The need for ultrasound technicians, also known as diagnostic medical sonographers, continues to grow at an impressive rate. Research has shown that by the year 2018, employment in the field is expected to increase by 18 percent. This is a much higher rate of growth than that of most other occupations.
Ultrasound technicians use sound compression technology to create noninvasive images of targeted organs or other internal workings of the human body. Ultrasound imaging is generally considered safer for a human than X-ray technology, which uses ionizing radiation. Ultrasounds also do a better job of imaging soft tissue than X-rays.
Many people wonder how they, too, can become an ultrasound technician. The answer is that there are several ways to enter this fast-growing field of the medical and healthcare profession. Though not common, a few employers will hire individuals who have not attended an accredited ultrasound technician program if they have worked and trained in an accredited practice. However, the majority of employers prefer prospective diagnostic medical sonographers to have some type of certificate or degree from a recognized, accredited school.
A 2011 study from O*Net revealed that 42 percent of ultrasound technicians had an associate’s degree, 25 percent had a bachelor’s degree, and 25 percent had taken some college classes, but had no degree. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study also showed that ultrasound technicians typically obtained a two-year degree. Some employers will also accept a one-year certificate, if a person already has experience in the medical field.
Ultrasound technician degrees or certificates can be obtained at four- and two-year colleges, as well as vocational or technical colleges. Employers show a preference for hiring ultrasound technicians who obtained their degree or certificate from a school that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Students who attend a four-year college program can decide to specialize in a certain area, such as breast or cardiac sonography. In addition to accredited schools, the Armed Forces of the United States also offer ultrasound technician training. Students in accredited programs will learn by participating in both classroom and clinical training. In addition, some schools, especially four-year colleges, require students to complete an internship before graduating.
Currently, states do not require ultrasound technicians to be licensed. However, most employers prefer hiring registered ultrasound technicians. This registration can be obtained by successfully passing an exam conducted by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (RDMS). Specialty sonographers can also obtain additional credentials from several other organizations, if they so desire.