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Ultrasound Tech Training Requirements

By: CareerFactsheet.com- Updated: Jul 17,2012

Today's modern technology has created a need for skilled workers to operate and maintain the complex machinery. Nowhere is this more evident than in the healthcare community. Ultrasound technology would definitely fit into this category. While ultrasound machines are not something new in the healthcare industry, the technology and sophistication of this equipment is constantly evolving. Today's patients are depending on well-trained medical professionals, who know how to operate the sonograph machinery.

This is where the ultrasound technician comes into play. To become a successful ultrasound technician, you need to receive industry-standard training from an institution that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Applied Health Education Programs. Before we get into the fine details of the various ultrasound training programs, let's take a moment to get acquainted with the scope and responsibility of what this career entails.

Ultrasound Technician Job Description

An ultrasound technician uses sonograph scanners to take images of the human body. Ultrasound technicians accomplish this task by using sound wave technology to scan the patient's body, which in turn creates images. These images are then sent to the patient's physician for examination.

The ultimate goal of these tests are to assist physicians in diagnosing diseases and other medical conditions. In this capacity, ultrasound technicians are essential as members of the healthcare team. Unlike other diagnostic technology, such as x-rays, ultrasound equipment use noninvasive sound waves by utilizing a handheld wand to capture images.

Career Outlook for Ultrasound Technicians

The demand for trained ultrasound technicians is exploding in America. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for ultrasound technicians is expected to grow by a whopping 44% through 2020. What's this mean? Well- in a down and out economy - it's a very bright light at the end of the dark tunnel.

PROJECTIONS OF EMPLOYMENT
Employment
Percent Change
Project Job Openings
(2010-2020)
Median wages
Education and Training Requirements
2010
2020
Typical entry-level education Prior Work Experience in a Related Occupation Typical On-the-job- training
53,700
77,100
44%
31,700
$31.35 hourly, $65,210 annual
Associate's degree None None
Source: BLS Occupational Projections Data

If you're interested in joining the ranks of qualified professionals in this growing career path, you will need to build a competitive resume. The best way to do this is to obtain a comprehensive education. The program that you choose will be the first step on your ladder to success as an ultrasound technician.

Training for Ultrasound Technicians

Training for ultrasound technicians can be accomplished in a variety of settings. There are also several educational paths you can take to become qualified to land a job in this line of work. Most ultrasound technician students choose to participate in a two-year Associates degree from a community college or vocational school.

Other options include a one-year certification program from a community college or vocational school. The certificate program is generally reserved for people who are already employed in healthcare. Some ultrasound technicians also obtain Bachelors degrees to help set them apart from other applicants in the field.

It’s clear that your options for education and training may vary, let's take a closer examination of some popular ultrasound training programs:

Community Colleges

Many ultrasound technicians obtain two-year Associates degrees from community colleges around the country. To qualify for admission into most community college programs, you have to fill certain prerequisite requirements, such as classes in biology, human anatomy and physiology. Check with your prospective school's guidance counselor or consult the course catalog for a list of specific classes required by your school.

After successful admission into an accredited ultrasound technician Associates program, you can expect coursework in the following disciplines:

  • General Sonography
  • Medical Technology
  • Obstetrics
  • Gynecology Sonography
  • Abdominal Sonography
  • Acoustical Physics
  • Neurosynography
  • Psychology
  • Cardiovascular Sonography (Echocardiography) Vascular Sonography
  • Ophthalmology

In addition to the classroom studies, you will usually participate in a series of clinical rotations to gain actual hands-on experience conducting ultrasound examinations on patients. In this capacity, you will be assigned to an experienced ultrasound technician in the field to help you learn the tradecraft.

Vocational Schools

Many vocational schools are now offering certificate and Associates degree programs similar to that of community college for ultrasound technicians. The coursework and clinical rotations mentioned above is still relevant, with some minor exceptions depending on which vocational school you attend. Additionally, these institutions also require certain prerequisites prior to acceptance into an ultrasound technician training program.

The main differences between community colleges and vocational schools are the type of education they provide. Community colleges often offer liberal arts and science programs that are transferable to universities. Vocational schools concentrate on the student’s specialization or a specific trade.

Certification Program

Sonography Programs

Both community colleges and vocational schools offer a one-year certification program for ultrasound technicians; however, most are intended for people with prior medical training. Each has their own specific set of prerequisites. Contact your school to find out exactly what courses you may need.

