The medical profession relies heavily on a number of technologies to create diagnostic images of tissues within the body. One of those technologies is ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves instead of X-rays to generate its images. The technologists who perform these tests, called diagnostic medical sonographers, draw on a wide range of skills and abilities in the performance of their job duties. They must combine strong technical knowledge with physical dexterity, solid organizational skills and a reassuring manner with patients.
Sonographers conduct tests by pressing a device called a transducer against the patient's skin, or in some cases by inserting it into the patient's body. The transducer emits high-pitched sound waves and receives their echoes, then generates still or full-motion images of tissues within the body by analyzing the echo pattern. By changing to a differently shaped transducer, altering the pitch of the sounds or simply changing the transducer's position, the sonographer can alter the image or compensate for denser tissues.
The sonographer must be able to understand and interpret the referring doctor's requested images, and have the necessary technical expertise to successfully create them. The sonographer must explain the process to patients and keep them calm and still during the exam, and sometimes must move or manipulate patients if their mobility is impaired. Creating the best possible image requires both technical knowledge and a high level of eye-hand coordination, and most sonographers become more productive with experience.
Like many other health professionals, sonographers can be either generalists or specialists. Generalists perform a wide range of tests, as needed. Specialists might have certification or demonstrated expertise in areas such as breast ultrasound, widely used as a complement to mammography, or the musculoskeletal sonography used to diagnose joint injuries. Neurosonographers specialize in creating images of the brain and nervous system, while echocardiographers create images of the heart. Sonographers also provide visual guidance to physicians performing needle biopsies of suspicious masses, or performing minimally invasive endoscopic or laparoscopic procedures within the body.
Sonographers have other duties besides the simple performance of test procedures. Record-keeping is one of the most important. The sonographer must verify that the tests ordered correspond to the correct chart and patient, to avoid time-consuming and potentially hazardous diagnostic errors. Once the correct images or full-motion video clips are recorded, the sonographer must return them to the physician along with any pertinent notes or any anomalies noticed during the testing process. Sonographers are also responsible for keeping their work areas clean and well-stocked with supplies such as gloves and the gel used on the patient's skin for some procedures. The ultrasound machines must also be kept sanitized and properly calibrated.
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