Next Steps: Advancing Your Ultrasound Technology Career

Exploring New Job Opportunities in Sonography
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Ultrasound technicians are at the forefront of critical health care and disease prevention. Not only is the field of sonography fulfilling, but it provides many avenues for advancement. Professionals in the ultrasound technology profession fill job titles such as diagnostic medical sonographers, ultrasound technologists, ultrasonographers and more. The education needed to become and advance as a sonographer varies, but rest assured that there is no one path to career advancement. Continue reading to learn more about the field and which educational and career path might be right for you.

Career Advancement for Ultrasound Technicians

With so many different career paths for ultrasound technicians, it can be difficult to know where to start. However, knowing what a typical career path looks like will help you make a decision about specializations, education and if sonography is the field for you.

  • High School Intern

    An internship at a hospital can help high school students become familiar with the healthcare system and take an interest in sonography.

  • Entry-Level Job

    Get your foot in the door by working as a receptionist at a diagnostic center while attending school.

  • Bachelor’s Degree

    Earn a bachelor’s degree in sonography from an accredited school.

  • Certification

    Became a nationally certified ultrasound technician by taking an exam administered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS).

  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

    Begin working as a certified diagnostic medical sonographer at a hospital.

  • Research Sonographer

    Begin working as a research sonographer after working in the field for 15 years.

Top 3 Ways to Advance Your Medical Sonography Career

Sometimes a sonographer may have an established career, but they feel that it’s time for a promotion, pay raise or simply a change of pace. While there are different ways to advance your career, there are three surefire methods to getting the most out your medical sonography career.

1 Pick a Specialty

The first way to advance your sonography career is to pick a specialty. It’s no secret that becoming an expert in a certain topic will make you that much more valuable not only to your practice, but to your patients. Picking a specialty is a great way to proactively further your career, whether you’ve already started your career or you’re picking your track in a university program.

Research specialties while looking for educational programs

One easy way to discover which specialty is right for you is by researching the various areas of study at the school or program of your choice. Learn if they offer specialties in cardiovascular sonography, abdominal sonography, neurosonography or OB/GYN sonography. This works two-fold as you will narrow down options for schooling while also learning more about the field and how you would like to succeed within it.

Find a school that teaches your preferred specialty

When researching and applying to schools, be sure to double and triple check that all your schools offer the program of your choice. By taking that simple, but effective step you’re ensuring that you won’t waste time and money discovering that a program doesn’t offer exactly what you need.

Consider what you’re passionate about

If you’re not quite sure what your best path in sonography is, then consider what causes and diseases you are passionate about. Do you want to help parents see their unborn child? Or help heart disease patients overcome their ailments? In taking the time to learn what interests you, you will choose a specialty that will make you happy in the long run.

2 Further Your Education

It’s been said that one should never stop learning, and that is especially true for diagnostic medial sonographers. Whether you’re looking to complete a bachelor’s degree from an associate degree, or you want to pursue a Ph.D., receiving another degree can open up more job opportunities.

Establish an educational goal

Part of being successful is having a well thought out plan, and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to furthering your education in ultrasound technology. The best way to do this is to establish goals. Think about everything from your dream job to application due dates written down in a visible space that will hold you accountable to pursue your dreams.

Think about your available resources

It’s no secret. School is expensive, but that doesn’t mean that it’s out of reach. When picking the right program for you, be sure to consider how much money you can spend each semester in addition to how much time you can give, and use that information to pick the perfect program for you.

Apply for financial aid

The beauty of going back to school is that there are still a multitude of scholarships, grants and loans to help aspiring ultrasound technicians through the process. Many schools offer cost calculators that can give approximations as to how much a semester will cost in addition to offering various resources to help connect to students to financial aid opportunities.

3 Expand Your Role

Another great way for sonographers to advance their career is to expand their role. This means keeping their role as a sonographer while adding on another responsibility at their current practice, such as becoming a nurse in addition to a medical sonographer.

Reach out to a mentor or supervisor

One of the best ways to learn if expanding your role is the right career move for you is to reach out to a mentor or supervisor that can help you learn about the field and the best way to proceed. They can help you with everything from deciding how to expand your role to discovering whether or not it’s the right choice for you.

Learn about certifications for other positions

Sometimes expanding your role may require additional certifications. Before deciding that it’s the right step for you, be sure to look into what certifications, if any, are needed and what requirements are needed to receive them. For example, medical sonographers that seek to also work as registered nurses will need to pass the NCLEX-RN and become certified.

Network with those you’d like to learn from

One of the greatest boons to any career is networking with purpose. If you are considering expanding your role, reach out to someone who has already done so. They can be an incredible resource in easing the transition should you choose to move forward with expanding your position.

