Occupational Guide: Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Career
The allied health sector is appealing for people looking to start a new career – and for good reason. Dynamic and growing by leaps and bounds, there are great opportunities for well-paying jobs throughout the healthcare field – and it doesn’t require years of medical school!
Whether you’re new to the field or looking for a new job path, one of the best allied health careers out there is in diagnostic sonography – here’s why!
What Is Diagnostic Medical Sonography?
Diagnostic medical sonographers (also known as ultrasound techs) use high-frequency sound waves and imaging equipment to peer inside patients’ bodies. These images help doctors diagnose a variety of medical conditions like pregnancy, cancer, and internal bleeding.
How Do Ultrasound Waves Create Images?
You’re probably familiar with how submarines use sonar to send out sound waves, measuring them when they return in order to determine the size and distance of objects.
Sonar generally uses very low frequencies (often as low as 5 Hz) because these soundwaves need to travel across vast expanses of ocean water.
Ultrasound imaging only needs to travel a few inches and back, so they use high frequencies for extreme levels of precision to tell the difference between fluid, muscles, bone, and organs.
The Different Types of Ultrasounds
Ultrasounds are able to show active blood flow (or blockages), the anatomy of a particular organ in three dimensions, or stiffness of tissue which is especially useful in cancer diagnoses.
The capabilities of this single type of machine are truly amazing, and it means that diagnostic medical sonographers can examine any of these during their day-to-day work.
Sonogram vs Ultrasound: What’s the Difference?
Sonographers are often asked about the difference between ultrasounds and sonograms.
The word “ultrasound” refers to the procedure, when gel is applied and the ultrasound wand is applied to view the relevant part of the body. The resulting image is referred to as a sonogram.
The terms diagnostic medical sonographer and ultrasound technologist are often used interchangeably. Most training programs use the term sonography, but your job title will vary based on the employer. If you check out job postings, you’ll see some employers looking for ultrasound techs, while others are seeking diagnostic medical sonographers.
A Day in the Life of a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Now that you have a firm grounding in the science of ultrasounds, discover why diagnostic medical sonography has been rated one of the least stressful medical jobs.
The typical appointment involves explaining how the procedure works, applying gel, and using the wand of the ultrasound machine to produce images. Depending on the procedure and your workplace protocol, you might be asked to assist the physician in their diagnosis.
Where Can Sonographers Find Work?
Diagnostic medical sonographers aren’t limited to a single type of employer. Like most allied healthcare careers, hospitals are the largest employer for ultrasound techs, though you’ll likely be able to find positions at private practices, medical laboratories, and outpatient care centers.
Chances are, there are several facilities of these types in the area where you live. This kind of flexibility is an important point, particularly if you don’t want to move to a new area or have a long commute.
Thanks to the high demand for this profession (more on that later), diagnostic medical sonographers typically work a full 40-hour work week.
Keeping a regular schedule for full-time DMS techs is generally a higher priority for employers. So while it’s still possible to work part-time, you might be expected to fill a variety of night, weekend, and holiday shifts.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Working Environments
Whether you’re working with the elderly in a nursing home or young people in a children’s hospital, ultrasound technology procedures are largely the same.
One exception might be for those who work mainly with a pregnancy ultrasound. While the procedures aren’t much different, there’s a certain level of joy in helping parents see their children for the first time (as opposed to largely working to diagnose illnesses).
What Is an Average Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Salary?
More good news: In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) determined that the average diagnostic medical sonographer salary was $72,500 per year – more than $34 per hour. The top 10% of earners in the industry earned a staggering annual income of $100,000.
It’s clear why this is an attractive field. In fact, it’s one of the highest-paying allied health careers out there – and all without a medical degree. But how difficult is it to find employment?
Rising Demand in the Field
The BLS has determined that the demand for diagnostic medical sonographers is set to rise by a shocking 23% from 2016 to 2026.
Compared to all health technologists and technicians in the US, the rise in demand is projected to be just 14% during the same period.
It’s clear that this industry is experiencing one of the highest demands for new workers of any field. With above-average salaries and excellent demand, what’s stopping you from entering this career?
How to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?
Before you begin, you’ll need an appropriate level of education. Unlike many other allied healthcare careers, a high school diploma simply isn’t enough to join courses.
While you don’t necessarily need to complete a degree beforehand, some university education is necessary. For a CAAHEP-accredited program, you’ll need to meet the following requirements:
- 1 college-level communications/English course (or equivalent)
- 1 college-level algebra, statistics, or higher level math course
- 1 college-level general physics or radiographic physics course
- 1 college-level human anatomy and physiology course(s) that covers all body systems
Fortunately, these requirements can be fulfilled affordably within a single semester at community college. Generally speaking, it’s not too difficult to prepare yourself for an accredited diagnostic medical sonography school.
Due to high demand and excellent average ultrasound technologist salary, job positions in this field are highly competitive.
Though most states don’t require ultrasound tech certification, most employers prefer to hire sonographers who are certified through ARDMS.
The most common education route that diagnostic medical sonographers take is through an accredited DMS training program. Once accepted, these programs take approximately 2-3 years to complete and include a significant amount of classroom instruction and hands-on training.
Certification for Ultrasound Technologists
Over the course of your studies, you’ll have the opportunity to take the Sonography Principles & Instrumentation (SPI) exam, as well as the Abdomen (AB) and Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) specialty examinations offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).
Graduates who pass these aforementioned exams can earn their Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential. Most major hospitals and imaging centers only hire certified sonographers, so receiving these certifications are essential.
Start Your Ultrasound Tech Career in the New Jersey Area
Interested in learning more about this field and exploring certification options? If you’re currently in the New Jersey area – or are considering a move – contact an AIMS representative to get the ball rolling!