Ultrasound Technician Certification

Maura Deering, J.D.
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Updated May 22, 2024
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Ultrasound technician certification can help you launch a career in sonography and specialize in areas that include fetal echocardiography, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatric sonography. Learn about the organizations that credential ultrasound technicians, the education and training you need, and the steps to becoming a certified ultrasound technician.

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Did You Know…

Employment of ultrasound technicians is projected to increase by 10% during 2022-2032.

Timeline: How to Become a Certified Ultrasound Technician

Becoming a certified ultrasound technician generally requires formal education with special training. Depending on your prior experience and academic goals, schools offer several pathways into the field, from one-year programs to a bachelor’s degree. The timeline below outlines the most common steps to becoming a certified medical sonographer.

  1. 1

    Obtain a High School Diploma

    Four Years: Sonographers typically need a high school education or GED certificate prior to beginning higher education.

  2. 2

    Attend an Accredited Ultrasound Program

    One to Four Years: Students can opt for a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s program in ultrasound technology. Associate programs are the most popular option. Be sure to choose a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

  3. 3

    Gain Practical Experience

    At least One Year: Whether gained during or after schooling, students must possess professional medical sonography experience to become certified.

  4. 4

    Study for Certification

    Varies: The time required to prepare for certification exams varies. At a minimum, students should take practice exams and review study guides.

  5. 5

    Become Certified

    A Few Months: After meeting education and work experience requirements, applicants can explore several ultrasound technician certification options. Candidates must pass the necessary examination(s), pay the required fees, and complete registration paperwork to earn a certification.

Ultrasound Technician Licensure

Ultrasound technicians should understand the difference between licensure and certification. A license provides legal permission to practice in a certain profession by state. In contrast, certification is a credential issued by a private organization or agency that demonstrates competency in a specific career area and is usually voluntary.

Most ultrasound technicians in the U.S. can find work with professional certifications alone. Only four states currently mandate licensure for medical sonographers: New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon.

Sonographers must renew their permanent license every two years.

To apply for licensure, ultrasound technicians must meet certain requirements, including completing a board-approved sonography course, current certification from a board-approved agency, and a satisfactory criminal background check. Students beginning clinical experience requirements can apply for a temporary license.

Sonographers must renew their permanent license every two years. This process requires an additional application, proof of continued certification, and payment of nonrefundable fees.

Why Get Certified in Sonography?

Sonography certification can boost an ultrasound technician’s career, as employers often prefer certified technicians. Certification ensures that the sonographer maintains up-to-date knowledge, which can increase job opportunities and enable specialization.

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    Certification Can Improve Employment Opportunities

    Certification is often needed to meet the minimum eligibility requirement for sonography jobs. Even when it is not required, most applicants hold certification in the field. A higher level of education and experience also provides an edge over other applicants.

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    Certification Ensures Current Knowledge in the Field

    Most certified ultrasound technicians must complete continuing education credits within a certain timeframe to renew their certification. This enables ultrasound technicians to stay current on recent trends in the field.

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    Ability to Specialize in a Particular Area

    Many sonographers work within a particular specialty, such as cardiovascular medicine or gynecology/obstetrics. Sonographers must become certified in their desired healthcare area to pursue specialized jobs.

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    Certification Demonstrates Candidates Meet the Minimum Education Requirements

    Certification organizations look to applicants’ education and training to ensure eligibility to take certification exams. Passing the exam and earning certification indicate that an ultrasound technician program graduate qualifies to begin sonography work.

Spotlight On: Sonographer School Accreditation

Accreditation is crucial for those entering a formal ultrasound program. Many employers require new hires to hold the relevant degree or certificate issued by an accredited educational institution. Furthermore, some certifications are only awarded to graduates of an accredited program. The following table covers how ultrasound credentialing organizations view accreditation.

ARDMS®

The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS®) offers prerequisite education and training pathways to determine eligibility for its credentialing examinations. One path requires graduation from a program with CAAHEP accreditation. To ensure they are enrolled in an accredited program, students can check with the school or verify accreditation on the CAAHEP website.

ARRT®

To qualify for certification exams administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT®), applicants need an associate degree or higher from an institution accredited by an ARRT®-approved organization. Examinees do not need to hold a degree in radiologic sciences but must hold a degree in the same field as their desired certification.

American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography® (ARDMS®) Certifications

The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography® is a leading provider of certifications for ultrasound technicians. ARDMS® also provides volunteering and networking opportunities for ultrasound professionals.

RDMS: Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

The RDMS certification is a generalized credential that certifies a sonographer has general knowledge of diagnostic medical sonography and can provide services safely. Ultrasound professionals desiring to work in various specialty areas may pursue this certification.

RDCS: Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer

This credential certifies that ultrasound professionals can safely and effectively provide sonography diagnostic services, focusing on examining the heart.

RVT: Registered Vascular Technologist

This credential focuses on safe diagnostic sonography of the vascular system, such as the veins and blood vessels. Technologists specializing in the circulatory system can benefit from this certification.

  • Examination Needed: Sonography Principles and Instrumentation Examination
  • Specialty Examination:Vascular Technology

RMSKS: Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer

The RMSKS certification demonstrates that a sonographer is knowledgeable in providing effective and safe diagnostic ultrasound services for the muscular and skeletal systems.

ARDMS® Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Exam: What You Need to Know

The sonography principles and instrumentation (SPI) exam is the cornerstone requirement for the various ARDMS® certifications available to ultrasound technicians. Professionals specializing in a specialty area, such as pediatrics, cardiac care, or obstetrics, must pass this exam. Candidates generally take the SPI exam in conjunction with a specialization exam.

