labs.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Programs

sonography certificate training and program

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

There are various types of sonography programs you can choose to study, and your job duties will look a bit different, depending on whichever you decide to pursue.

Diagnostic sonography differs from types of sonography like vascular technology or echocardiography. While these types of testing utilize the same technology, they require more education and experience. It’s possible to specialize in these areas, but workers in all of these allied healthcare careers need to start with basic education and testing.

There are different types of medical sonography programs. You can attend a sonography certificate program that lasts 2 years or longer. Alternatively, you might choose a two- or four-year sonography degree program.

Whichever you choose, each of these offers abundant job opportunities and the chance to be a part of the medical treatment team, though there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to keep in mind before pursuing one.

The steps to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer start with education, and depend on what works best for you.

Attending a Sonography Certificate Program

ultrasound tech certificate fast track

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

Certificate programs generally take place at a technical or vocational school, rather than a college or university.

A sonography certificate program usually involves 2-3 years of study. These programs typically include extensive clinical internships which last as long as 8 months. Students who graduate from a CAAHEP accredited program are eligible to take certification exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).

Certification testing includes both a physics exam, the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) exam, as well as specialty testing.

The possibilities include abdomen, breast, fetal echocardiography, obstetrics and gynecology, as well as pediatric sonography. These individual certifications give you the ability to choose your future career path within medical sonography. Eligibility for these specialty exams depends on the type of program from which you have graduated.

The Pros of an Ultrasound Technologist Certificate Programs

With all this talk about degrees and certificates, what are the benefits of getting a sonography certificate programs?

In a nutshell, these programs are shorter, and allow you to start working far more quickly than if you studied for a sonography degree. Vocational and technical schools generally offer day and evening programs, which are designed especially for working individuals and parents.

A Fast Track to the Job Market

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field is continuing to grow and has a steady supply of jobs. Pursuing a certificate is also a great choice for current allied healthcare professionals like medical assistants, who are already working in the medical field. Gaining an additional certificate in diagnostic medical sonography can help these individuals significantly increase their job opportunities and pay.

For those not in the healthcare field yet, this is an excellent way to start an exciting new career. With a certificate, you can start work and continue your education as you go, making it much easier to continue moving upward.

Cons of Sonography Certificatе Programs

Generally, most employers hire sonographers based on their knowledge, technical skills, and certification, and having a degree doesn’t necessarily offer a significant advantage over someone with a certificate. Both sonographers have an equal chance of getting hired, however, the biggest difference typically lies in pay.

An associate degree or bachelor’s degree requires more thorough education, and as a result, usually nets applicants higher salaries. In order to balance the scales between degree-holders and certificate holders, it is highly recommended to get certified in more than one area to increase job prospects.

How Is a Sonography Degree Different Than a Certificate?

sonography degree different than certificate

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

Both associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees are available in the sonography field. Having a bachelor’s degree – rather than just an associate degree or certificate – offers serious advantages in this highly competitive field.

Spending time at a college or university gives students more time to practice before taking their certification exams. In a degree track, they may also have the opportunity to study multiple specialties. These classes allow students to qualify for additional certifications and broaden their employment possibilities.

The Cons of a Sonography Degree

Certainly, the most obvious downside of a sonography degree is how time-consuming it can be. A degree takes more time than a certificate, meaning it’ll take longer to start working. It may also cost significantly more to complete a degree program.

What Is a Typical Sonographer Salary?

Medical Sonography - Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national last year’s median salary was $69,650, with the highest median pay rates for diagnostic sonographers.

The best-paying positions were at outpatient care centers, where the average position received a staggering $78,000. The lowest-paid locations were at medical and diagnostic laboratories, which commanded an impressive $67,000 per year!

Remember that, as you gain experience and add specialty areas to your list of certifications, your pay can increase dramatically.

There’s No Better Time to Start a Career in Sonography

No matter how you look at it, the field of medical sonography has a particularly positive job outlook. Estimates for this area of study show predicted growth of about 17% from 2016 to 2026.

With excellent pay and a wonderful job outlook, this career might be the right choice for you.

Visit our DMS page to learn more about sonography programs in New Jersey.