An Expert’s Guide for students considering pursuing a degree in ultrasound technology, by Alisha Robinson

What Is an Ultrasound Technician?

An ultrasound technician, also called a sonographer, uses a scanner to examine the inner organs of the body, tissues and blood flow, allowing for more accurate diagnoses and courses of treatment. As an ultrasound technician, you will be expected to take patient histories, explain the procedure, answer questions, perform the procedure and discuss your findings with the physician, as well as inspect and maintain the imaging machinery. The most common educational qualification in ultrasound technology is a 2-year associates degree, but you can also earn a bachelors degree or, if you are cross-training from another medical field, a certificate.

What to Look for in Ultrasound Technician Programs

If you want to be competitive in the field, you must apply for accredited programs and look for those offering the most clinical rotations and courses in patient care, communication and psychology. The best programs will require you to perform 4 or more rotations, and this will give you great experience and allow you to define your strengths. In addition, courses in patient care and psychology will teach you to work effectively with a variety of people. In addition, you might be interested in a program offering a bachelors or masters degree if you wish to do research or teach.

What to Expect in Ultrasound Technician School

The best schools will give you a thorough grounding in all the basics of the various areas of sonography, combining didactic courses and clinical rotations so that you receive complete training. A standard curriculum will include courses in every area of sonography such as obstetrics, neural and vascular, along with patient care, physics and anatomy. Top accredited classes will give you skills not just in the use of the equipment, but in the coordination and stamina to use it well and the ability to communicate with patients and doctors.

The Best Ultrasound Technician Courses for Students

The subject matter of top courses might surprise you, and you may not have expected to need to master physics on your road to becoming an excellent ultrasound technician. Physics, specific sonography and anatomy courses, and a rigorous training in good patient care will prove to be your best classes. Look for programs that not only offer a number of clinical rotations and strong didactic curriculum but also allow you to take electives such as psychology and communication.

Ultrasound Technician Certificate

A certificate can be completed in about 1 year, but it is really only useful if you are cross-training from another medical field, such as nursing, as you will already have enough foundational work and experience to learn sonography in a short time period. There are 98 accredited colleges throughout the U.S. that offer a certificate or diploma. The curriculum for an ultrasound technician certification will include academic and clinical work in at least 3 areas of sonography.

Ultrasound Technician Associates Degree

An associates degree is the most common educational qualification required to work in diagnostic sonography. You will be expected to attend an accredited institution and succeed in a rigorous program that combines didactic courses in sonography, physics, anatomy and patient care with several clinical rotations in order to earn your ultrasound technician AAS. There are 111 accredited colleges, all of which will prepare you to take your state licensing and certification exams and then enter the field.

Ultrasound Technician Bachelors Degree

It is not very common to earn a bachelors degree, but many who already have an associates degree or are already practicing choose this route in order to move into a leadership position. The coursework for an ultrasound technician BS or BSHS will assume that you have already done basic training in the field and thus focus on the more complex aspects of sonography, along with classes in healthcare management and policy. There are only 27 accredited colleges in the U.S.

Ultrasound Technician Masters Degree

It is very uncommon to earn a masters degree, and those who do so are expected to research, teach and become leaders in the field. There are only 2 accredited colleges in the U.S. and both combine a rigorous program of top level didactic work in sonography and courses such as writing, statistics and sociology while also expecting you to do clinical work and undertake independent research and writing. Once you have earned an ultrasound technician MS or MHSc, you will be eligible to work at the top level of the profession.

The Pros and Cons of Attending Ultrasound Technician School Online

There are very few online schools in the U.S. and even fewer advantages to taking coursework in this way. While you can earn an online certificate, associates or bachelors degree, but not a masters degree, the cost savings and flexibility do not add up against the overall inferior education and experience you receive. You can use online courses to supplement your campus-based education, but you will get a better degree and more preparation to enter the field with a traditional program.

How Employers View an Online Ultrasound Technician Degree

Whether you have earned an online certificate, AAS or BS, you should be aware that employers will not give you the same level of consideration as candidates with traditional degrees. They know there is no capacity for hands-on training in an online classroom, and even the theoretical courses you take online will not be viewed positively unless you have an excellent record of clinical experience. As an online ultrasound technician major, you will have go the extra mile in your clinical work, even taking on extra internships, in order to reach potential employers.

Advice for Students Studying in Online Ultrasound Technician Programs

The best advice for students in online universities is to gain as much clinical experience as you can, even going beyond the requirements so as to prove that you are a top candidate. Your online courses will only cover theoretical and academic work, but they must be accredited and you should still supplement them with clinical experience. While it may be a challenge to obtain online financial aid, joining a professional sonography organization can assist with this, and it will also demonstrate your dedication to the field.

The Paths for Becoming an Ultrasound Technician

The route to securing your ultrasound technician career is through gaining appropriate certification via training at an accredited school for sonography. You will only be considered for the best jobs if you have a lot of good experience, so in addition to your mandatory clinical rotations, you should seek out internships which will expand your experience and help you cultivate more contacts that might lead to employment. With the median salary at about $64,000, this is a lucrative and challenging job that is well worth the effort and investment required to get it.

Ultrasound Technician Certification and Licensing

Though few states currently require that you have a license, certification is required by most employers and you are expected to earn it within one year. Once you are a graduate from an accredited program, you may apply to the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography to take your required exams, for which you will have to pay a fee and wait for the exams to be scheduled. Your starting salary will depend on your region and facility rather than certification, but as you advance, further certification will improve your pay.

Ultrasound Technician Job Options

If you are interested in medicine, can pay good attention to detail and have the personal skills required for patient care, seeking an ultrasound technician career is a great option. In the current market, job prospects are on the rise and should continue to grow in the next decade. Jobs are also some of the best-paid jobs for people with associates degrees, in addition to offering great opportunities for advancement if you pursue further certifications. The median salary is over $63,000, with potential for raises as you gain further experience.

Ultrasound Technician Salary

With the demand for good sonographers on the rise, this is a great time to pursue an ultrasound technician career and you can position yourself to earn a median salary of $64,000 with a 2-year degree and proper certification. The availability of jobs varies by region, so you must do some research to determine what is needed in your chosen area and plan your studies accordingly. Your starting salary might be comparatively low, but if you earn further certifications, you can earn much more money.

Advice for Ultrasound Technician Professionals

One of the best ways to start or advance an ultrasound technician career is through word of mouth, both for developing a good reputation when you are in clinical training and for making contacts who will help you secure employment. New graduates may have a hard time landing full-time jobs, despite the growth in the field, but if you stay positive, work hard and explore a variety of opportunities, the job you want will become available. The median salary is $64,900, and if you earn further certifications, you can soon command a much higher wage.