When most people think of ultrasound technicians they think of individuals who work with pregnant women all day and tell expecting parents whether or not they are having a boy or a girl. Although understandable, this is a gross oversimplification of the profession.
Ultrasound technicians, also interchangeably referred to as a diagnostic medical sonographers or ultrasonographers, are trained in the use and application of high frequency sound waves to aid radiologists and doctors in producing images of the human body, the detection and location of objects inside the body and various types of identification and measurement to ascertain the efficacy of treatment regimens prescribed by a patient’s physician. Ultrasound is an oscillating sound pressure wave with a frequency greater than that at which human beings can hear, with a few minor exceptions. Similar to how scientists and maritime boat captains will map the bottom of the ocean, the ultrasound machine is used by ultrasonographers to map the inside of the human body. The ultrasound machine emits high frequency sound waves and waits for reverberations to detect objects and abnormalities inside the body and then converts these readings into a visual image for analysis.
Though Americans almost singularly think of pregnant women and ultrasounds when it comes to the use of this technology, ultrasound technicians play vital roles in diagnosing nearly every aspect of the human body with this technology. Examples include renal and abdominal ultrasounds used to diagnose the condition of the kidneys, pancreas, liver, spleen and gallbladder. A transvaginal ultrasound is used to detect any abnormalities in a woman’s ovaries or uterus. Men are sometimes required to undergo a transrectal ultrasound to examine the health of the prostate. Ultrasonography is also used for noninvasive assessment of a patient’s brain, eyes, heart and spine. These are just a few of the different uses and types of ultrasounds a technician may be asked to perform.
Typically, a technician will place ultrasonic transducers paddles in direct contact with the skin and use the natural vibrations found in sound to produce an image of that area of the body. Other instances, like the aforementioned transrectal examination require a probe to be inserted into the rectum of the patient so that an image can be produced for a doctor’s diagnosis.
Generally speaking, the various applications of ultrasound technology causes little, if any, discomfort to patients. For this reason, whether a patient is critically ill or in good health, ultrasound technicians are capable of experiencing profoundly high levels of job satisfaction and personal fulfillment while minimizing some of the more stressful and uncomfortable aspects that can be experienced by professionals in the medical field.
Ultrasound technicians are often required to do more than simply administer the diagnostic treatment. Technicians may be responsible for educating and informing the patient about the procedure and providing them with expectations and answers to common questions. Additionally, ultrasonographers may gather background history and information about the patient with respect to conditions pertinent to the specific focus of the ultrasonic diagnosis. Technicians also analyze and evaluate the images produced by the transducers and ultrasonic equipment to determine whether or not any abnormalities are present. Images are then stored for further review by doctors and specialists. Finally, technicians are often expected to utilize preventative maintenance protocols and maintain the equipment they use so that it stays in good working order.
Though you will obviously find ultrasound technicians working in hospitals, there are a variety of workplace options for those seeking to pursue a career in this field. With the advancement in ultrasound technology and the decreasing cost to purchase this equipment, ultrasound technicians may work directly in physician offices and clinics. Even veterinarian offices and clinics offer opportunities.
An ultrasound technician working for a physician specializing in a certain field of medicine would correspondingly possess training in that specific field as well.
With an accelerating American demographic shift towards an older population due to aging baby boomers entering retirement and increasing life expectancies, the market for ultrasound technicians is believed to be strong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market for diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to grow by 44% between 2010 and 2020. This is far greater than average. According to the BLS, sonographers can expect to make on average more than $64,000 a year. And those in the top 10% of the profession average close to $90,000 a year. Not bad for a profession that does not require a four-year degree.
Below you will find additional resources and information for those seeking to learn more about how to become an ultrasound technician.