Everyone knows about x-rays that are used to diagnose the internal workings of the human body but there is another aspect to this that makes for just as rewarding of a career. It is the career of the ultrasound technician. Sonography is the science that uses sound waves and their echoes to depict the figures that are beneath a surface. It is used similar to x-rays to diagnose the progression of certain diseases, the status of a fetus, and any other location in the human body where a doctor needs to see what is going on.
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At a Glance
Other Job Titles: Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, Ultrasound Technologist, Ultrasonographer
Salary Range: $44,000-$88,000; Median $64,000
Education/Training Required: Two-year or four-year degree from an accredited trade/vocational school or university
Desired Skills/Aptitude: attention to detail; technically oriented; communication skills
Certification/Licensing: certification preferred by employers; licensing requirements vary by state
Locations with Best Opportunities: Massachusetts, California, Florida, Oregon
Employment Outlook: 44% growth through 2020 (faster than usual)
Opportunities for Advancement: Continued education to enter other medical fields such as registered nursing; advancement to supervisory or managerial roles
What an Ultrasound Technician Does
The ultrasound technician assists a physician in diagnosing the internal condition of a patient. The most common application of ultrasonography is in pregnancies where the fetus needs to be seen. This cannot be done with traditional x-rays because it might cause harm to the fetus. An ultrasound technician works under the direction of a physician.
The duties of an ultrasound technician can be categorized as follows:
- Preparation/maintenance of ultrasound equipment
- Patient record keeping
- Patient preparation/handling
- Quality control
- Limited analysis
An ultrasound technician must not only know how to prepare sonography equipment for a patient but maintain it as well. This includes making adjustments for the best image results.
Patient record keeping is part of the job as well. A technician will record details pertaining to the imaging session that can be used throughout a patient’s case.
Part of the preparation that must be done before an imaging session takes place is to scrub the area that will be analyzed on the patient. Then, a special gel is applied to the area that will be examined that aids in the transmission of sound waves. An ultrasound technician must perform these tasks in addition to adjusting the patient or helping put the patient on the table.
Quality control is of utmost importance in ultrasonography. Without image quality, a physician cannot make the best determination as to the patient’s condition. Thus the ultrasound technician must be able to analyze images and re-take if deemed necessary.
It is important to understand that an ultrasound technician is not a physician and is legally and ethically prohibited from making a diagnosis as to a patient’s condition. However, a technician is trained is to do limited analysis of images to determine if further examination must be performed. Plus, a technician must be able to identify the differences between what is normal in an internal region and what is abnormal so that further examination can be performed. This person must also be able to detail all findings for the case physician.
The Workplace of an Ultrasound Technician
Ultrasound technicians typically work in the following facilities:
- Doctor’s offices
- Diagnostic laboratories
- Outpatient medical care centers
Furthermore, a technician can be called upon to perform an examination at a patient’s bedside using mobile sonography equipment.
Education and Certification
To work in this field, a person must have formal post-secondary education. This is usually through an accredited associate’s or bachelor’s degree program. These programs teach subjects such as taking sonographic images of certain regions in the body and interpreting those images.
Certification exams are taken after training is completed and are specialized. Licensing requirements vary by state.