Climbing the Education Ladder: Benefits to Each Sonography Degree

Finding the educational path that’s right for you lies in knowing more than just your career goals. There are a multitude of factors to consider when weighing different ultrasound technology degree options. Continue reading the table below for more information about climbing the education ladder in medical sonography.

  • Advancement Option
  • Prerequisite Degree
  • Possible Degree Titles
  • Estimated Timeline
  • Potential Careers
  • Certificate

  • Completed an accredited educational program within the past three years.

  • ARDMS Certified ARRT Certified

  • 6 months to
    5 years (application/
    examination process)

  • Ultrasound technologistRegistered Vascular Technologist

  • Associate Degree

  • High School Diploma or GED

  • Associate of Applied Science in Diagnostic Medical SonographyAssociate of Arts in Diagnostic Ultrasound Technology

  • 1.5 to 2 years dependent upon full-time or part-time enrollment

  • MRI Technologist Ultrasound TechnologistRadiologic Technologist

  • Bachelor’s Degree

  • Graduated from accredited associate degree programEarned a minimum 2.5 GPADMS licensure and current practice

  • Bachelor’s of Science in SonographyBachelor’s of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

  • Approximately 4 years (full-time)

  • CT TechnologistSupervisor,
    Regional Ultrasound Operations
    EchocardiographerSenior
    Ultrasound Technologist

  • Master’s Degree

  • Bachelor’s degree from accredited institutionMinimum GPA of 3.0

  • Master’s of Science in SonographyMaster of Health Science

  • Approximately 1 to 2 years (full-time)

  • Sonography EducatorPediatric UltrasonographerAdvanced SonographerLead Pediatric Cardiac Sonographer

  • PhD

  • Degree in an accredited master’s in skeletal radiology or osteopathic radiology

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Advanced Diagnostic Radiology

  • Approximately 1 to 2 years (full-time)

  • Ultrasound researcherRadiologistRadiation Oncology

Top 3 Medical Sonography Careers to Advance Into

Some careers are more well-suited for advancement than others, and there are always different benefits and attributes that will make one the most fulfilling choice for someone who’d like to advance. For those wanting to make the professional leap, it’s helpful to know exactly what those careers are and how to get there. Read on to learn more about the three best careers for ultrasonographers to advance into.

Managerial Role

Taking on a managerial role is one of the first things ultrasound techs can do when looking to advance in their careers. Not only does it signify that you are capable of handling greater responsibility, but doing so can also launch your ascent up the career ladder. Here are a few tips that can help you get you well on your way to a managerial role:

Be a model employee

For ultrasonographers looking to be promoted to a managerial position, the first thing that you can do to set yourself apart is to perform daily tasks on time, efficiently and passionately. Demonstrating that you love what you do, and doing a good job with every task is an excellent way to standout in a workplace.

When an opportunity comes, take it

A simple, but often overlooked way to expand your personal growth and open new employment options is to be open and accept extra tasks and opportunities. In remaining open to everything that comes your way, you will establish yourself as the go-to and go-getter of the practice.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a promotion

If you’re looking to move up to a managerial position, but it doesn’t seem like anyone has taken notice, it may be time to pitch the idea yourself. When doing this, it’s important to have a plan. Know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, what you want out of your job and how you’re being that position will make the organization better as a whole.

Ultrasound Researcher

Becoming an ultrasound researcher is ideal for those who want to take an even more scientific approach to the bigger picture of sonography. Ultrasound researchers work closely with research scientists to learn more about the human body and ways to solve some of the nation’s most pressing public health issues.

Pursue a higher degree in sonography

While it’s possible to become an ultrasound researcher with a bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t hurt to get a master’s to become more knowledgeable and qualified to conduct research. Doing so will cement an understanding of research practices, and establish the skills necessary to do useful work in the field.

Gain expertise in an ultrasound specialty

As with many things in life, developing an expertise in a sector of sonography such as OB/GYN or neurosonography will make you a more valuable candidate for a position as a researcher. Being an expert gives you the basis of knowledge that will help you conduct meaningful work.

Reach out to other ultrasound researchers

It’s always a good idea to reach out to others in the field who had a career trajectory similar to that which you want to take. Doing so will help you learn what the best next steps to take are, how to get where you want to go and the qualities that are desired in ultrasound researchers.

Sonography Educator

Becoming a sonography educator is ideal for those who have attained a master’s or doctoral degree in sonography and have a love for both education and sonography. While an excellent option for those who no longer want to work in the field, but still want to remain involved in sonography, there are special steps people can take that will help anyone succeed as a sonography educator.

