Ultrasound technicians, or diagnostic medical sonographers, have one of the most easily recognised positions in a medical setting after doctors and nurses, thanks to widespread familiarity with the sonograms pregnant women undergo. An ultrasound technician's job involves many more duties, however, and the level of expertise required to successfully meet those obligations has made a career in the field of sonography both lucrative and intellectually stimulating. As a result, following completion of formal training, sonographers have the ability to choose the employment setting and specialisation that works best for them.
Ultrasound, also called sonography and ultrasonography, is a type of imaging used to diagnose various medical conditions. The technique employs a transducer, which is a special kind of electronic instrument, to generate sound waves that travel through the patient's body, producing a series of echoes as they collide with targeted internal organs or body parts. The echoes are then transformed into visual images on a screen that the technician and other medical personnel can study to aid in verifying any problems.
Skilled ultrasound technicians have the freedom to specialise in numerous areas, such as the brain (neurosonography), the eyes (ophthalmic sonography), the female reproductive system (OB/GYN sonography), the heart (echocardiography) and the organs in the stomach (abdominal sonography). They can also decide to work in a hospital environment or the office of an independent physician, where their responsibilities can include performing sonograms, interpreting the resulting images, explaining the procedure to patients, and maintaining both the equipment and patient records.
There are numerous ways to obtain the training required for a successful career in ultrasound technology. Some individuals complete a dedicated 2-year degree in ultrasound technology or an equivalent subject at an accredited vocational college, while others pursue a 2-year or 4-year degree program at a traditional college or university, followed by relevant training in a hospital setting. Others acquire training during service in the Armed Forces.
No states presently require ultrasound technicians to receive a license to practice. However, registration and certification as a sonographer through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) demonstrates a higher degree of training, which employers appreciate in candidates. Those technicians who pursue affiliation with ARDMS often have more and better opportunities to expand their career and their earning potential.
Diagnostic medical sonographers who work in a hospital setting tend to earn less per year than those who choose employment in a physician's office. As of May 2007, the average difference was £682, with hospital technicians earning a median yearly income of £39,045 as compared to £39,728 for those working in a private physician's office.
The overall annual salary for ultrasound technicians ranged from a low of about £27,462 to a high of £52,819 or more, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, yielding an average annual income of £39,383. A survey of sonographers conducted by the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) revealed an average hourly rate of £20, dependent on location and work setting.