What They Do:
Is it a boy or a girl? As a diagnostic medical sonographer, you could be the one answering this or a host of other life-changing medical questions with the help of ultrasound technology. Beyond babies, sonograms are used to help diagnose other medical conditions by creating images of body organs and tissues. These professionals include musculoskeletal sonographers, who specialize in creating images of muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints; neurosonographers, who focus on the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord; abdominal sonographers, who capture images of the abdominal cavity as well as nearby organs like the kidney, liver and pancreas; and breast sonographers, who capture images of breast tissue that could confirm the presence of cysts and tumors. Skilled technicians play a vital role in ensuring a proper diagnosis. It’s a job with both social and technical elements, since sonographers must position a patient just right so that a properly calibrated machine can produce the best possible image. The job also requires social savvy, since the sonographer is the first person nervous patients turn to for information about their condition.
Since sonographers will capture a series of images and assemble them into a logical sequential order for a physician to read, an eye for detail and strong spatial reasoning is required to note all of the abnormalities in the scan imagery.
While there is no formal licensure process in most states (health care professionals can learn on the job in their hospital, for example, or pass a variety of one-year certificate programs), most employers prefer a candidate who has passed a certification exam by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. That usually requires clinical experience, a more likely component of an accredited program (the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education keeps a list of such programs). There are bachelor’s programs in sonography, but most students get two-year associate degrees, and many students already have undergraduate degrees in math or science. The curriculum includes anatomy, physiology, instrumentation and other medical courses.
What They Make:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median income was $74,320.
Where They Work:
Medical and diagnostic laboratories
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth of about 26 percent between 2019 and 2029. Advances in imaging technology will lead medical facilities to use it more in place of costly, invasive procedures and less-expensive equipment, which means more procedures will be conducted outside hospitals. Although hospitals are the biggest employers of diagnostic medical sonographers, employment should grow rapidly in physicians' offices and medical and diagnostic laboratories.
Updated February 2021