You’ve already seen grainy grayscale pictures of babies inside their mothers’ wombs. They’re called sonograms, created with ultrasound, or high-frequency sound waves. The differing names of the picture and the responsible technology have produced two job titles: sonographer and ultrasound technician. Both refer to the exact same career and are interchangeable.
Sonographers produce images of the body’s interior, which doctors use to diagnose and treat medical problems. They check out the patient’s medical records and answer any of her questions. They then position the equipment over the patient’s body to produce images. After checking for any unusual readings, they prepare a preliminary report of their findings and submit everything to the requesting doctor. They also make records of their activities in the patient’s files. Although typically working from diagnostic rooms, they may bring portable equipment to the patient’s bedside.
Because the human body is complex, sonographers often specialize in one or more body parts. Breast sonographers focus on breast tissues, which can help mammography for the detection of breast cancer. Obstetrics and gynecologic sonographers handle issues with the female reproductive system, including pregnancy. As their name implies, abdominal sonographers look at the abdomen, but also nearby organs such as the kidneys or spleen. For problems with the nervous system, including the brain, patients can turn to neurosonographers. Finally, musculoskeletal sonographers image muscles, tendons and joints to discover, for example, the causes of sports injuries.
You can become a sonographer in one of three ways. An associate degree is the most common method and is available in many vocational schools and community colleges. If you’re already a health care professional, such as a nurse, you can earn a post-secondary certificate, which takes less time than the associate degree. For a more in-depth education, you can also obtain a bachelor’s degree. Most employers prefer applicants who have voluntary professional certification. This mandates graduating from an accredited program and passing an exam. You need to take a separate exam for each body part in which you want to specialize.
Jobs for sonographers are expected to increase by 44 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is almost three times faster than average. The demand will come from an aging baby boomer population who will experience more of the medical conditions that ultrasound technology can detect. Most of the jobs will continue to be in hospitals. However, doctors’ offices and outpatient clinics will also provide opportunities because health care is shifting toward less-expensive outpatient care when possible. Job prospects will be best for those with certification in more than one specialty.
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images