What is an ultrasound technician?
The word “ultrasound” is typically associated with images of a pregnant woman’s unborn child. But ultrasound technicians use sonography to examine a wide range of internal parts of the human body.
Also known as diagnostic ultrasound technicians or sonographers, these professionals use specialized sound wave-imaging equipment to examine the abdomen, reproductive systems, prostate, breasts, heart, blood vessels, and more. The ultrasound equipment produces high-frequency sound waves to record images of internal organs and tissues.
Ultrasound technicians work directly with patients and doctors and provide valuable information to physicians concerning patient diseases and other medical conditions. They may specialize in obstetric and gynecologic, abdominal, breast, vascular, or cardiac sonography.
These technicians deliver the images to a physician for diagnosis. They manage the ultrasound equipment settings as needed, ensure it is in good working order, and report any issues.
Duties and responsibilities
Ultrasound technicians perform ultrasounds on patients using specialized equipment to create images of the internal organs, tissues, and blood flow. They must prepare patients for the procedure, explain the process, and position them properly to capture accurate images. It’s also their responsibility to maintain equipment, keep records, and communicate results to physicians.
Professionals in this role work with patients of all ages and must have the skills to work with various medical conditions. They must also be able to use critical thinking skills to troubleshoot problems and adjust equipment to obtain the best images possible.
Ultrasound technicians work in a wide range of environments, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, diagnostic laboratories, and doctor’s offices. They typically choose where they work depending on their interests, such as prenatal care, cardiology, or pediatrics.
These professionals spend much of their day working with patients rather than sitting behind a desk. They might have to stand for long periods and may have to work extended hours of shift work, including 12-hour shifts. Technicians in this role typically escort patients to exam rooms, run ultrasound exams, record patient results, and consult with physicians.
Typical work hours
The hours you work as an ultrasound technician will depend significantly on where you work. You’ll typically work days, evenings, weekends, and holidays in a hospital. You may also be on-call during your off time. The work is usually fast-paced and unpredictable.
The hours in doctors’ offices, medical clinics, and diagnostic imaging centers are generally 8:00 to 5:00. The work is much more predictable as patients often schedule their appointments in advance.
How to become an ultrasound technician
Becoming an ultrasound technician requires specialized education and training in operating ultrasound equipment and patient care. Here’s the process you can follow to enter this field.
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent
Becoming an ultrasound technician starts with obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent. Focusing on science and math courses is beneficial, as these will provide a foundational understanding you’ll build on in your further studies.
Step 2: Complete a postsecondary education program in diagnostic medical sonography
The next step is to complete a postsecondary education program in diagnostic medical sonography. These programs, often resulting in a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree, provide both classroom education and hands-on training in ultrasound technology. They typically cover anatomy, physics, patient care, and medical ethics.
You may also be interested in taking one or both of these online courses. They have flexible deadlines, and you’ll earn a shareable certificate for each of them upon completion:
Step 3: Gain hands-on experience
While still in your program, you’ll have opportunities to gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations or internships. This is a crucial part of your education, as it provides you with practical experience in a real-world setting.
Step 4: Obtain certification
After you’ve completed your education, obtaining certification is highly recommended. While not all states require these professionals to be certified, it can significantly enhance your job prospects. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) is one of the leading organizations that offers certification in this field.
Step 5: Maintain and update your certification
Once certified, it’s essential to maintain and update your certification as required. This typically involves continuing education to stay up-to-date with advancements in the field. The ARDMS, for example, requires registered sonographers to complete a minimum number of continuing education units in three years.
Step 6: Apply for ultrasound technician positions
With a relevant education, practical experience, and certification, you’re ready to apply for ultrasound technician positions. Include your education, certification, and any special skills or experiences in your resume and cover letter.
How much do ultrasound technicians make?
Many variables go into determining how much an ultrasound technician makes, from company size to experience to education, just to name a few.
Highest paying industries
- Musculoskeletal Sonographer – $119,699
- Neurosonology Sonography – $98,554
- Breast Sonographer – $82,697
- OB/GYN Sonographer – $72,459
Highest paying states
- California – $105,280
- Massachusetts – $96,250
- Oregon – $91,650
- Washington – $91,050
- Hawaii – $90,220
Types of ultrasound technicians
There are several different types of ultrasound technicians, each specializing in a specific part of the body. Common types include:
Diagnostic cardiovascular sonographers
These sonographers take images of the heart to help doctors find abnormalities, such as blockages or deterioration, in heart valves and heart chambers.
Abdominal sonographers take images of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, gallbladder, and spleen to detect stones, tissue damage, enlarged organs, and tumors.
Sonographers in this role typically work in emergency rooms. There, they take images of muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and nerves to detect broken bones, sprains, tears, arthritis, cysts, and more.