Earn a Master’s of PhD in sonography

Sonography educators are required to have a higher degree of education themselves. This will not only familiarize them with everything they’ll need to know to be successful as an educator, but it will also create a bond between themselves and the education process.

Consider skills needed to become an educator

Educators have to have certain qualities and skills beyond just that of sonography. They must be compassionate, willing to work with students to help them achieve their goals and understanding of different learning methods.

Minor in education as an undergraduate

Part of learning if becoming an educator may be the right path for you, is minoring in education as an undergraduate. You can also take a few education classes as a way to familiarize yourself with proper education techniques and give yourself a stronger base in educational skills.

A Closer Look: Ultrasound Technician Salary by State

As with any profession, there are variations in salary between different states. Employment outlook for ultrasound technicians is generally very good. On average, ultrasound technicians across the country make around $68,970, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with an unemployment rate of 1.9 percent. Check out the salary and employment map below to compare salaries state by state.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015)

Side-by-Side: Compare Salaries in Allied Healthcare

Knowing how much other professions make in relation to how much schooling it takes to get there, can be just the thing you need to know in order to decide your next professional and educational steps. The table below gives a comparative breakdown of the salaries in different professions in allied healthcare and typical educational requirements.

Career Median Annual Salary (2015) Typical Educational Requirements
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer $68,970 Certificate, Associate or Bachelor’s Degree
Registered Nurse $67,490 Associate or Bachelor’s Degree, NCLEX-RN Exam
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians $50,550 Bachelor’s Degree, some states require licensing.
Radiologic and MRI Technologists $58,120 Associate Degree
Biological technicians $41,650 Associate Degree
Nuclear Medicine Technologists $73,360 Associate Degree
Radiation Therapists $80,220 Associate Degree
Physician Assistants $98,180 Master’s Degree
EMTs and Paramedics $31,980 Post-secondary non-degree award

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015)

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Advancing Your Career

There are several considerations someone should make before advancing in ultrasound technology. These range from looking at the job market to education requirements, and even relocation. Advancing in your sonography career isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. The following list of questions to ask yourself is engineered to help you make the best decision for your personal circumstances and needs.

What is the state of the current job market?

Know what the state of the current job market is, both in your state and nationally. Be realistic that if there is an economic downturn, it may be harder to advance your career in times of fiscal conservatism.

Will you need to relocate?

Sometimes it can be beneficial to relocate to another state when trying to advance your career. If this is the case, know what will be require of you moving to another state, and weigh those against the benefits.

Will you need to get a higher degree?

Going back to school isn’t always the ideal option for everyone. If it seems like you may need to get a higher degree, make sure to look at all your options, the overall time commitment and research financial aid in order to make your final decision.

What are the overall benefits to advancing your career?

Making a list of all the reasons to advance your career can be a very helpful tool. It will help you begin to weigh the worth of making a major career move no matter the career stage you may be in.

What are your motivations?

Considering your motivations for wanting to advance your career will help you decide if the effort is truly worth your time. If the reasons do not justify the cost and hassle of getting more education or relocation, it may be time to reconsider.

Advice from the Field: Expert Tips for Career Growth

Q

Why did you pursue a career as an ultrasound technician? 

A I chose to pursue an ultrasound career because I was interested in a “hands on” medical career with patient interaction and respectable salary, but was not keen on a nursing career.  Ultrasound has a wide range of specialties, remains a growing medical career, and is an interesting, challenging occupation. 

Q

What was the best career advice anyone ever gave you? 

AThe best career advice I received was to get a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and to not put that off.

Q

What are some of the benefits of choosing a career in sonography? 

AIt has a good salary, and opportunity for advancement, widening of scope and growth of skill. It is a challenging and interesting field with a very wide variety of specialties. One can work in obstetrics examining babies or fetal hearts, be in cardiology in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the operating room with the cardiac surgeons during open heart surgeries, be riding the adrenaline rush in the trauma ER, or settle in for a less stressful outpatient or office based practice, or all of the above during your career. Ultrasound also offers “traveling” positions all over the world where hospitals and offices fill temporary needs. These jobs allow people to see the world and experience multiple levels of care and specialty – go to Dubai and work in a trauma center, or go to Mayo Clinic and check out the cardiac program. Some people will work two consecutive three-month travel assignments, then take the next six months off.

Q

Why are careers in sonography important? 

AMedical careers in sonography are important because ultrasound for the patient is fairly simple, non-invasive, safe, inexpensive compared to other modalities, and effective. As imaging technology improves, the capabilities of ultrasound continue to increase. The equipment continually improves and shrinks in size which is allowing portability and telemedicine.  

Additional Career Resources for Sonography