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    How to Become a Sonographer Guide

    By Lisa Freedland

    Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: March 19th, 2024
    How to Become a Sonographer Guide

    If you’re caring, compassionate, and interested in the medical field, a career in sonography could be a great choice for you. Sonographers guide patients through ultrasonic imaging procedures of all types. By doing so, they assist physicians and doctors in making diagnoses and treatments for patients. 

    If this sounds interesting to you, keep on reading to learn how to become a sonographer!

    Also see: Fastest growing careers

    What is a sonographer?

    Diagnostic medical sonographers, better known as just “sonographers,” use ultrasound technology to produce images, scans, and other visualizations of the human body. However, as the human body is incredibly complex and diverse, one’s specific role as a sonographer largely depends on what they specialize in. While some sonographers focus solely on scanning the progress of women’s pregnancies, others may specialize in visualizations of organs. In addition to these, there are specializations of sonography focusing on tissues, muscles, bones, and much more. We’ll get into those later, though.

    Is a sonographer the same as an ultrasound technician?

    While reading our brief description of sonographers, you may have started to wonder, “Isn’t this the same as an ultrasound technician?” 

    Great question! The answer: yes, they are essentially the same. Both professions involve using ultrasound technology to create sonograms used to diagnose and treat patients. While the jobs may require slightly different educational paths depending on your specialization and your school, the requirements tend to be very similar. 

    Thus, the main difference between a sonographer and an ultrasound technician lies in semantics. Besides the difference in job title, an “ultrasound” and “sonogram” refer to slightly different things. While an ultrasound refers to the use of sound waves to create an image, a sonogram is the image created by an ultrasound. However, as both sonograms and ultrasounds require professionals who know how to perform ultrasounds, the careers are essentially the same. 

    What should I look for in a sonography program?

    As mentioned earlier, there are many different educational paths one can take to become a sonographer. However, no matter which path one pursues, there are some things you should make sure to look for in any sonography program. Here they are:

    • Accreditation: Your sonography program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health/Education Programs (CAAHEP). This handy tool will help you figure out whether your chosen program is accredited. If not, you can also use it as a search tool to find one that is accredited!
    • Admissions requirements: Make sure that you meet all the eligibility requirements of your chosen sonography program. It is not uncommon for programs to require students to have completed specific prerequisite math, health, and science courses.
    • Specializations: For subtypes of sonography, it’s important that your chosen program offers your preferred specialty. Some subtypes of sonography can be particularly difficult to find. We recommend doing thorough research to make sure yours is offered by your desired program.
    • Curriculum: The sonography profession is very hands-on. Therefore, we recommend making sure your program offers a lot of hands-on, clinical, and/or real-world experience. Such experience is arguably one of the most important parts of any sonography education.

    Now that you know what to look for in a sonography program, let’s get into what education is required to become a sonographer!

    Step-by-step education guide to becoming a sonographer

    Sonography is a unique profession. Whether you want to jump into the profession as soon as possible, or stay in school a little longer, either is fine when it comes to sonography. So, to make things simple, we’ll go over the many different paths you can take to become a sonographer. Note that there are three separate “Step 1”’s because you can pursue one of three different types of degrees to become a sonographer!

    Before we get into the specific steps to become a sonographer, though, it’s important to note that those already working in other medical fields can also pursue sonography. It is not uncommon for those in radiology and/or nursing to pursue a specialization in sonography as well. If this sounds like you, feel free to skip the steps that you’ve already completed to find out what you have to do next. For example, if you’ve already earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, skip to step two.

    With that said, though, let’s get into it! 

    1. Option A: Earn a certificate (12 to 18 months)

    Out of high school, you have one of three possible “first step” options to choose from to become a sonographer. The first is to earn a postsecondary certificate in sonography at your local community college or vocational school. Such programs are generally the quickest of the three options, taking somewhere between 12 and 18 months to complete. Such programs also allow you to start fulfilling your clinical hour requirements, which will give you some real experience in the field.

    Related: Top certificates to earn

    2. Option B: Earn an associate’s degree (18 to 24 months)

    Your next “first step” option is to obtain an associate’s degree in sonography or a related field. Some of these programs even allow students to obtain certificates in specialty areas of sonography, such as vascular technology or echocardiology. They also allow students to accumulate clinical hours over the course of their studies, like the certificates mentioned above. Obtaining an associate’s degree in sonography generally takes between 18 and 24 months, with the length depending on your specific path and program.

    Also see: What is an associate’s degree?

