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Considering Work as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Nature of Work

Health care is a modern necessity. Nursing and health care technician jobs are often unglamorous, but have the potential to be vastly rewarding in personal, financial, and intellectual ways, providing interesting challenges and opportunities for enthusiastic people. There are numerous degrees available for different types of work in the medical field. One job that is in high demand in hospitals is for diagnostic medical sonographers.

Experts predict that job opportunities should continue to be good because sonography is becoming an attractive alternative to radiological procedures. People have many options for where to undergo sonography training including in-hospital, vocational-technical schools, colleges, universities, or the Armed Forces.

Sonography is diagnostic work, most often associated with obstetrics and the use of ultrasound imaging during pregnancy, but this technology has other applications as well. Sonography uses sound waves to create an image of internal areas in order to assess and diagnose various medical conditions. Diagnostic medical sonographers use equipment that directs high frequency sound waves into a patient’s body. Sonographers operate the equipment that collects reflected echoes and forms an image that can be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for review by a physician. They must be able to read the subtle visual cues on the screen in order to capture images that will be diagnostically useful.

There are various sonography specialties that someone may focus in including obstetric and gynecologic sonography; abdominal sonography which focuses on the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas; neurosonography which focuses on the brain and other parts of the nervous system; breast sonography; vascular sonography; or cardiac sonography.

Work Environment

The job requires stamina as many hours are spent standing and sonographers are often required to lift or turn disabled patients. Full-time sonographers typically work 40 hours a week, and may work overtime in addition to being on call during weekends and evenings. Some sonographers are contract employees working at several healthcare facilities in an area. Some others work with mobile imaging service providers and travel to patients and use mobile diagnostic imaging equipment to provide service in areas that have poor access to medical facilities.

Training and Other Qualifications

Employers will accept a multiple forms of qualifications including formal education in sonography, training, or a combination of the two, though applicants with education from an accredited program and those who are registered will fare better in the job market. There are colleges and universities that offer 2-year programs leading to an associate degree and 4-year programs leading to a bachelor’s degree. Of these, the 2-year degree is the most common. Some hospital-based training programs are also accredited.

There are also a small number of 1-year programs leading to a vocational certificate which is mostly useful for people employed in some other healthcare occupation who want to train in sonography to enhance their employ-ability. Although no states require licensure in diagnostic medical sonography, sonographers can become credentialed and registered which will assure employers that the applicant meets basic qualifications and has professional standing.

Because sonographers deal with patients directly, they must have good communication and interpersonal skills. A good bedside manner is recommended as many patients may be frightened or anxious. Good hand-eye coordination is another beneficial trait for potential sonographers. Sonography is a diagnostic medicine, and those wishing to enter the field should enjoy learning because the field is ever-evolving and will require workers to develop new skills along the way.


To broaden work opportunities sonographers may specialize in one or many particular fields of sonography. They may also pursue supervisory, managerial, or administrative positions.

In 2008, there were about 50,300 sonographer jobs in the U.S. and 59 percent of these were in public and private hospitals. Other work settings include the offices of physicians, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and outpatient care centers (which are increasing in popularity).

Job Outlook

Employment for diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to increase by about 18 percent through 2018, faster than average for all occupations. Not only will the aging baby boomer generation increase demand for sonography, but these examinations are increasingly preferential to the less safe, more expensive radiological procedures. Developing technology should allow the scope of sonography to broaden and the market for sonographers to jump.


The median annual wage of diagnostic medical sonographers was $61,980 in May 2008 with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $43,600, and the highest 10 percent earning over $83,950. Physicians offices tended to pay only slightly more than general medical and surgical hospitals.

Those interested in diagnostic medical sonography may also have the skills to pursue a career as a cardiovascular technologist or technician, clinical laboratory technologist or technician, nuclear medicine technologist, or a radiological technologist or technician.

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