These professionals use special transcranial doppler (TCD) machines to examine the brain and nervous system. Neurosurgeons and neurologists use these images to diagnose conditions such as strokes, brain tumors, aneurysms, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and more.
Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers
Sonographers in this specialization take images of the female reproductive system, documenting a baby’s growth throughout a woman’s pregnancy and checking for abnormalities or pregnancy complications.
Professionals in this role take images of the breast, typically due to an abnormal mammogram or clinical exam. The images detect lumps, cysts, tumors, and anything unusual with the lymph nodes.
Pediatric sonographers take images of fetuses, infants, and children to detect fetal abnormalities and congenital disabilities.
Top skills for ultrasound technicians
Proficiency in operating ultrasound equipment is a fundamental skill for ultrasound technicians. They must understand how to use various ultrasound devices, calibrate the equipment, and adjust the settings to capture the most accurate images. This technical proficiency ensures technicians can provide the necessary imaging for accurate diagnoses and patient care.
A strong understanding of anatomy and physiology is another critical skill. Professionals in this role must know the structure and function of various body systems to correctly position the equipment, recognize abnormalities in ultrasound images, and identify which images and information physicians need for diagnoses.
Technicians must be able to precisely manipulate the ultrasound equipment while watching the monitor, ensuring they capture the necessary images. Therefore, excellent hand-eye coordination is vital for obtaining clear, precise imaging that can lead to accurate medical evaluations.
Exceptional interpersonal skills are also crucial, as they frequently interact with patients who may be anxious or in pain. The ability to communicate effectively, provide reassurance, and maintain patient comfort during the procedure is crucial to providing high-quality patient care.
Finally, strong attention to detail is a necessity for accurate and effective patient diagnosis and treatment. In this role, technicians must carefully observe and interpret the images they capture, looking for minute abnormalities that could indicate a health issue. They also need to document their findings for further evaluation by physicians accurately.
Ultrasound technician career path
The career path of an ultrasound technician often begins with an entry-level role in a healthcare setting, such as a medical assistant or healthcare support worker. These roles provide a foundation for patient care and medical protocols.
After gaining formal education and certification in sonography, you can start working as an ultrasound technician. In this role, you’ll operate ultrasound equipment to capture images or conduct tests that help physicians diagnose and monitor medical conditions.
With experience, you could specialize in a specific area of sonography, such as obstetrics and gynecology, abdominal, breast, vascular, or cardiac sonography. Specialization allows you to work with specific patient populations or focus on particular areas of the body, often leading to higher levels of responsibility and compensation.
Further down the line, these professionals could advance to a senior or lead sonographer role, where you would oversee other sonographers, manage scheduling, or ensure quality control within a department.
Beyond that, there are opportunities to move into education as an ultrasound instructor or into administration as a sonography department manager or director. Additionally, some ultrasound technicians transition into sales or training roles within medical equipment companies.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for ultrasound technicians
Ultrasound technicians are integral to the healthcare team. One significant trend in the field is the advancement in ultrasound technology, which has expanded the use of ultrasound in medical diagnosis beyond obstetrics and gynecology.
Today, ultrasounds are used in various specialties, including cardiology, musculoskeletal, and emergency medicine, leading to an increased demand for technicians with specialized training in these areas.
Another trend is the development of portable ultrasound machines. As these machines become more compact and affordable, the use of ultrasounds extends beyond the traditional hospital and clinic settings to places like doctors’ offices, medical labs, and even field conditions for emergency medical services.
In addition, there’s a growing emphasis on patient care skills for these professionals. As they often interact directly with patients, having good communication skills and a compassionate demeanor is crucial.
Lastly, the push toward digital health records is affecting all healthcare professions, including ultrasound technicians, requiring them to be adept at using digital systems for storing and retrieving patient data.
Employment projections for ultrasound technicians
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists, and technicians, including vascular technologists, is projected to grow 10 percent through 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.
This growth is driven by an aging population, leading to an increased demand for diagnostic imaging. Those with professional certification and experience with a variety of ultrasound procedures will likely have the best job prospects.
Ultrasound technician career tips
Stay updated with technological advancements
Ultrasound technology is continually advancing, with new machines, software, and techniques being developed regularly. Staying updated with these advancements will ensure that you can provide the best care to your patients and work effectively with the latest equipment.
Cultivate patient interaction skills
In this role, you will work directly with patients, some of whom may be anxious or uncomfortable. Cultivating good patient interaction skills will help you put patients at ease, explain procedures clearly, and effectively gather necessary information.
Understand cross-sectional anatomy
A solid understanding of cross-sectional anatomy is crucial for these professionals. This knowledge will allow you to interpret the images you capture and identify any abnormalities accurately.
Build a professional network
Networking can provide valuable insights, learning opportunities, and potential collaborations. Consider joining professional associations and communities such as:
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
- Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS)
- American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM)
Maintain equipment knowledge
You’ll be expected to operate and maintain ultrasound equipment in this role. Regularly review the operation manuals for your equipment, stay updated with the manufacturer’s guidelines, and understand the basic maintenance procedures.