    3. Option C: Earn a bachelor’s degree (four years)

    The last “first step” option is to earn your bachelor’s degree in sonography or a related field. However, this is not necessarily a “first step” for everyone. Some already-registered sonographers choose to pursue bachelor’s degrees to further advance their careers. Obtaining a bachelor’s may open sonographers up to more job opportunities or allow them to achieve a higher salary than they’d receive with only a certificate or associate’s degree. These programs also allow students to gain clinical, real-world experience in the field. However, if you are already a sonographer and pursuing a bachelor’s to further your career, you do not need to worry about your clinical requirements. You’ve likely already completed them! Receiving a bachelor’s typically takes between three and four years, depending on how many credits you take each academic term and your prior coursework.

    Don’t miss: Complete guide to undergraduate degrees

    4. Finish clinical hour requirements

    After you receive your degree or certificate, it’s time to finish those clinical hour requirements! P.S. If you’ve already completed them, skip to step three!

    If you haven’t, however, this is your time to do so. You can do so by either interning, volunteering, or possibly even working at local hospitals. Doing so will not only help you develop your clinical skills, but also the interpersonal and communication skills needed to be a sonographer. As sonograms can sometimes be the bearer of bad news, it is of utmost importance that sonographers be strong for their patients. 

    The ARDMS gives helpful general information on the sonography exam requirements. However, we still recommend checking with your specific program, advisor, or test administrator on how many clinical hours are required of you.

    5. Become a certified sonographer

    Once you finish your clinical hours, it’s time to get certified! The majority of sonographers choose to get certified through the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential before going on to specialize in a subtype of sonography. However, you may also choose to take one of several other specialty certification exams offered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)

    No matter which test you sign up for, we highly recommend making sure you meet all the eligibility/prerequisite requirements beforehand. This way, you won’t show up on test day and realize that you’re ineligible, saving you time and energy.

    On a more positive note, passing your certification exam officially makes you a certified sonographer (or even a specialized sonographer)! To make sure that happens, we recommend checking out these helpful sonography exam preparation resources:

    6. Choose a specialty! (optional)

    If you’ve already passed your sonography specialty certification exam, feel free to skip this step. If not (or if you’re looking to specialize in another subtype), it might just be time to consider choosing a specialty. Although it is not necessary to choose a specialty in sonography, it is increasingly common. 

    Let’s take a look at the many sonography subtypes, and how you can go about specializing in each of them.

    The subtypes of sonography

    We’ve now gone over the general path to become a sonographer. So, it’s time for the specializations! Keep reading for a brief introduction to the many subtypes of sonographers and the additional requirements for each. 

    Abdominal sonography

    Abdominal sonography utilizes sound waves to produce visualizations of structures within the upper abdomen. Such structures include the kidneys, liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, spleen, and abdominal aorta. 

    Breast sonography 

    Breast sonography uses sound waves to create visualizations of the internal structures of the breast. These are typically used to identify breast lumps and other abnormalities found during a physical exam, mammogram, or MRI.

    Neurosonography

    Neurosonography involves performing ultrasounds on the brain and nervous system. This form of sonography is somewhat unique in that it uses specialized beam shapes and frequencies from a Transcranial Doppler (TCD) rather than typical obstetric and abdominal sonography machines.

    Obstetric and gynecological sonography 

    Most often referred to as OB/GYN ultrasound, obstetric and gynecological sonography is generally used to determine the condition of pregnant women and their fetuses. 

    Echocardiography 

    Echocardiography uses sound waves to create moving pictures of patients’ hearts. Pictures show the size and shape of one’s heart, while the Doppler echo illustrates blood flow through chambers and valves. 

    Vascular sonography

    Vascular sonography utilizes high-frequency sound waves to produce visualizations of blood vessels, including arteries and veins. For these sonograms, patients’ legs are compressed, and their vein blood flow is assessed for clogs. 

    Musculoskeletal sonography

    Musculoskeletal sonography uses sound waves to produce visualizations of patients’ muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. Such pictures diagnose sprains, tears, and other abnormalities in the soft tissue. 

    And that’s it! As you now have a general idea of what these specializations of sonography are (and how to pursue them), we hope you’ve found something you’re interested in.

    Final thoughts

    As you can see, sonography truly is a diverse profession. So, no matter which path you choose to follow, we hope that this post has been helpful. With hard work, you’ll certainly be able to achieve your goals. Although it may take some time, you’ll learn a lot on the way there. Good luck!

    Frequently asked questions about how to become a sonographer

    How long does it take to become a sonographer?

     Ultimately, how long it takes to become a sonographer depends on what path you seek out. The most common way is to receive an associate’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography, which takes around two years. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, will take around four years. Further, if you wish to pursue additional degrees or certifications, you may be adding months or years onto the process. 

    Do sonographers make good money?

     According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical sonographers made an average of $78,210 in 2022. However, this average varied across industries, with some sonographers making more than others depending on where they work and what they might specialize in.

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