Ultrasound technicians, also called diagnostic medical sonographers, use equipment that transmits high-frequency sound waves into the body to create images on a screen. Doctors use these images to make medical diagnoses. Job opportunities should be good through at least 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says. Becoming an ultrasound technician usually means earning a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor's degree, with a major in an area such as diagnostic medical sonography.
An ultrasound scan, also called a sonogram, produces visual images of organs, tissues and blood circulation. The technician places a small device called a transducer on the patient's skin, and the transducer transmits sound and receives echoes when the sound bounces off the interior structures. Ultrasound imaging is commonly associated with pregnancy, but it is used for many other diagnostic procedures.
Aspiring ultrasound technicians can obtain training in technical schools, community colleges, universities, hospitals and the military. In addition to associate and bachelor's degrees, one-year programs are available for individuals with experience in another health care profession. Majors include diagnostic medical sonography (DMS), echocardiography, cardiovascular sonography and diagnostic cardiovascular sonography. Students also can choose a DMS major with a concentration in a particular specialty.
A major in diagnostic medical sonography for a bachelor of science at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, for example, begins with coursework in basic patient care, sectional anatomy and introductory physics. The student then takes courses in abdominal, gynecologic, cardiac and vascular sonography at beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. Courses in advanced physics, Doppler sonography and hemodynamics, as well as clinical practicums, also are required.
The employment outlook for diagnostic medical sonographers is good because of an aging population and because health care providers increasingly prefer technology that does not involve radiation, according to the BLS. Ultrasound also is more cost-effective than radiological procedures. In addition, engineers of ultrasound imaging are continually improving the technology for diagnostic use in additional areas of the body. While most ultrasound techs will still work in hospitals in the near future, the BLS predicts more employment opportunities in doctors' offices and in medical and diagnostic laboratories. Average salary for ultrasound technicians as of May 2009 was $30.60 per hour, or about $63,600 a year, the BLS says.