Ultrasound Technician Requirements
With an aging Baby Boomer generation, the need for competent medical professionals is on the rise. In particular, job opportunities for qualified ultrasound technicians are expected to grow 18% by 2018 because hospitals and other medical facilities are shifting toward outpatient care. With thousands of jobs available, it is important to get the right education and skills needed to be successful as a sonographer.
Education and Training
Diagnostic sonography uses transducers that emit high frequency sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. This high-tech equipment is used to catch a variety of diseases like cancer as well as monitor the development of fetuses. As an ultrasound technician, you will be assisting in the diagnosis and treatment of disease by providing medical staff with the imaging they need to accurately assess their patients’ conditions.
To get into this field of work, you must complete a formal educational at an accredited school or an approved training program. There are many colleges and universities that offer degree programs in sonography. The most popular is a 2-year associate’s degree that will provide you with all of the knowledge you need to become an ultrasound technician while still allowing you to enter the job market quickly. However, you can also obtain a bachelor’s degree in sonography, which can open doors to higher paying positions.
An alternative to obtaining a degree is to go through a training program offered at a vocational school or medical facility. Typically these are certificate programs that take an average of two years to complete. Although it is not a formal degree, it is accepted by employers and you would still be eligible to sit for credentialing exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and other certifying agencies. However, these training programs may have eligibility requirements for entry such as a high school diploma.
Those already working in healthcare positions can also obtain training to be an ultrasound technician. This is a great way to expand your skill set and increase your value to employers. Because people working in the healthcare industry already have a foundation of medical knowledge, they can earn a sonography certificate in approximately a year.
Ultrasound Technician Certification
You don’t need to be licensed to work as an ultrasound technician, but it is a good idea to get certified by registering with a credentialing agency. Although certification is optional, you will gain access to more job opportunities because employers consider sonography credentials to be a validation of a candidate’s knowledge and skills.
There are three nonprofit organizations that offer certifications in sonography in the United States: American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART), and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). The gold standard in the ultrasound technician community is certification from ARDMS, but employers consider certification from the other two organizations to be equally valid.
To obtain certification, you must submit an application to the organization proving you have obtained the necessary education and training to work in the field. These agencies charge application fees in addition to testing fees, so you need to make sure you have the cash on hand before you apply. Once your application is approved, you will receive notification that you are eligible to sit for the exam and you can then register for a testing date.
Each organization conducts the testing in different ways, but all of them require you to pass two exams: one tests your knowledge of physical principles and instrumentation, and the other tests your knowledge in a specialized field of sonography like abdominal sonography or neurosonography. The minimum scores to pass the exams and get certified are:
- ARDMS – 555
- AART – 650
- CCI – 75
There is no limit to the number of credentials you can earn. However, they are only valid for a limited period of time (9 to 24 months) and you will need to get recertified when they expire. All of the credentialing agencies require you to obtain a certain number of hours of continuing education to be eligible to sit for recertification exams. For more information about the credentialing process, visit the individual websites of the certifying organizations.
Technical Skills Needed
The field of sonography is open to everyone, but you must be able to perform the technical tasks associated with the job. Employers generally required that ultrasound technicians be able to:
- Push and pull objects
- Lift at least 50 pounds
- Bend and stoop
- Differentiate between audible sounds
- Stand for approximately 80% of the work time
- Have full use of and control over shoulders, wrists and hands
- Ability to view sonograms and distinguish between colors
- Interact compassionately with sick or injured patients, good bedside manner
- Effective communication skills
- Be organized, follow direction, and think critically
Being an ultrasound technician is a personally and financially rewarding job, but it can also be mentally and emotional demanding. Often you will encounter patients on their worst days when they are struggling with serious illnesses, disabling injuries, or unviable pregnancies. You must have the strength to deal with the ups and downs of the job and handle patient needs in a compassionate and caring manner.
If becoming an ultrasound technician sounds like the job for you, then take time to search for a good school and start your training today.