Most colleges require previous classes in medical terminology, healthcare ethics, math, physics, anatomy and physiology. Once you are accepted into the program, you will need to take the following courses related to the specialty that you choose:

  • Abdominal Sonography
  • Vascular Sonography
  • Neurosonography
  • Breast Sonography
  • Cardiovascular Sonography

Similar to the Associates degree program for ultrasound technicians, the certification program will typically require applicants to commit to some type of clinical setting in order to gain hands-on experience in the field. Also within your program, your curriculum will include classes on the following topics:

  • Ultrasound Physics
  • Cardiovascular Technology
  • Sectional Anatomy
  • Instrumentation

Keep in mind that one year certificate programs are the lowest educational requirement for ultrasound technicians, while Associate degree programs typically exceed 60 credits, these certificate programs are usually around 30 credits depending on which school you choose. This is the reason why certificates programs are usually attended by current healthcare employees. The goal of these programs is to increase their scope of duties and marketability in the field.

Universities – Bachelors Degree:

Ultrasound Technician Training Programs

A Bachelors of science in diagnostic medical sonography is designed for ultrasound technician students, who want to combine elements of a liberal arts program with technical training. Additionally, since this career path is becoming increasingly competitive due to its high demand, a Bachelors degree is an excellent way to stand out from a sea of applicants.

Many colleges nationwide offer Bachelors degree programs for ultrasound technicians; look for studies that offer accredited degree programs in imaging science. Make sure to contact the school's guidance counselor concerning the necessary prerequisites. Some colleges may offer a general ultrasound technician track, while others focus on specific specializations to include:

  • Abdominal Sonography
  • Cardiovascular Sonography
  • Neurosonography
  • Ophthalmology
  • Gynecology Sonography
  • Vascular Sonography

The program coursework in this four-year course of instruction includes a variety of courses related to the duties you can expect during your career as an ultrasound technician. Most colleges offer the following options:

  • Sonography Physics
  • General Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Clinical Practicum Classes
  • Medical Ethics
  • Effective Communication
  • General Pathology
  • Scanning Techniques

Along with required courses, your core curriculum will include classes that are related to your specialty. From obstetrics to vascular sonography, there are a wide range of classes that will cater to your chosen field. Additional emphasis will also be placed on how to properly use the equipment and how to accurately read images.

Along with the classroom work, you will also be required to participate in a clinical setting where you will get hands-on training by shadowing a practicing ultrasound technician. After successful completion of approximately 120 credits, depending on your school, you will be awarded your Bachelors degree in ultrasound technology.

Percentage of employees and their current educational attainment
  Less than high school diploma High school diploma or equivalent Some college, no degree Associate's degree Bachelor's degree Master's degree Doctoral or professional degree
Sonographers
0.5%
9%
21.6%
45%
19.4%
2.2%
2.3%
Source: Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010.

Online Education

Online education has ballooned in popularity over the last several years, and ultrasound technician programs are no exception. Online ultrasound technician programs allow for working professionals to continue to earn money, while they receive a valuable education at the same time.

Online programs offer the same degree programs as traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. Whether you choose to pursue a certificate, Associates degree or Bachelors degree, there are a wide variety of online options available. Make sure to investigate the schools accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

Examination

No matter what educational and training path you choose, to practice as an ultrasound technician you will need to successfully pass the certification exam. This test is administered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDM).

The requirements to take the exam are that you have to successfully graduate from an institution that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. The only exception to this requirement is to fulfill the American Registry for Medical Sonography's requirements by spending at least one year participating in a clinical setting. The facility must be approved by the Society for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

What's in the Ultrasound Technician Test?

The ultrasound technician exam is composed of two separate sections. The first section is known as the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) exam. The second portion is referred to as the Specialty exam.

SPI Exam – The Sonography Principles and Instrumentation exam tests your knowledge concerning sonography instruments and focuses on technical principles of this discipline. During this test, you have two hours to answer 120 multiple-choice questions.

Specialty Exam - This test pertains to your chosen specialty. For example, if you specialize in cardiovascular sonography, you have to pass an exam related to that field. The same is true for the other disciplines such as musculoskeletal, vascular sonography and so forth.

It's not necessary to take these two exams in any specific order; however, if you take one test, you're required to pass the second one within five years.

Certification

While there is no official state certification for ultrasound technicians, the aforementioned testing program is the industry’s gold standard for employers looking to hire prospective ultrasound technicians. Keep in mind that after you obtain this certification and are crowned with the title of - Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, your education doesn't stop there.

Throughout your career, you'll be required to take continuing education units in order to maintain your certification. This education will help you stay informed about any changes in your field.

Earnings

It's official! You obtained your degree or certification and passed the required exam. You are now proudly adorned with the title of Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer – in laymen's terms- an ultrasound technician. What now?

Well, after you find a job, it’s time to finally let your hard work pay off and make some money. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for ultrasound technicians in America is $63,380.

There are opportunities to make more than that. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the top 10% of ultrasound technicians employed in United States earn over $80,490. Ultrasound technicians just starting out can expect to make approximately $45,000, depending on what part of the country they work in.

Armed with a solid education and tangible skills in ultrasound technology, your career prospects are almost limitless. This rewarding career will provide you with the comfort of job security, while allowing you to give back to society by helping people.

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