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Sonography is the use of sound waves to create and capture images of various body systems for diagnostic review in areas like obstetrics (think: fetal ultrasound). Diagnostic medical sonographers operate echo-capturing equipment to study organs, document resulting images by photograph or video. They then send these images to physicians for diagnosis.
The practical details of diagnostic medical sonographers' duties include reviewing a patient's medical history, explaining the upcoming procedure, and selecting the proper equipment. They properly position the patient for optimal imaging, apply some sort of medium--typically a gel--to assist in transmission, then use a divice called a transducer to emit and capture sound waves for imaging. Sonographers then analyze these images on a screen to identify potential medical problems, providing physicians with the images and reports used in diagnosis. Because they do not have the same extensive medical training doctors must have, sonography professionals typically do not make official diagnoses or discuss results with patients.
Because sonographic technology is useful throughout a plethora of medical disciplines, many diagnostic medical sonographers choose a specialty. Those specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, for example, may use sonography to create images of the female reproductive system and perform check-ups on pregnant women and their fetuses. Neurosonographers specialize in the nervous system and brain, aiding the diagnosis of neurological disorders or blood vessel abnormalities. Abdominal sonographers have advanced knowledge of the: gallbladder, liver, kidneys, bile ducts, pancreas, and spleen.
Diagnostic medical sonographers can benefit from a strong foundation in mathematics and science. Because they must work directly with apprehensive patients, explaining procedures and answering questions, good communication and interpersonal skills are a must.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median income of $61,980 in 2008. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $83,950. Earnings were comparable for those employed by hospitals, physicians' offices, and medical laboratories.
Training and Education
Diagnostic medical sonographers can pursue career training in a variety of settings, including technical schools, campus or accredited online universities, hospitals, or the Armed Forces. Those earning associate's or bachelor's degrees in medical sonography typically undergo 2 or 4 years of formal study, including coursework in science, use of equipment and instruments, ethics, and patient care.
While most applicants to medical sonography programs are high school graduates, some programs are designed specifically for those with training or experience in healthcare. For example, some nurses and technologists seek training in sonography to supplement their skills and their resumes. These types of programs typically require one year of study and lead to a certificate. There are more than 100 programs across the U.S. that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs.
While state licensure is not a requirement, many sonographers register with the American Registry of Diagnosic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) to improve their marketability. In order to register with the ARDMS, applicants must pass two exams: one in general physics and instrumentation, and the other within their chosen specialty. Continuing education courses (CECs) are required for registration renewal.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, diagnostic medical sonographers held 46,000 jobs in 2006. While about half of these professionals worked in public and private hospitals, many worked in physicans' offices, medical laboratories, and mobile imaging services.
Diagnostic medical sonographers enjoy faster-than-average employment growth. In fact, thanks to an aging population and increased demand, the field is expected to increase by 19 percent through 2016. While hospitals will continue to employ the largest percentage of sonographers, opportunities are increasing within physicians' offices and diagnostic laboratories.