How it works
The sonographer uses a device called a transducer to map the internals and produce the image. The transducer sends out ultrasound waves which are sound waves operating at a frequency that is higher than a human’s natural hearing range (about 20 kilohertz).
When the ultrasound waves hit an internal surface they are reflected and create echoes which the transducer then picks up. These signals are then sent to a central processing unit which calculates from the time taken for the sound to return, the distance travelled, and from this can build up a sonogram image.
A Visual Introduction
Below you will find we go into more detail about medical sonography and the training required. If however you would first like to get an overview of the area in general then we have a short video that you might find helpful.
Recent innovations in the field have allowed this technology to be far more effective from both a medical professional’s point of view and also the patients. 3D ultrasound uses the same basic technology as the 2D ultrasound, however the ultrasound waves are sent in from multiple angles instead of along 1 fixed axis. This allows the computer to build up a far more detailed 3 dimensional image that is not only easier to view, but also picks up that which would have been missed in a standard scan. Currently these new scans are being used largely in obstetric sonography (prenatal period), however new uses and procedures are being created for this technology all the time.
Job Security and Workload
In fact diagnostic medical sonography is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the United States. Given one of the most positive outlooks of any job on the market, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the number of sonographer positions to grow by 44% by 2020. As anything higher than 20% growth is deemed highly favorable the demand for skilled and qualified sonographers is exceptional.
The normal working week for a medical sonographer is roughly 40 hours a week and this can include working weekends. It is not unusual for a sonographer to be on-call or called into work at short notice, however these periods are paid at a higher than normal rate.
The daily duties in this area are also quite varied; from the expected usage and maintenance of the ultrasound machine sonographers are also involved in making decisions based off the images they take with regards to any abnormalities found. They then need to interact with the physicians in order to aid diagnoses. They can also be involved in making appointments, archiving images, general administration and maintaining patient records alongside producing any reports needed.
Besides the advantages of having such a varied workload becoming a sonographer can also be a great way to stay in shape. Regularly expected to lift 50 pounds, work on their feet 80% of the time and help patients on and off the examination table when necessary, it is a very active job. Other requirements for job eligibility include the full use of both hands and wrists, ability to bend and stoop regularly as well as being able to push and pull ultrasound machinery.
The reward for this work though, besides having a fulfilling career helping people, is an excellent pay rate. A starting sonographer can expect to earn between $16 and $23 per hour, after a few years of experience this can be expected to rise to between $26 and $29 per hour. Annual pay figures can be anywhere from $52,570 to $73,680 for more experienced sonographers with the average coming out in the region of $65,000. The pay grades of sonographers does vary to a huge degree based solely on the location they are working at, in some cases this difference can be as high as 14% but obviously the cost of living in these places should also be taken into account.
Qualification and Training
The training required to work in the area of diagnostic medical sonography can range from some fast track more vocational 1-2 year courses, to up to 4 years if you wish to obtain a full bachelor’s degree. The education at first is largely lecture based; this is where sonographers are taught about best practices and procedures. During this time sonographers will choose a specialization which they will focus on. Due to the highly skilled nature of the job and the serious consequences should anything be missed, it is wise to choose a specialization that suits the student individually. Later the sonographers are taken into a laboratory setting where they get to put this theory into practice utilizing case studies. The initial training period is then followed by an internship in a live hospital or doctors’ office where they can perfect the art under the watchful eye of an experienced professional.
The structuring of the shorter course makes this an ideal profession for someone seeking a career in the medical sector but dislikes the idea of the standard 4-6 year courses. For those willing to get a bachelor’s degree they are rewarded by having a wider choice of potential career paths and more flexibility of how they choose to go about it. However those who enter the 1-2 year courses will not struggle to find employment either, as long as they make sure the course they are on is accredited.
For those researching a potential career path for the future, it is wise to take courses related to sonography in preparation to applying; physics, biology and math will all give you an important head start on the later diagnostic medical sonographer programs and reduce the severity of the initial learning curve. Other prerequisites can be taken in the form of allied health program qualifications or certifications.
That completes our round up of becoming or training to be a diagnostic medical sonographer and their associated programs and workload. If you do choose to enter this sector, you will be rewarded with a job that has a great salary, stunning job security and is very rewarding and fulfilling. At the end of the day you are making important decisions on a daily basis that can make people feel better and live a better life.
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