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Sonography Program Career Facts

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Nature of Work

Sonography, or ultrasonography, is the use of sound waves to generate an image used for assessment and diagnosis of various medical conditions. Diagnostic medical sonographers, also known as ultrasonographers, use special equipment to direct high frequency sound waves into areas of the patient's body. Sonographers operate the equipment that collects reflected echoes and forms an image that may be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician.

Sonographers begin by explaining the procedure to the patient and recording any additional medical history that may be relevant to the condition being viewed. They then select appropriate equipment settings and direct the patient to move into positions that will provide the best view. To perform the exam, sonographers use a transducer, which transmit sound waves in a cone- or rectangle-shaped beam. Although techniques vary based on the area being examined, sonographers usually spread a special gel on the skin to aid the transmission of sound waves.

Viewing the screen during the scan, sonographers look for subtle visual cues that contrast healthy areas from unhealthy ones. They decide whether the images are satisfactory for diagnostic purposes and select which ones to show to the physician. Diagnostic medical sonographers may specialize in obstetric and gynecologic sonography (the female reproductive system, abdominal sonography (the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas), neurosonography (the brain), or ophthalmologic sonography (the eyes). In addition, sonographers also may specialize in vascular technology or echocardiography.

More than half of all sonography jobs are in hospitals. Most of the rest are in physicians' offices and clinics, primarily in offices specializing in obstetrics and in diagnostic imaging

Employment Prospects

Employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2020 as the population grows and ages, increasing the demand for diagnostic imaging and therapeutic technology.  Also, sonographers should experience favorable job opportunities, as ultrasound becomes an increasingly attractive alternative to radiologic procedures.

The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) certifies the competency of sonographers through registration. Because registration provides an independent, objective measure of an individual's professional standing, many employers prefer to hire registered sonographers.

Skills You Need

Sonographers need good communications and interpersonal skills because they must be able to explain technical procedures and results to their patients, some of whom may be nervous about the exam or the problems it may reveal. They also should have some background in math and science, because they must perform mathematical and scientific calculations to aid in analysis and diagnosis.

Expected Earnings

The median annual wage of diagnostic medical sonographers was $65,860 in May 2012. The middle 50 percent of sonographers earned wages between $54,260 and $76,890 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,990, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,070. Median annual wages of diagnostic medical sonographers in May 2012 were $66,900 in offices of physicians and $66,390 in general medical and surgical hospitals.

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