It might surprise some to learn that sonographers not only provide expectant parents with high-quality images during pregnancy, but they are also involved in a wide variety of important diagnostic tests in the healthcare field.
Ultrasound technicians, or sonographers, are involved in ultrasound testing, using this technology to help physicians in diagnosing, assessing, and monitoring many critical medical conditions. Ultrasound equipment is a quick and convenient way for physicians and hospital staff to get a glimpse of the human body below the skin, using sound waves. The sonographer salary reflects the importance of these tests and it may be surprising to some how much sonographers can earn.
WHAT IS A SONOGRAPHER?
The work of the sonographer is fascinating and constantly changing because they are involved in testing critical in diagnosing and monitoring many important conditions. They also have the opportunity of working with a wide variety of patients and medical providers in a range of healthcare settings. What is a sonographer? An ultrasound technician, also called a diagnostic medical sonographer, or simply sonographer, uses ultrasound equipment to provide the medical provider with diagnostic imaging. This imaging allows the medical provider to diagnose, monitor, and treat conditions as it gives them a picture of inside the patient’s body.
Ultrasound equipment works by transmitting sound waves through the patient’s body using a probe. The sonographer will first apply gel to the area to be visualized, which aids in the transmission of the waves from the probe. Sound waves strike solid structures underneath the skin, like organs, blood vessels, and other tissue structures, and when this gets reflected back to the machinery, an image of the contents of the area are visualized on screen.
Although sonographers often work in the obstetric and gynecological field, they can work in various other departments, which has a great impact on the sonographer salary. This field can be highly specialized. Sonographers on the highest tier of the salary range make $97,390, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, perhaps reflecting the great variability and specialized nature of the industry.
Ultrasound equipment is used diagnostically on many parts of the body like the musculoskeletal system, breasts, and abdomen, and sonographers are needed to utilize equipment in all of these areas. Successfully performing one’s duties as a sonographer requires understanding what the contents of the specific area of interests should look like, as the sonographer may have to adjust the probe if the area is not properly visualized. For this reason, sonographers typically specialize in a particular area. Some areas of specialty include:
Part of the reason why the sonographer salary in some areas of specialty can approach six figures is due to the wide range of tasks involved in the operation of ultrasound equipment. The sonographer will be expected to not only maintain the equipment (and use it during texting), but they will also be expected to communicate effectively with both the physician and patient, they will be expected to maintain the sonographic testing suite (including sterilizing the room), and they may have to multi-task and aid patients, as many people undergoing testing may be ill, pregnant, or have other medical concerns.
EDUCATION AND CERTIFICATION
Although there are clear expectations in terms of the duties that a sonographer will be able to perform, there is some flexibility in the education and certification requirements for this role. The education requirements are determined by the employer, and, nationally, there are no legal certification requirements for the profession. Most employers require at least a 2-year degree, and there are both associates and bachelors programs available in the field. A candidate that already has a degree in a related field like nursing may only need additional training or certification.
Though the sonography field requires a 2-year degree without any specific certification, some employers may require their new hires or prospective applicants to obtain special certification. There are several certification associations in the sonography field, including the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists and the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The sonographer salary may be increased if the sonographer has obtained special certification, even if it is not required.
Although there are no national guidelines in terms of certification and licensure, some states may require that an ultrasound technician or sonographer have a license in order to practice in that state. In general, obtaining certification is necessary to obtain a license in a state. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) offers certification programs, and their base exam is two hours and consists of 110 questions. ARDMS also offers certification exams in various areas of specialty.
The curriculum of education programs in sonography will cover areas essential to successfully operating ultrasound equipment. Operating ultrasound equipment requires a basic understanding of the physiology and pathology of the underlying structures, in addition to a grasp of principles of biology, mathematics, and physics. Sample courses that are commonly found in associate’s and bachelor’s programs include:
In terms of the schools where a technician can be trained, there are numerous community colleges and universities that offer ultrasound technician programs. There are also numerous online ultrasound technician training programs.
One of the convenient aspects of the sonographer education and training path is that the field is open to practitioners in related fields as long as they complete additional training. Individuals with an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in a related health field, including nursing, may only be required to complete a 1-year certification program in order to begin work as a sonographer. This represents an understanding that other healthcare providers will generally have an understanding of the concepts necessary to engage successfully in sonographic work.
The sonographer salary and the possibility for increases in salary will be a function of experience, education, and certification. Sonographers in highly-critical and specialized areas like surgical sonography – generating images for use in the surgical field – may be expected to obtain additional training and may see higher salaries as a result of this added training and experience.
Sonographers play an essential role in the healthcare setting as ultrasound testing is necessary for diagnosing and monitoring certain medical conditions, and physicians may order ultrasound tests because they are quick, safe, and non-invasive. Ultrasound technicians frequently work in the healthcare setting, being commonly found in hospitals and private practice doctor’s office. A specialized sonographer or technician, in the cardiovascular field, for example, may work in a private office and may perform dozens of tests in a single day.
It won’t be surprising to most that the sonography salary will be partially related to the setting in which the sonographer works. In terms of hours, the sonographer typically works full-time, and may be expected to work nights, weekends, and pick up a call schedule, which is not atypical in the healthcare industry. A sonographer may also be called in to fill in another employee’s shift, or be expected to work or be on call on holidays.
Like many careers in the healthcare field, the job outlook for the sonographer is predicted to show quite a lot of growth in the next decade. Growth in the healthcare industry are related to a number of factors; like increases in population, demographic changes increased access to health care or an increase in certain procedures requiring the work of particular professionals. The predicted job growth in this field is excellent, expected to grow by 44% in the next decade.
AVERAGE SONOGRAPHER SALARY
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, the median salary for diagnostic medical sonographers was $68,970, or about $33 an hour, assuming a 40 hour work week. The lowest 10% of sonographers made $48,720 a year, while the highest 10% earned $97,390 a year in 2015. Different specialties had different median earnings, with surgical sonographers earning on the higher end with mean earnings of $70,500. Cardiovascular technologists made less at $54,880.
Salary is only one of the factors we take into account when choosing one career path over another, but it is an important one. Most career paths require an education or certification component, so a prospective entrant into a profession has to weigh the cost of education and certification with the potential earnings in the field. The sonography field is variable in terms of the salary range, reflecting different work settings and specialty within the field.
With excellent predictions for growth in the next decade and a host of specialties and settings to choose from, the future for diagnostic medical sonographers is bright. As members of the important healthcare industry and useful aides of healthcare providers in the hospital and private practice setting, diagnostic medical sonographers have the confidence of knowing that their work is essential and their positions won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. With manageable education requirements paired with earnings averaging close to $70,000, the sonographer salary is also an attractive lure for prospective applicants.