How to Become an Ultrasound Technician: Steps to Take

January 8, 2024
5 min read
Contents

”Akhil

Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 1/8/24

Are you thinking about becoming an ultrasound technician? This guide will cover how to become an ultrasound technician, the types of ultrasound technicians, and how much you can make. 

There will always be a high demand for jobs in the medical field. Especially in the U.S., where the healthcare industry is the largest employer in the country. 

There are many careers in the healthcare field that are in demand that don't require a person to become a nurse or a doctor. These careers also don't require many years of education compared to nursing and physician careers.

An ultrasound technician is one of those careers in the medical field with great potential. According to U.S. News, diagnostic medical sonographers are ranked #6 in best healthcare support jobs and #64 in best jobs. 

Keep reading if you're curious about this fantastic career and want to learn more about it!

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What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

​​An ultrasound technician conducts sonography using specialized equipment to examine parts of the human body, including the abdomen, reproductive systems, prostate, heart, and blood vessels. 

The equipment that ultrasound technicians use is a camera-like probe that is placed directly on the patient's skin, where it records images and videos. The ultrasound technician then sends the images and recordings to the physician who ordered the test.

Sonography uses sound waves instead of radiation to create an image of the internal organs. It provides physicians with a clear view of a patient's organs so that they can find and diagnose any problems they might be experiencing. 

Pregnant woman receiving ultrasound

How Hard Is it to Become an Ultrasound Technician?

Becoming an ultrasound technician is definitely doable, but it comes with its challenges. How hard it really depends on your starting point and how much time you're willing to invest.

If you're already in a related healthcare field like nursing or radiologic technology, you can opt for a shorter certificate program that takes around 1-2 years. On the other hand, if you're starting from scratch, you might go for an associate's degree, which usually takes about 2-3 years, or even a bachelor's degree, which is a 4-year commitment.

The coursework can be a bit tough, especially the technical stuff like anatomy, physiology, and ultrasound physics. You'll need to wrap your head around some complex medical and tech concepts, but it's all part of the learning process.

One thing to keep in mind is that these programs don't just involve hitting the books. They also include hands-on clinical training where you'll work with real patients and get your hands on ultrasound equipment under the guidance of experienced professionals. This part of the training is crucial because it's where you put your knowledge into practice.

Once you've completed your program, you'll likely need to pass a certification exam, such as the one offered by the ARDMS, to become a registered diagnostic medical sonographer (RDMS). Certification requirements can vary by state, so be sure to check what's needed where you plan to work.

In summary, while becoming an ultrasound technician can be challenging, it's a doable path if you're willing to put in the time and effort. It's a rewarding career in the healthcare field that offers the opportunity to make a real difference in patient care.

How Long Does It Take To Become an Ultrasound Technician?

It typically takes two years to complete to become an ultrasound technician. This includes completing your education, gaining certification, and obtaining practical experience.

ultrasound on computer screen

Steps to Becoming an Ultrasound Technician

Below are the steps to becoming an ultrasound technician. 

1. Complete Formal Education

To become an ultrasound technician, you must complete a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor's degree.

Most ultrasound technicians complete their educational program in health sciences, biology, chemistry, or anatomy. If you want, you can also attend a school that offers programs that focus on sonography, called diagnostic medical imaging. 

2. Consider a Specialty

Ultrasound technicians specialize in specific fields in the healthcare industry. Before pursuing a certification, you must choose a specialty. Here are some specialties you can consider.

  • Vascular or cardiac
  • Abdominal
  • Neuro
  • Breast
  • Obstetric 

You also have the option to specialize in more than one field. You must earn your certification for the various fields you plan on practicing in.

3. Complete Certification

There are three pathways you can choose to complete your ultrasound technician certification. They are the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).

Each of those programs has its requirements and timeline, here's more information about each of the programs.

ARDMS

Offers five certification courses that focus on different areas of sonography. Below are the following certificates they offer.

  • Midwife Sonography Certificate
  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS)
  • Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS)
  • Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT)
  • Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS)

It’s important to note that you’ll need to reapply for this certification after six years and pay a fee annually. 

CCI

Here are the following certificates the CCI offers.

