Learning how to become a sonographer is the first step in breaking into this growing field. There are many areas of healthcare that count on sonographers to help diagnose issues within the body. If you’re looking for a way to help others and earn a good living, this might be the right career path for you.
5 Steps to Becoming a Sonographer
Step #1 – Finish High School
As you complete your high school diploma, you will be taking the first step toward becoming a sonographer. Make sure you take as many advanced math and science classes as possible. This can help you gain the base knowledge you will need to enter into a sonography program.
It’s also important to get good grades in high school. You will want to take the SAT and/or the ACT, as well. High scores on these tests can help ensure you get into a good college program. The right SAT or ACT prep program can make a big difference.
Step #2 – Complete Your College Degree
It’s possible to get a vocational certificate if you want to become a sonographer. This is the fastest option and takes about one year to complete. However, you will not gain the same education as a college degree can provide for this field.
Most sonographers will start with an associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography. This is the fastest route to enter into this career field. It will take two years to complete your degree.
You can also take the bachelor’s degree route, which is preferred by many employers prefer. This route will take four years. You will need to choose a program that is CAAHEP-accredited (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs). Your coursework will include mathematics, medical technology, health science, and hands-on practice.
Step #3 – Get Experience Working in a Clinic
The next step in the process of becoming a sonographer is to gain hands-on experience. You will need to enroll in an internship and gain some clinical experience. This type of experience will help you develop better communications skills, along with medical and technical skills.
Step #4 – Become Certified
It’s common for employers to require certification in diagnostic medical sonography. The most common certification is the RDMS (Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer) credential. It’s common to earn the RDMS credential before specializing in a specific field.
You can also become certified through the ARRT (American Registry of Radiologic Technologists). In addition, the ARRT offers many specialty certifications to choose from.
No matter the type of certification you choose, you will need to pass a certification exam. However, with the right prep course, you will be better prepared to pass your exams the first time.
Step #5 – Consider a Specialty
Once you have your degree and your RDMS certification, you will likely want to specialize. There are several fields to consider. AART will offer certification programs for each of the specialty fields to help you grow in your career.
Sonographer Specialties to Consider
After becoming a sonographer, you may want to specialize. With the right specialty, you can open up new career opportunities and a higher salary. Some of the specialty options include:
- Abdominal Ultrasound – You will use sound waves to create pictures of the upper abdomen to diagnose distention or pain. Typically, you will be evaluating the bile ducts, spleen, kidneys, gallbladder, liver, abdominal aorta, or pancreas.
- Breast Ultrasound – Creating images of the breast is a specialty you can choose as a sonographer. This type of ultrasound is used to diagnose breast lumps and abnormalities found during a mammogram, MRI, or physical exam.
- Neurosonography – If you want to perform ultrasounds on the brain and nervous system, this specialty is for you. You will use neurosonology or neuroimaging to create pictures from a Transcranial Doppler.
- Obstetric and Gynecological ultrasound – Commonly known as OB/GYN ultrasound, this is the most commonly thought of the form of ultrasound. You will be in charge of providing images of the fetus of a pregnant woman to determine the health of the mom and the baby.
- Echocardiographer – Using ultrasound technology to show pictures of the heart is the job of an echocardiographer. This specialty will use a Doppler ultrasound to determine if blood is flowing properly through the valves and chambers of the heart.
- Vascular Sonographer – Diagnosing the arteries and veins is the job of a vascular sonographer. You will create pictures of the veins and arteries to ensure blood is flowing properly.
- Musculoskeletal Sonographer – You will use ultrasound technology to produce pictures of joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments as a musculoskeletal sonographer. This can help with diagnosing soft tissue injuries.
There are many specialties for sonographers to consider. Whether you want to work with pregnant moms and babies or help diagnose the brain, the right specialty can make a difference.
Sonographer vs. Ultrasound Technician
While a sonographer and an ultrasound technician may seem like similar career paths, they are different. Both types of technology can be used to diagnose ailments through ultrasound. However, while the job titles may be interchangeable, sonographers must complete further training and gain certifications.
Four Things to Look for In a Sonography Program
As you start looking for the right sonography program, make sure you look at these four things.
1. Admission requirements
You want to ensure you understand what’s necessary to get into the vocational, associate, or bachelor’s program of your choice. For example, you may need specific courses in science, health, or math before you can get in.
Of course, you want to choose a program that the CAAHEP has properly accredited. There are about 150 total programs found at colleges and universities. A few programs are also found through hospitals.
3. Your Chosen Specialty/Goals
It’s important to look at your goals and the specialty you’re considering before choosing a program. The right program will fit all your needs.
Another thing to consider is the actual curriculum. Will you get plenty of hands-on experience? It is a crucial part of your training, and you want to make sure you will get a chance to learn hands-on.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Sonographer
What is the average salary of a sonographer?
The average annual salary for a sonographer is about $70K per year. Salaries for this position range from about $41K per year to about $118K per year. Experience and location are the two largest factors when it comes to the actual salary you will earn.
Do I need a degree to become a sonographer?
Yes. You will need to complete at least a two-year degree through a sonography training program. A bachelor’s degree program is also available and offers more advancement opportunities. If you already have training in another healthcare field, you can complete a bachelor’s degree program within one year.
What are the most common skills needed to become a sonographer?
You will need to have good communication skills and compassion. It’s important to be sensitive to the needs of the patient. Of course, your schooling will teach you the skills of running the imaging and ultrasonic equipment. You will also learn the medical knowledge you need to become a sonographer. It’s also helpful if you have good attention to detail and critical thinking skills.
What type of employers hire sonographers?
It’s common for a sonographer to work in any medical facility. Hospitals and healthcare clinics tend to hire sonographers quite often. You might also work for private practice, especially those found within the women’s health industry.
What type of environment will a sonographer work in?
A typical full-time sonographer will work a 40-hour week in various environments, depending on the specialty. It’s common to work in a larger medical facility, and the environment can be fast-paced. You will likely see multiple patients each day.
However, if you work in a smaller practice, you may enjoy a more relaxed environment. You may not see as many patients each day, but you may also be expected to perform some duties outside of your sonography training.
Do sonographers gain access to advancement opportunities?
Getting your bachelor’s degree and the right certification can offer some advancement opportunities. For example, you can pursue training to become a radiologic technologist or develop your career in another direction with a bachelor’s degree.
Is sonography a competitive career field?
Yes. It’s common for about twice as many, or more, sonographers to apply for each open position. So it’s a very competitive field.
How long does it take to become a sonographer?
You can complete training to become a sonographer in as little as one year. However, more career opportunities are available for those completing two-and-four-year degrees. Many employers expect at least a two-year degree, and some will look for at least a bachelor’s degree.
Becoming a sonographer can be an exciting career choice. You will work within the healthcare industry to help people. This type of career isn’t for everybody. If it’s for you, finding the right sonography program will make a difference. Consider the steps for how to become a sonographer above before you enter into this career path.