Pursuing a career in sonography requires some thought and planning. It is important for prospective students to learn about the types of sonography degrees available and what each program entails. In addition, they should consider how to finance a sonography education. This guide gets the research started by outlining and discussing sonography degree programs and required coursework, and offers search tools to help prospective students discover career paths and potential salaries.
A diagnostic medical sonographer creates images of a patient’s organs and tissues by placing a transducer against the patient’s skin. The transducer transmits sound waves into the body, which then bounce off the internal organs. A computer analyzes the sound waves to develop images that a physician can then use to make a medical diagnosis. Sonographers must be compassionate, because they have extensive contact with patients who range from healthy to critically ill. There are several types of sonography specialties, for example:
Individuals interested in pursuing a career in sonography have many options. The professions above are some of the most popular specialties.
Students must complete an accredited training program to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. Programs take between one and four years to complete. For an associate degree in sonography, students attend a two-year program, often at a community college, which prepares them to perform routine sonographic procedures and functions. Students also learn the core values and ethical standards expected for those who provide quality, patient-centered care. A bachelor’s degree in sonography typically takes four years to complete, providing the skills necessary for sonography positions in a wide range of settings, including hospitals, clinics, private physician’s offices, research, and teaching. Although graduate degree programs in sonography are rare, there are some master’s programs available for sonographers interested in becoming ultrasound educators, researchers, and department directors. Graduate programs take approximately two years to complete.
Although some sonography degree programs combine online classes with classroom learning (hybrid programs), it is possible to earn a sonography degree in an online program without having to attend any classes on campus. Many accredited institutions offer online sonography programs so that students can fit in credit hours around family and professional schedules and obligations. In many cases, students can fulfill coursework online and work at a local health care facility to gain hands-on training and credit hours.
Even students with little technical knowledge can have a successful distance learning experience with easy to use online software and technical support. Many programs have a full-time program manager to provide assistance when needed. Online schools often have online tutoring programs, research labs, and writing support, making it easy to pursue a career as a sonographer from your own home.
Designed to educate and prepare students in the processes and procedures for using medical ultrasound and diagnosis, most online Bachelor of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography programs consist of 120 to 130 credit hours, including an externship to help students gain practical knowledge. Courses typically required include cross-sectional anatomy, health care systems and policies, sonographic pathology, and medical terminology. Most programs require that applicants be registered in the field with the ARDMS, ARRT or CCI and have a certificate or associate degree from a CAAHEP accredited sonography program. Graduates of an online bachelor’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography will be well-prepared to meet the growing demand of sonographers or to go on to pursue advanced degrees in business or education.
The associate’s degree in sonography is a two-year program that prepares students for the clinical and administrative functions required as a sonographer. Students take general education classes the first year along with several introductory sonography classes. The second year includes coursework in anatomy and physiology, patient care, and cross-sectional anatomy. Students also take classes in gynecological and obstetric sonography. The table below examines some of the basic course required for students pursuing an associate level degree in sonography:
|Introduction to Sonography||Introduces student to field of diagnostic medical sonography. History and foundations, medical terminology, communication skills, medical ethics.|
|Pathophysiology I||Provides basic understanding of pathophysiology as a change from normal physiological human body functioning. Emphasis on critical thinking required to analyze signs and symptoms.|
|Small Parts with Vasculature Sonography||Covers positioning and scanning of superficial structures. Clinical symptomatology related to sonographic appearance.|
|Ultrasound Physics and Instrumentation I||Intro to basic diagnostic ultrasound physics and instrumentation. Acoustical physics, Doppler effect, color flow imaging.|
Bachelor’s degrees in sonography typically take an average of 26 months to complete as part of a four-year undergraduate degree. Accelerated programs are also available. Four-year programs in sonography provide students with fundamental knowledge, skills, and procedures to prepare them for a career in medical sonography. Additionally, coursework usually prepares students for national credentialing exams such as the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) registry exam for RMDS or Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) credentials.
