Often, people need medical care for an illness or internal injury that a doctor can’t accurately diagnose and treat without seeing the source of the problem. In decades past, this meant invasive procedures, or worse, the illness went untreated or even missed entirely. Today, doctors rely on highly accurate ultrasound machines to allow them to “see” inside a patient’s body without resorting to surgical procedures. Ultrasound technologists or technicians are also known as diagnostic medical sonographers. As their title suggests, these professionals use safe, non-invasive ultrasound technology to view and capture still and video images of various internal organs, muscles, and tissues of the human body. Through the use of high frequency sound waves, ultra sound technologists can view internal organs and other inaccessible body parts from different angles. These captured images and videos are then used to accurately diagnose an illness or condition, confirm a suspected diagnosis, and aid in treatment. In obstetrics, ultrasound is used to safely monitor the progress of a developing fetus without harming either the fetus or the mother.
Despite its technical sounding name, ultrasound technicians aren’t restricted to using only their medical equipment and related instruments. They must also care for patients before, during, and immediately following the ultrasound procedure. The technician must guide and maneuver the patient in various physical positions to ensure a clear, accurate image, but this can become a delicate balancing act when the technician has to simultaneously assure the patient’s comfort and safety.
Once the image or images are recorded, the technician must accurately record the any measurements taken or observations made to prepare an official report for the attending physician.
In most cases, ultrasound technologists perform their professional services in medical centers such as hospitals, clinics, and other specialized healthcare centers. If desired, professionals can specialize in many different sub-fields. Obstetric ultrasound technologists use a sonogram machine to monitor the growth of a developing fetus and check for any abnormalities that might pose a problem for the mother and/or the child. Cardiovascular technologists perform non-invasive cardio and peripheral vascular studies. Cardiac sonographers are ultrasound technologists who analyze the heart, while breast sonographers use ultrasound imaging to target certain tissue clusters in the breast to check for diseases like breast cancer.
Most two- and four-year post-secondary educational institutes offer programs for anyone wishing to enter this field. While a two-year community college program offers sufficient training to gain an entry-level position, a four-year program provides a more thorough education and the opportunity to specialize in an area of interest. If a traditional, campus-based facility is unavailable or inconvenient, students might also consider earning their ultrasound technologist qualifications through online ultrasound degrees.
Career Outlook & Salary
As medical technology advances and new innovations constantly enter the healthcare field, new, skilled ultrasound technologists have excellent employment prospects. In 2010, there were approximately 53,700 ultrasound technologists working in the United States; that number could increase by as much as 44% by the year 2020, which is a significantly faster growth rate than many other industries (Bureau of Labor Statistics).