Guide to Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Career

Overview

A diagnostic medical sonographer (DMS) falls under one of the many allied health professions. Allied health professions are those professions that provide critical support and structure to the medical industry. It is estimated in a study by the University of California San Francisco that allied health professions make up over 60% of the total workforce.

Diagnostic medical sonography is a branch of medical imaging that uses equipment to take 2D and 3D images of the body. The imaging technology uses sound waves to enter the patient’s body that creates an image and then outputs it. With the help of this output, a trained professional attempts to diagnose the patient to learn about the illness or disease. The benefit here is that without having to enter the patient’s body through invasive surgery, a physician can determine the disease or illness. This is also used for preventative measures.

What is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

A diagnostic medical sonographer is a highly trained healthcare professional who works in close contact with patients to carry out ultrasound scanning. Ultrasound scanning uses high-frequency sound waves to allow visualization of internal body structures, including monitoring of a fetus in-utero. Working closely with a doctor who interprets ultrasound scanning, the sonographer is the individual who actually performs the scan. They can work in a variety of locations including hospitals and private clinics.

Putting a patient at ease, making sure they are comfortable and ensuring they fully understand the procedure they are having, are all important aspects of being a successful diagnostic medical sonographer. The role requires technical ability coupled with excellent patient communication abilities.

Individuals are responsible for gaining relevant patient history and symptom information and working to obtain the clearest and most detailed images possible for the physician to interpret. They’re also required to provide written information to the physician about the scan procedure and findings.

Ultrasound scanning is being used for detection and diagnosis of increasing complex conditions and the role of the diagnostic medical sonographer requires commitment to ongoing learning and development to keep up with these advances.

What Does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Do?

Listed below is selection of job duties that most diagnostic medical sonographers are expected to perform. Keep in mind that these are just a sample set of duties and they may generally vary from office to office.

  1. You will need to keep imagining equipment in working condition as per compliance rules and regulations. All equipment must be maintained in top working condition.
  2. Once a patient comes in, you will need to prepare the patient for the procedure – whichever it may be.
  3. The patient’s history must be accurately taken and recorded before the procedure.
  4. It is also your duty to answer any questions patients may have in regards to the procedure. You need to make the patient at ease and comfortable.
  5. You should be responsible for the safety and well-being of patients in the procedure area.
  6. Once you take the image, you need to make sure that the quality and clarity of the image are up to the standards.
  7. You need to have a basic understanding of imaging output so that you can tell the difference between normal and abnormal output. You will also have to analyze the preliminary findings for physicians.
  8. A complete record of every patient that visits should be kept and archived for future reference.

Where Does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Work?

Medical diagnostic sonographers can work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, clinics, physician offices and medical centers. Ultrasounds, sonograms and echocardiograms are the commonly used procedures. If you wish to add value and worth to the diagnostic and preventative medical industry then this is a great way to fulfill your aspirations. This is a popular field which is gradually expanding as you will soon read below.

What is the Career Outlook for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

As stated earlier, the industry of diagnostic medical sonography is experiencing growth and expansion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the employment growth in this field is expected to be 39% over the period of 2012 to 2022 which translates to about 23,400 jobs (bls.gov).

With the increasing awareness of preventative medicine, individuals are more concerned about the future of their health. It is best to diagnose an issue as early as possible to immediately take precautionary and preventative measures to avoid complications down the road.

How Much Does Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Earn?

According to the database on The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), the average annual salary for diagnostic medical sonographers in May 2014 was $68,390 which translates to about $32.88 per hour. As a matter of fact, the top 10% in this field earned more than $93,850 per year. Like with any field, as you gain more experience working with a number of patients and cases, your earning capacity may increase.

What are the Education Requirements to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Many colleges and universities offer associate’s and bachelor’s programs in sonography. These programs thoroughly equip students with the basic and advance principles of sonography. Furthermore, one-year certificate programs are also available and are usually useful for individuals already employed in healthcare jobs.

It is also possible for candidates to undergo on-the-job training after completing a program in radiologic technology. With the basic relevant academic knowledge and training, a candidate can gradually learn under the watchful eye of a supervisor.

Employers may prefer candidates to undergo programs that are accredited by Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (caahep.org) as this way a minimum standard of industry excellence is guaranteed. Do visit the website to learn about such programs. Another good resource for you to visit is the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Inc. (ardms.org). This is the globally recognized standard of excellence in sonography and should be considered.

What Skills are Required to be a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

The skills needed to become a successful diagnostic medical sonographer are rather varied and very specific:

  • Outstanding skills in written communication – they need to analyze complex written information to understand patients referrals. They also need to be able to write a clear and concise summary of their findings to be used by other healthcare professionals – there can be no ambiguity in these reviews.
  • To be able to explain medical terminology in a simplified way – Diagnostic medical sonographers have excellent knowledge of medical terminology but they also need to be able to explain these as well as the technical aspects of the procedures to patients.
  • Interpersonal skills – often meeting patients at an extremely difficult and worrying time, they need to be able to put patients at ease.
  • Technical abilities along with keen attention to detail – Diagnostic medical sonographers need excellent technical skills and to be exceptionally detail orientated to utilize their technology to provide the clearest representation of findings and produce high quality images of great value.
  • Hand-eye coordination – as well as attention to detail and technical abilities, they must possess excellent hand-eye coordination to maximize to benefits of both. Skills in this area mean that procedures are done as efficiently as possible which is highly beneficial to patients.
  • Critical thinking – they must also be able to assess situations quickly and respond appropriately. This is important in response to both potentially unexpected procedural findings and patient reactions to the procedure.

What are the Qualities of a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

  • Communication – possibly most important is naturally effective communication. They need to be able to successfully switch between the demanding technical portion of their role and the patient care aspect. They need to put a patient at ease with a friendly manner but respond well to patient cues to how much conversation is appropriate.
  • Empathy – Diagnostic Medical Sonographers must be compassionate. Whilst the role can be very technically demanding, they must be mindful that they are meeting patients at a stressful and potentially worrying time – they have to be able to discuss the patient’s medical issues in a genuinely compassionate way.
  • Discretion and strong sense of professionalism – as with all healthcare professionals, they need to maintain strict patient confidentiality. In addition, a strong and obvious sense of professionalism is needed to calm and reassure patients throughout their entire visit.
  • Personable – patients are likely worried and possibly unsure of the procedure when they arrive. The diagnostic medical sonographer should be the type of person who can immediately make someone feel welcome, safe and at ease.
  • Rational – they need to be naturally calm and able to think rationally ‘on their feet’. They need to be able to assess situations quickly but, more importantly, accurately.
  • Judgement – Diagnostic medical sonographers need to be able to make decisions and execute judgement based on their training, with confidence.
  • Effective team working – whilst primarily working on their own throughout procedures, they need to be able to work well within a team of healthcare professionals for the ultimate benefit of their patients.

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