  • Advanced Cardiac Sonographer (ACS)
  • Certified Cardiographic Technician (CCT)
  • Certified Rhythm Analysis Technician (CRAT)
  • Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS)
  • Registered Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist (RCES)
  • Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS)
  • Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS)
  • Registered Phlebology Sonographer (RPhS)
  • Registered Vascular Specialist (RVS)

To maintain certification, you must pay a fee after your first year and show proof of your continuing education every three years. 

ARRT

This pathway allows you to earn advanced certification. To maintain your certification, you must pay an annual fee and show proof of completion of the required coursework every two years. 

Types of Ultrasound Technicians

There are several types of ultrasound technicians, each specializing in a particular area of the body. Below are some common types of ultrasound technicians. 

Medical Sonographer

A medical sonographer aids physicians in diagnosing patients who experience symptoms that need to be internally examined. They’re also referred to as ultrasound technicians because they use ultrasound equipment to take medical imaging. 

Cardiovascular Sonographer

These ultrasound technicians use specialized ultrasound equipment to produce detailed images of the heart. 

They may also use ultrasound equipment to visualize the blood vessels, including the aorta, carotid arteries, and peripheral vessels. Cardiovascular sonographers often use 2D and 3D images of the heart to examine its structure and find irregularities. 

Abdominal Sonographer

Abdominal sonographers take diagnostic images of organs within the abdominal cavity, including the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and kidneys. 

They often work in hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities. Abdominal sonographers undergo extensive training in different areas of the abdomen to aid physicians in diagnosing patients' medical conditions. 

Obstetric Sonographer

This type of ultrasound technician specializes in taking images of fetuses during pregnancy. Obstetric sonographers evaluate the growth of a fetus and track its development. They can also take images of the uterus to see if someone is pregnant and predict the patient's due date.

Woman looking at ultrasound images

Musculoskeletal Sonographer

A musculoskeletal sonographer takes images of the muscles, bones, and joints and is used to diagnose musculoskeletal disorders. They often use the images to identify medical conditions that affect the patient's mobility. Musculoskeletal sonographers look for conditions such as broken bones, sprains, strains, inflammation, cysts, and hernias.

Musculoskeletal sonographers frequently work in medical facilities, hospitals, and emergency rooms because they focus on diagnosing injuries or accidents. 

Breast Sonographer

Breast sonographers use specialized ultrasound equipment to create detailed images of the breast tissue, which can help identify any abnormalities indicative of breast cancer or other breast health conditions. 

Breast sonographers work closely with radiologists or other healthcare professionals to interpret the images and provide guidance on further testing or treatment options.

Neurosonographer 

A neurosonographer is a medical professional who uses ultrasound imaging to produce detailed images of the brain and other parts of the nervous system. 

Neuro sonographers typically work closely with neurologists and other medical professionals to diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain and nervous systems, such as strokes, brain tumors, and aneurysms. 

Neuro sonographers may also perform and interpret the results of other diagnostic tests, such as electromyography (EMG) and electroencephalography (EEG).

Ultrasound Technician Salary

In recent reports, the average annual ultrasound technician salary in the U.S. is $87,623 a year. Below is a chart of the monthly, weekly, and hourly wages of various earners in this field.

Annual Salary Hourly Wage
Top Earners $146,500 $73
75th Percentile $127,000 $63
Average $127,000 $52
25th Percentile $127,000 $38

Source: ZipRecruiter

The job outlook for ultrasound technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2021 to 2031. It's estimated that there will be 10,100 job openings for ultrasound technicians each year. 

Becoming an Ultrasound Technician: FAQs

If you still have questions about how to become an ultrasound technician, check out these frequently asked questions. 

1. What Type of Ultrasound Tech Makes The Most Money?

Neurosonology sonographers are the highest-paid ultrasound tech, followed by pediatric cardiac and cardiovascular sonographers. They can earn over $100,000 a year. 

2. Is Being an Ultrasound Tech Worth It?

Yes, being an ultrasound technician is worth it. It's a career with amazing earning potential, many job opportunities, and the ability to enter the market quickly. If you're seriously considering entering the medical field, a career as an ultrasound technician is worth considering. 

Final Thoughts

Becoming an ultrasound technician and helping patients better their health can be rewarding and challenging. If you're considering a career as an ultrasound technician, this article has guided you by providing you with the information you need to become and succeed as an ultrasound technician. 

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