Making the Most of Medical Sonography School
Medical sonography, also known as ultrasound technology, is a fast-growing career in the allied healthcare field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for diagnostic medical sonographers will grow by 24 percent between 2014 and 2024—more than double the average speed of other careers. Sonographers may choose to specialize in two or three areas of the field, like echocardiographic, abdominal, or obstetric and gynecological (OB/GYN) ultrasound.
The following guide is full of resources to help prospective sonographers get started in the field.
Student Resources: Exploring Ultrasound Tech
Fields to Explore
Sonography uses ultrasound waves to produce the internal images doctors use to diagnose, monitor or rule out medical problems. Some ultrasound technicians specialize in certain body systems or medical practices. Here are some of the main focus areas that medical sonography professionals might choose.
OB/GYN Many of us are most familiar with maternal-fetal ultrasounds used to monitor a pregnancy and even determine the baby's sex. Sonographers can see the fetus' head and body and make sure there are no developmental or other health abnormalities. OB/GYN sonographers can also examine the pelvis region for growths or injuries in patients who are not pregnant.
Echocardiography Echocardiographic sonographers use ultrasound to examine a patient's heart; they look at its valves and chambers and check its operation. Ultrasounds can also detect the heartbeat rhythm and pattern to determine if there are abnormalities.
Neurosonography The brain can be evaluated and examined via ultrasounds as well. Neurological sonographers can map its structure and examine it for growths, tumors, or bleeding.
Abdomen/Small Parts Abdominal sonographers can scan any part of a patient's abdominal region, including one's gallbladder, liver, pancreas and kidneys. Sonographers use these images to search for obstructions and growths.
Ophthalmic Ophthalmic ultrasound technicians scan patients' eyes for detached retinas, bleeding and tumors. Most ultrasound techs working in this specialty earn the designation of Certified Diagnostic Ophthalmic Sonographer (CDOS).
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Career Exploration Resources
Ultrasound technology hopefuls can gain work experience while completing a degree, giving them a sense for the career and specializations of interest before they even start. These practical experiences can also give sonography students an edge over less experienced applicants in the job market.
|What it Entails
|How to Get Started
|The opportunity for ultrasound technician students to follow a working professional through a typical day on the job. Shadowing allows students to get a real-time view of what day-to-day duties look like, and paints a realistic picture of what one can expect.
|A realistic view of what a student can expect from their potential career; the opportunity to ask questions about the job; the chance to test different specialties to decide which fit them best; and a resume boost.
|Check local doctors' offices, hospitals and clinics, especially those that teach; call the ultrasound staff at a local college or university; get in touch with a sonography association for opportunities or contacts; or volunteer at a medical facility to expand your network
|Job shadowing in a local OB-GYN office will give students a chance to see first-hand how a pregnant mother reacts when she sees her baby on the screen. It's also a good chance to see how much paperwork and filing can go into the day-to-day duties of an ultrasound technician.
|What it Entails
|How to Get Started
|Most ultrasound technician certificate and degree programs require internships. They may vary in length, but all internships offer students with real clinical experience. Most programs require internships of at least six months, paid or unpaid.
|Students gain hands-on experience applying what they've learned in the classroom, but they also learn practical skills like communication, bedside manner and professional comportment.
Plus, students who complete qualifying internships are eligible for American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) certification.
|Check with your school or program department. Since many programs require internships, they often facilitate them.
|Hinds Community College in Mississippi helps place its students in internships and clinical practicum before they finish their associate's degree program.
|What it Entails
|How to Get Started
|Getting involved in a medical sonography organization like the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS).
|Volunteering is a great way for ultrasound technician students and professionals to expand their network and work in diverse niches within the field. Volunteer opportunities also include holding leadership positions in these organizations or speaking at the SDMS Annual Conference.
|Join one or several professional organizations like the ARDMS or SDMS immediately upon certification, then volunteer to build your resume and network.
|Become a volunteer leader with SDMS Governance where one can join the Board of Directors, a committee or a task force. and micro-volunteers.
|What it Entails
|How to Get Started
|Beginning and maintaining a relationship with an experienced ultrasound technician who can candidly answer questions about the job, allow job shadowing and provide career advice
|Benefits of a mentorship include: a relationship with a professional whom you trust, a resource for answers and advice; and a larger professional network.
|Students can start with the professors of their certificate or degree programs to find professionals who are willing to take on a mentee.
|A long-term conversation between a professor and a student navigating her coursework, internship, certification and professional life.
Questions to Ask
There are many resources for ultrasound technicians, yet few are as valuable as their real-life knowledge. One of the biggest mistakes sonography students can make is failing to take advantage of experienced mentors. Here are a few questions one might ask to stay on a strong education and career path.
What do you like about your work? What don't you like about your work?
Is there room for advancement in your career?
What advice can you give me about ultrasound technician schools, exams or certification?
How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
Networking Resources for Ultrasound Tech Students
Networking can help ultrasound technicians early on in their careers, making it a good idea to start the process as a student. Relationships formed in school and at work can last forever, and students can look to them in times of need. Professional networks can also provide new job opportunities and a chance to return the favor. Below are a few things for ultrasound tech students to consider when networking:
Be open to new people and things
As students prepare to become diagnostic ultrasound sonographers, they should welcome new relationships and information. People like colleagues who are open-minded, friendly, and generous with their knowledge. Again, much of one's professional life can boil down to the people around them; potential professionals should keep this in mind as they build and expand their professional networks.