Implement continuous learning
Continuous learning is critical in ultrasound technology due to its rapid advancements. Stay updated on new technologies, best practices, and techniques. Areas of focus could include:
- Advances in ultrasound technology
- Specialized imaging techniques
- Updates on safety standards
- Patient care best practices
Develop good hand-eye coordination
Good hand-eye coordination is essential, as you’ll need to operate the ultrasound probe while simultaneously observing the images it produces. Regular practice and some relevant exercises can help improve this skill.
Enhance your communication skills
Clear and effective communication is crucial in this role, both for interacting with patients and communicating findings to physicians. Work on clearly explaining procedures to patients, answering their questions empathetically, and accurately documenting and reporting your findings.
Where the ultrasound technician jobs are
- Kaiser Permanente
- Mayo Clinic
- HCA Healthcare
- Ascension Health
- Tenet Healthcare
- New York
Top job sites
What skills are necessary for an ultrasound technician?
Professionals in this role need both technical and interpersonal skills. Technically, they must have a solid understanding of human anatomy and physiology and the ability to operate and troubleshoot ultrasound equipment. They should be adept at interpreting ultrasound images to identify normal and abnormal conditions.
Interpersonally, technicians need to have excellent communication skills to explain procedures to patients and discuss findings with medical professionals. They also need to be empathetic and patient, as they often work with people who may be anxious or in discomfort.
What are the typical duties of an ultrasound technician?
These professionals prepare patients for procedures by explaining the process and answering any questions. They apply a special gel to the examined area, which helps transmit sound waves. Technicians then operate the ultrasound equipment, which sends high-frequency sound waves into the body.
The echo of these waves produces an image the technician captures for further analysis. After the procedure, they clean and maintain the equipment and may be responsible for patient record keeping.
What is the role of an ultrasound technician in prenatal care?
In prenatal care, technicians play a crucial role in monitoring the development of the fetus. They perform ultrasounds at various stages of pregnancy to check the fetus’s position, estimate gestational age, identify any abnormalities, and determine the sex of the baby.
These professionals also capture images or video clips that can be given to the expecting parents. It’s important to note that while they can capture these images, a qualified physician typically makes any diagnosis or interpretation of potential health issues.
How does an ultrasound technician work with other healthcare professionals?
Working closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals, they perform ultrasound procedures as ordered by physicians, who use the results to diagnose and treat medical conditions.
Technicians may also collaborate with radiologists, nurses, and other medical staff to coordinate patient care. In some settings, they may consult directly with the physician during the procedure to provide immediate imaging.
What are the physical demands of being an ultrasound technician?
This career can be physically demanding. Technicians often spend long hours on their feet and may need to lift or turn patients who require assistance.
They must also operate the ultrasound equipment, which involves using their hands and arms to adjust the equipment and perform the scan. Therefore, good physical health and stamina are essential for this role.
How does an ultrasound technician maintain their skills and knowledge?
They maintain their skills and knowledge through continuous learning and professional development. This can include attending workshops, conferences, and training sessions; reading professional journals; and participating in webinars or online courses.
Many professional organizations offer resources and opportunities for continuing education. Additionally, as technology evolves, technicians may need to learn to operate new types of ultrasound equipment or software.
What kind of decisions does an ultrasound technician make?
While physicians typically make the final diagnostic decisions, technicians make many important decisions during the ultrasound process. They decide how to position the patient and adjust the ultrasound equipment to get the best possible images. They also determine which images to capture and highlight for the physician’s review.
How does an ultrasound technician ensure patient comfort during the procedure?
Professionals in this role can ensure patient comfort in several ways. They explain the procedure and answer any questions to help alleviate anxiety. They ensure the patient is comfortable and adjust the room temperature if necessary.
These technicians also apply the ultrasound gel, which can be warmed for patient comfort. Additionally, they strive to perform the procedure efficiently to minimize the patient’s discomfort and time spent in the procedure room.
What are some specialties within the field of ultrasound technology?
There are several specialties within the field of ultrasound technology. These include:
- Obstetric and gynecologic sonography (the ultrasound imaging of the female reproductive system)
- Abdominal sonography (which involves the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas)
- Neurosonography (focused on the brain and spinal cord)
- Breast sonography
- Vascular sonography
- Cardiac or echocardiography sonography
Each specialty requires a deep understanding of the specific area of anatomy and related health conditions.
What is the role of an ultrasound technician in emergency medicine?
In emergency medicine, they can play a critical role. Point-of-care ultrasounds, performed at the patient’s bedside, can be used to assess a patient’s condition and guide treatment decisions quickly.
For instance, an ultrasound can help identify internal bleeding, heart conditions, or other life-threatening conditions. The technician performs the scan and captures the images for the emergency physician to review.