Staying Certified: How to Maintain Your ARDMS® Certification

Maintaining certification ensures that a sonographer stays current on the most recent information. Sonographers must complete several steps each year to maintain ARDMS® certification.

Fee and Attestation

Every ARDMS® certified individual must pay an annual fee. For those with the RPVI and RMSK certifications, the renewal fee is $150; for the RDMS, RDCS, RVT, and RMSKS, the renewal fee is $95. In addition to paying the fee, certified sonographers must also attest that they have followed all ARDMS® rules and policies and are in good standing with the ARDMS®.

Continuing Medical Education (CME)

Every three years, certified sonographers must complete 30 CME credits. A portion of those 30 CME credits must be in an area related to the sonographer’s specialization, such as musculoskeletal or vascular ultrasound. You can find CME providers approved by the ARDMS® in their directory.

The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists® (ARRT®) Certifications

In addition to the ARDMS®, the ARRT® is a leading provider of sonography certifications. Some certifications offered include sonography, vascular sonography, and breast sonography. The ARRT® offers these certifications through two pathways: primary and post-primary.

  • Primary Pathway: The primary pathway certification is available in six areas: sonography, radiography, nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy, magnetic resonance imaging, and vascular sonography. This pathway is intended for those seeking their initial ultrasound technician certifications. Applicants must demonstrate a requisite level of competency in didactic coursework.
  • Post-Primary Pathway: The post-primary pathway certification is designed for sonographers who already hold an ARRT® certification in one of the following fields: radiography, sonography, nuclear medicine technology, or radiation therapy. Sometimes, candidates may hold certification from the ARDMS® or Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board. An applicant must also show a certain level of clinical experience.

Education Requirements

  • Primary Pathway: All applicants must hold an associate degree or higher from a school accredited by an ARRT®-approved organization. This degree does not need to be in the radiologic sciences. However, applicants must also complete a program in the same discipline as the credential they plan to pursue.
  • Post-Primary Pathway: The only notable educational requirement is 16 hours of relevant structured education, because applicants in this category already hold a certification.

Ethics Requirements

Applicants must be of good moral character and follow the ARRT® ethical guidelines. This includes not having any honor code violations or instances of other certifications or licenses being revoked for disciplinary reasons. Individuals are also required to report any felony or misdemeanor convictions. However, juvenile convictions and traffic violations that do not involve drugs and alcohol do not need to be reported.

Exam Requirements

The sonography certification exam is computer-based, comprises 400 questions, and lasts 7.5 hours. The exam ensures that the candidate possesses the minimum knowledge to complete the job duties for a typical entry-level position.

Major topics covered on the exam include scientific principles of ultrasound technology and specific ultrasound procedures for certain types of patients.

Staying Certified: How to Maintain Your ARRT® Certification

Like other ultrasound technician certifications, ARRT® certification-holders must maintain their credentials over time. This usually consists of following ARRT® ethics, paying an annual fee, and completing continuing education requirements.

ARRT® Rules and Regulations and ARRT® Standards of Ethics

A certification-holder must remain in good standing with the ARRT®. This means certified professionals must comply with all relevant ARRT® Rules and Regulations and the ARRT® Standards of Ethics.

Annual Renewal

Registered technologists must renew their certification and registration annually. Each year, the renewal deadline occurs on the last day of a candidate’s birth month. To qualify for renewal, professionals must pay a fee and be current in their continuing education requirements.

Continuing Education Requirements

Certification-holders must complete at least 24 continuing education credits every two years. Alternatively, the holder may meet all 24 credit requirements by passing an additional ARRT® approved certification exam. Visit the ARRT® website for more information about meeting the continuing education requirements.

Continuing Qualifications Requirements (CQR)

ARRT®’s CQR is a process to identify knowledge gaps that affect certification-holders’ qualifications for their positions. ARRT® notifies sonographers through their online accounts when their compliance windows open. They have three years to complete their CQR. Knowledge gaps are identified through a Structured Self-Assessment taken online or at a test center, from which ARRT® prescribes any needed continuing education.

Additional Job Requirements for Ultrasound Technicians

Becoming a successful medical diagnostic sonographer requires advanced knowledge and skill. Candidates acquire much of the necessary training through ultrasound education programs and certification preparation. However, additional requirements may apply to legally practice as a medical sonographer or complete certain job tasks.

  • Hand-eye coordination: A significant portion of an ultrasound technician’s job is properly handling ultrasound equipment. This requires carefully placing an instrument on the body, including subtle changes in depth and angle, to obtain the best ultrasound images possible.
  • Visual Acuity: Ultrasound machines produce visual images using sound waves. As a result, the images produced appear unclear. It takes a keen eye to identify what is depicted on the screen.
  • Communication Skills: Effective ultrasound technicians rely on strong communication and interpersonal skills. Their responsibilities involve listening carefully to patients to get all the necessary information.

Beyond Sonography: Optional Medical Sonographer Programs

Some ultrasound technicians pursue other certifications to broaden their employment options. In addition to ARRT® and ARDMS® certifications, several other optional certifications can improve a sonographer’s professional advancement chances.

Vascular Certification

Ultrasound technicians in this specialty often possess a high degree of independence. They provide preliminary information about a patient’s vascular system to the corresponding surgeon, cardiologist, or radiologist.

Basic Life Support Certification

Basic life support (BLS) certification requires a brief training regimen that teaches resuscitation to someone whose heart or breathing has stopped. The primary component of BLS certification is learning CPR.

EMT Certification

The EMT certification builds on the BLS certification, providing additional training in life-saving skills. This certification can help sonographers improve their hiring profile. It demonstrates a greater capacity to handle emergencies in certain settings, such as a trauma center or an outpatient clinic.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ultrasound Technician Certifications

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