Be aware of your online presence
First impressions are important, including virtual ones. Students should be aware of their online presence on outlets like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This persona can help students build good networks quickly or, just as easily, turn potential employers off.
Get in touch and stay in touch
Volunteer, join clubs and hang out with other professionals. Networks are only as valuable as the individual relationships forged within them. New and future ultrasound technicians should cultivate and nurture active relationships with others in the field.
Practice the other part of communicating
Communication is a two-way process, yet too few professionals practice both. Listening is perhaps more important than talking as it nurtures better and more genuine connections. Who doesn't love a good listener?
Let your passion shine through
Networking can be challenging for people who are shy or introverted. Sometimes it's hard not to come off stiff or uncomfortable, especially if you are uncomfortable. It can be easier to focus on what you love about sonography when establishing ties: one's passion for ultrasound technology is likely common ground, making it an excellent equalizer.
Do the research
In professional settings, confidence comes easier for students who know their stuff. Networkers should bone up on their studies speak the language of other ultrasound techs in the group.
Clubs & Organizations for Medical Sonography Students
Network-building should begin the moment one enrolls in a sonography certificate or degree program. College sonography clubs and organizations can help students find internships, volunteer opportunities and jobs. Many state, regional and national organizations also welcome students.>
This national organization hosts resources especially for ultrasound technology students. Find information on membership, exams and career resources.
The University of Missouri offers just one example of a program-driven student organization specific to ultrasound technology. Students should check for similar programs at their schools.
The SDMS lets sonography students search for potential scholarship opportunities. Students should familiarize themselves with this popular organization as they may join when their career starts.
Exam Prep: Ultrasound & Sonography Study Resources
Organizations like the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and ARDMS require candidates to meet several criteria before they can be certified, including the successful completion of an exam. The following resources can help students prepare for various certification exams.
- American Society of Echocardiography
The ASE offers educational resources and practice tests for the ARDMS.
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists
The ASRT-a member-based organization for medical imaging professionals-offers exam study guides and tools.
- Sonography Principles & Instrumentation-ARDMS
This exam is critical for four ARDMS credentials. The ARDMS publishes preparation materials online.
After Ultrasound Technician School: What's Next?
Graduation may feel like an end for students, but it marks a beginning for new diagnostic medical sonographers. This is when professional networks come in handy: graduates who job shadowed or volunteered will likely have a leg up in job placement. Everyone still needs to apply for positions, however. Review these tips for the best chance at a great career.Building a Resume & Interviewing
Prepare a concise resume
Potential employers don't want to know that an ultrasound tech candidate was treasurer of his high school French club. They do, however, want to know that he was president of his college's ultrasound technology club. Resumes should be clear, simple, and directly related to the position for which one is applying.
Get ready to present yourself
Practice for interviews. The more prepared candidates are, the more polished they will seem to employers. Applicants should come off as calm, confident and capable. They should refresh their knowledge and get comfortable explaining their passion and excitement for sonography.
If at first you don't succeed…
Even the best-prepared job candidates have to apply for more than one position. Tenacity improves one's chances of landing a great position.Tips & Advice for Your First Job
Know you don't know it all
It's OK to ask questions. New professionals should appear interested and engagemented, and not be afraid to ask for more information or clarification on a certain topic.
Feel it out
Medical settings must adhere to the strictest guidelines of professionalism. Whether a job is in private practice, a hospital or an educational institute, ultrasound techs become acclimated with the workplace culture.
No one anticipates every aspect of a new job in medical sonography. One can't control everything, so should know how to go with the flow. Scheduling conflicts will come up, and demand can be high. Be a pro and take it in stride.Joining a Professional Organization
Join national ultrasound organizations
There are a few national organizations for medical sonographers, some of which cater to career specializations. Most offer member benefits and networking opportunities
Stay involved in the student organization
Professionals who keep up with student sonography organizations shape and support the next generation of ultrasound technicians. Plus, it's a great volunteer opportunity.
Do not hesitate to explore organizations tailored to other fields and interests: it keeps sonographers challenged and excited about the importance of medical imaging in the grander health care scheme.Continuing Education
Look for open doors
Ultrasound technicians should keep a lookout for opportunities to continue their education and advance their careers. Those who know how to make their network work for them should be in the know about upcoming opportunities.
There are many stand-alone online courses for practicing medical sonographers. Some of these classes are very quick-a couple of hours at most-and help professionals keep up with the latest imaging technologies and techniques.
Tap professional organizations
The journey to ideal ultrasound technology careers does not end with graduation: there are ways to continue to challenge oneself and further one's career. Members of national organizations like the SDMS can access workshops, courses and conferences that could advance their educations and careers.
Additional Resources for Sonography Students
The ARDMS is the premier evaluation administration for practitioners of ultrasound technology and sonography. It offers continuing education and certifications that could really enhance one's resume.
The ASE is a professional organization that includes cardiologists, nurses and sonographers. Its members are committed to improving patient care through education and research.
The IAC works to improve health care in a variety of fields by accrediting educational programs.
The JRCEDMS is a nonprofit that works to create and maintain quality standards for medical sonography schools.
A large, member-based organization that professionals can join to stay up to date on research, expand their network and find opportunities and career advancement.
This 5,000-member organization is specifically geared toward vascular ultrasound technicians. It offers continuing education opportunities to its membership, which includes surgeons and lab directors.
This global organization promotes ultrasound technology research and education.