A diagnostic medical sonographer is a person who is trained to operate ultrasound equipment that uses sound waves to form images of parts of the body. Physicians rely on these images to help them diagnose and treat many medical conditions.
An ultrasound is a non-invasive way of visualizing internal organs. It is utilized when doctors suspect a patient has a disease and needs to see what is happening inside the body before making a final diagnosis.
In addition to meeting all the educational and certification requirements, diagnostic medical sonographers must:
- Have good communication skills since they will need to explain their findings to physicians and explain the examination to patients and make them comfortable.
- Be detail-oriented. They must follow precise and detailed parameters to the requirements of each procedure and pay close attention to the results.
- Have good hand-eye coordination. This is required for them to get the required detailed images and correlate the part of the body being viewed with what they see on the imaging screen.
- Physical stamina. They spend most of the hours of the day on their feet and often must assist patients who need help moving on and off the imaging bed.
- Have good technical skills. They must understand how to operate the imaging equipment and complex computerized instruments.
What Does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Do?
An overview of the job duties and responsibilities a diagnostic medical sonographer performs include:
- Operating the ultrasound imaging equipment.
- Reviewing the images to be sure they are of good quality.
- Identifying abnormal images and alerting physicians if there appears to be a problem that might need urgent intervention.
- Preparing patients for the exam, answering their questions, and keeping them comfortable during the procedure.
- Reviewing a patient’s medical history to understand why the ultrasound has been ordered.
- Recording the imaging results in patient records.
- Between procedures, cleaning and maintaining the equipment.
Sonographers work with radiologists and other doctors to diagnose medical conditions. They work with patients of all ages.
Diagnostic medical sonographers may specialize. Just a few examples of specialty areas include:
- Vascular sonography which involves creating images of blood vessels throughout the body. This helps physicians diagnose blood clots and other disorders affecting blood flow.
- Obstetrics and gynecology sonography which focuses on a woman’s reproductive system. Ultrasounds are often ordered for pregnant women to track the growth and health of the fetus.
- Abdominal imaging which specializes in taking images of a patient’s abdominal cavity and nearby organs like the liver, kidneys, gallbladders, spleen, and pancreas.
- Musculoskeletal system imaging for taking images of muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, and joints.
- Echocardiography which specializes in imaging patients’ heart valves and cardiac arteries.
Even those sonographers who do not specialize have been trained in imaging all areas of the body.
Diagnostic medical sonographers generally work in a dedicated room inside a hospital or medical clinic. They are often sent to the patient’s bedside of a hospitalized patient.
There are also job opportunities in doctors’ offices or in specialty diagnostic laboratories. Wherever employed, the job responsibilities are essentially the same. There may be more opportunities for specialization in large hospitals or in imaging laboratories.
Sonographers work evenings and weekends and even on holidays. Patients who need the services of a sonographer need them at all hours of the day and night, seven days a week.
What Certifications are Required?
There are several paths to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer and receiving certification. The typical plan is:
- High school diploma or GED.
- Earning an associate degree or bachelor’s degree. Coursework should be in the sciences or anatomy.
Although it is possible to be hired based on the completion of the educational requirements, professional certification is generally required. Most insurances and Medicare stipulate that they will only reimburse for ultrasound imaging procedures if the diagnostic medical sonographer who performed the imaging was certified.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), certification is available from several organizations, such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International, and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.
In addition, most states require licensing and most all states that do require licensing require certification in order to obtain licensure. Having certification in basic life support (BLS) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is also required.
Certification in a specialty area is available for a diagnostic medical sonographer.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?
West Coast Ultrasound Institute (WCUI), offers different pathways to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer. You can earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree.
Associate degree. It will take approximately two years to earn an Academic Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The program combines classroom and lab work on topics like:
- Abdominal Ultrasound
- Medical Terminology
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Ultrasound Physics and Instrumentation
- Vascular Sonography
After earning your associate degree, you will be eligible to take a certification exam and earn certification.
Bachelor’s degree. This takes approximately four years and provides an in-depth program for becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer. Those who complete the bachelor’s degree program are able to specialize and obtain certifications from any of the different certification organizations.
Career Outlook for a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Nationwide. According to the BLS, projected job growth in the U.S. for diagnostic medical sonographers between 2021 and 2031 is 10 percent, which Is faster than average. This means that there will be about 10,100 new job openings every year.
California. The expected job growth for diagnostic medical sonographers in California is 21 percent between 2020 and 2030. This means there will be a need for about 760 more sonographers every year between now and 2030. By 2030, there will be a need for 8,530 more sonographers than there were in 2020. (Current 2023 population of California, the most populous state in the U.S., is nearly 40,000,000.)
Arizona. The expected job growth for diagnostic medical sonographers in Arizona is 54 percent between 2020 and 2030. This means there will be a need for about 260 more sonographers in Arizona every year between now and 2030. By 2030, there will be a need for nearly 1,000 more sonographers in the state than there are now. (Current 2023 population of Arizona, which ranks 14th in population in the U.S., is approximately 7,379,346.)