Students begin by studying basic anatomy, medical terminology, and ultrasound physics before taking more comprehensive and technical courses such as:
|Venous Testing/Lab||Use of ultrasound for the evaluation of the venous circulation of the upper and lower extremities. Anatomy, pathologies, treatment options, data analysis.|
|Peripheral Arterial Testing/Lab||Evaluation of the arterial circulation of the upper and lower extremities through ultrasound. Hands-on lab component.|
|Abdominal Sonography||Anatomy and physiology associated with visceral and vascular disease with focus on cross-anatomy. Recognizing normal and abnormal sonographic anatomy and collecting patient information.|
|Obstetric Sonography I and II||In-depth studies of organs within human female pelvic cavity (normal and abnormal), gravid and non-gravid anatomy and physiology.|
|Small Parts Sonography||Use of ultrasound for evaluation of superficial structures such as thyroid gland, breast, male reproductive system, shoulder, hand, wrist and more. Pediatric evaluation such as neonatal brain, pediatric spine/hip/pelvis/abdomen.|
|Clinical Preparation and Review||Preparation for clinical experience. Reinforce nontechnical aspects of diagnostic medical sonography. Patient care, professionalism, clinical rationale.|
|Clinical Externship I and II||Immersion in clinical setting. Become daily integral part of Diagnostic Ultrasound Department operations.|
Master’s level sonography programs may have different names depending on the institutions. Look for programs such as Ultrasound Practitioner Master’s Degree or Master of Health Science in Diagnostic Medical Ultrasound, for example. It usually takes a minimum of two years to complete a graduate sonography program. In addition to coursework, students are required to do a research project and/or specialized clinical practicum.
Graduate program curriculum varies among colleges and universities. For example, some schools concentrate on embryology and pathophysiology, while others provide a more comprehensive understanding of the reproductive or musculoskeletal systems. While it is difficult to list a standard sonography graduate degree curriculum, there are some classes common to many sonography programs. The following table describes some of these typical classes:
|Master’s Program Core Courses||Overview|
|Epidemiology and Biostatistics||Basic concepts of epidemiology and biostatistics as applied to matters of public health. Dynamic behavior of disease, direct and indirect adjustment methods, clinical life table, and rates, ratios and proportions.|
|Ethical Issues in Healthcare||Important and controversial issues in modern medical ethics. Analyzing ethical issues of real life situations and systematically making a decision about the best solution.|
|Principles of Management||Foundation for understanding and applying traditional management theories in formal and informal organizational structures.|
|Sectional Anatomy: Embryology and
|Basic embryology and pathophysiological processes of the digestive, urinary, reproductive, neurological, vascular and endocrine systems, including cross-sectional anatomy of the upper and lower extremities.|
|Musculoskeletal Sonography and Advancements in Ultrasound||Sonography of the shoulder, hip, knee, elbow, foot/ankle, wrist/hand and eye. Comparison to alternative diagnostic procedures. Review of technological advancements.|
|Advanced Doppler and Vascular Sonography||Advanced Doppler physics including color, power, and pulsed wave Doppler. Doppler image optimization, carotid artery sonography, arterial extremity vascular examinations, venous extremity vascular examination, abdominal, and pelvic vascularsonography.|
|Health Research Methods||Introduction to scientific method, experimental, quasi-experimental, descriptive and epidemiological research.|
|Clinical Sonography||Introduction to ultrasound practice. Role of sonographer, sono ergonomics, medico-legal issues and ethics. Biological hazards and safety issues.|
|Sonography of the Abdomen and Reproductive System||Comprehensive study of ultrasound of the liver and portal venous system, gall bladder, urinary tract, pancreas, aorta, spleen, retro peritoneum, gastrointestinal tract and abdominal wall. Transplant sonography.|
There are typically no PhD programs in Sonography in the U.S. However, sonographers wishing to further their learning may choose to pursue a PhD in a research field that compliments their sonography background and education, such as biomedical engineering. Graduates of a PhD in biomedical engineering who also have previous education in sonography can work in development, academic, and research positions.
The cost of an education continues to increase, which may make financing a college education difficult for undergraduate and graduate students. Fortunately, scholarships can help cover the costs of higher education. Unlike student loans, you do not need to repay scholarships down the line. Here are some of the sonography scholarships available to prospective students:
Accreditation is the process of verifying that colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning meet or exceed basic education quality standards. A peer review board, comprised of faculty from accredited institutions, sets the standards for accreditation. When making a decision, they consider the college’s mission, goals, curriculum, and objectives. Other criteria include student admission requirements, faculty reputation, and the quality of education provided by the college or university. Online educational institutions and distance learning programs must meet the same high standards as traditional brick-and-mortar institutions.
There are six regional agencies of accreditation that cover colleges and universities in the U.S. In addition to regional accreditation, specific academic programs can also apply for specialized, or programmatic, accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs accredits nearly 2,000 programs for professions in the health sciences.