Diagnostic sonography, also called ultrasonography or ultrasound, is an imaging technique used for visualizing internal body structures. Images obtained during sonography examinations assist clinicians to arrive at a medical diagnosis. The medical personnel conducting diagnostic sonography examinations are referred to as medical sonographers, sonographers, ultrasound technicians, and sonography technologists or technicians. Sonographers are allied health professionals who, through formal education and clinical experience, have the knowledge and practical skills necessary to obtain quality images with ultrasound and sonography equipment. Ultrasound imaging examinations are highly operator-dependent, and require that sonography technologists possess extensive knowledge about normal anatomy and physiology so that abnormal conditions can be easily recognized. For example, if the technologist fails to correctly perform examinations, this may put patients at risk of having further unnecessary tests and may even lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. Due to the highly technical and complex nature of acquiring sonography images, those who operate the equipment must have adequate classroom education and clinical “hands-on” training.
Sonography programs are available in hospitals, community colleges, universities, career vocational-technical schools, and the Armed Forces. Colleges and universities offer both 2-year and 4-year programs, leading to either an associate or a bachelor’s degree. The most widely available education is a 2-year associate’s degree program. For those who have previous education in another allied health field and are seeking to gain marketable skills in sonography scanning, 1-year sonography programs are available and provide a vocational certificate. The 1-year program provides practical sonography scanning skills for other allied health professionals such as nurses, medical technologists, radiologic technologists, and emergency medical technicians. Sonography training can be expensive and factors such as cost of program tuition, books, supplies, uniforms and certification examinations should be considered for each type of training program.
Online sonography-training programs provide an alternative for those who cannot attend traditional classroom programs. Online learning requires self-discipline and motivation to complete the assignments within the course timeline. Anyone considering online sonography education will need to have moderate to advanced computer skills and a dependable technology connection to access classes and return homework assignments on time. Before enrolling in an online sonography program, find out if it is accredited by an agency recognized by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), and if the program arranges for hands-on clinical internship.
Admission Considerations for Sonography Programs
High school students preparing for a sonography program should take courses in biological and physical sciences, algebra and computer literacy. The most difficult part of getting into a sonography program is getting accepted. Admission to a school or college is the first step, and after certain basic requirements have been met, application can be made for admission into the sonography program. Getting accepted is a competitive process, because each sonography program has an admission quota based on the number of clinical internship affiliation sites such as hospitals and medical clinics.
Depending on whether the program is associate’s or bachelor’s degree, sonography students will take algebra, physics, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, ethics of medicine, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and public speaking. Because most sonography imaging equipment is digitally programmed and uses computer functions and software, computer proficiency is a very important skill that should be acquired prior to admission to a sonography program.
Skills and Knowledge
Sonography education prepares students to perform 21 types of examinations. These include the specific body areas such as the abdomen, pelvis, superficial structures, gynecologic structures, and obstetrics. Sonography education also provides basic training in interventional procedures, special scanning techniques, and patient care skills. Students may choose 5 additional skills from a list of 10 elective procedures, which are considered specialty competencies. The 10 elective competencies include the gastrointestinal tract, adrenals, prostate, abdominal wall, breasts, superficial masses, musculoskeletal, fetal biophysical profile, amniocentesis, and pediatric or neonatal studies. After attaining general sonography skills, qualified sonographers may decide to acquire additional specialized training at a later time. Specialized training may focus on breast sonography, abdominal sonography, obstetric and gynecology sonography, neurosonography, and cardiac or vascular sonography. Upon completion of specialized training, the sonographer may be qualified to take additional certification examinations in the specialty area.
Sonography education consists of both didactic (book learning) and clinical knowledge, and covers three major domains: cognitive, psychomotor and affective. The cognitive domain includes behaviors requiring various levels of thought: knowledge, understanding, reason and judgment. The psychomotor domain includes behaviors involving physical actions, neuromuscular manipulations and coordination. The affective domain includes behaviors guided by feelings and emotions that are influenced by an individual’s interest, attitudes, values, and beliefs. Curriculum for sonography programs is based on essential knowledge and hands-on skills required for entering the career field.
Theory or knowledge classes may be delivered by “live” instructor lecture, taped instructor presentation, and online self-paced instruction. Laboratory classes also provide students with opportunities to participate in simulated patient care situations and various scanning examinations. While in the clinical internship environment, students are observed and mentored by a qualified diagnostic sonography supervisor. An accredited sonography program bears the responsibility for providing all of the required essential education and clinical internship experiences.
Finding the Right Ultrasound Technician Program
Reliable information about accredited sonography programs is easy to obtain. There are several resources including accreditation agencies, the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM), and the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). The U.S. military also offers accredited medical sonographer training programs.
Professional sonography organizations and societies can provide helpful information about colleges and schools that offer specialized training in cardiovascular sonography, breast sonography, and advanced specialized scanning techniques. Professional organizations represent the interests of various groups to the public and to governmental bodies. The American Healthcare Radiology Administrators (AHRA) is the professional organization that promotes management practice in the administration of imaging services. The organization (www.ahraonline.org) is concerned about labor shortages in radiology and is a source of information about the availability of jobs in the U.S. The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) is the professional organization representing x-ray technologists. The ASRT (www.asrt.org) produces educational curricular guides and other materials that promote the profession. The Association of Educators in Imaging and Radiologic Sciences (AEIRS) publishes educational information and provides data about the profession (www.aeirs.org).
The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM), and the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) are the premier professional organizations concerned with songraphy training and career opportunities. These societies are concerned about recruitment for the sonography technology and make special efforts to serve students and provide scholarships and mentorships to individuals interested in entering the career.
The need for consistency of sonography education led to the establishment of guidelines, called essentials to ensure minimum training and competency skills of those entering the workplace. Today, the way a sonography program demonstrates that they provide the necessary essentials is through a review process called accreditation. In the U. S, the organizations that recognize accredited sonography schools include:
- Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
- Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine (JRCNMT)
- Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRC-DMS)
- Six regional accrediting divisions that accredit degree-granting institutions, and
- The U.S. military also offers accredited programs diagnostic sonography training.
Certification and Registration
Students, who successfully complete an accredited sonography program, are eligible to take a national examination in sonography offered by three organizations; the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI).