Ultrasound technicians, also called sonographers, use highly specialized sound wave equipment to generate images of patients' internal systems. Although most commonly known for monitoring fetal health in pregnant women, ultrasounds are also used to monitor the heart, breasts, spleen, liver, gall bladder, uterus, testicles, thyroid and eyes. Training requires two to four years of postsecondary study, and months of supervised clinical practice.
Aspiring ultrasound techs and sonographers are required to fulfill certain prerequisites before applying to formal education and training programs. Requirements include a high school diploma or GED equivalency with an emphasis on science and math, as well as college-level coursework in algebra, communication, physics and biology. Noncredit prerequisites include critical thinking, excellent learning and study skills, reading, written and oral competency, and social perceptiveness.
Education and Training
The length and intensity of postsecondary programs in sonography vary, depending on students’ previous academic training and career aspirations. Students desiring to become administrators or supervisors often earn four-year bachelor’s degrees, while students seeking entry level positions typically earn two-year associate degrees. One year certificate programs are also available for students who have already had significant health care training, and are merely switching or expanding their field of expertise.
The curriculum for ultrasound technology students consists of class and laboratory work, as well as hands-on supervised clinical practice. Topics include biology, diagnostic procedures, instrumentation, clinical medicine, patient care and image evaluation, according to the Commission on Allied Health Education Programs.
Only a few states require sonographers to become licensed or certified; however voluntary certification through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, or ARRT, can increase job seekers’ hiring and earning potential. ARRT certification requires proof of meeting education and training requirements, passing a written exam and meeting ethical qualifications. In addition to general radiography, ARRT also offers specialty certifications in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Bone Densitometry, Vascular Radiography, Sonography and Mammography, to name a few. Continuing education is required to maintain certification.
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