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Can I Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer With an Associate’s Degree?

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Candidates interested in joining the medical industry without spending several years in college often wonder if they can become a diagnostic medical sonographer with an associate’s degree in sonography. The great news for these individuals is not only that an associate’s degree is all that’s required to become a diagnostic medical sonographer, but that it’s the most common path towards this career. While some colleges may offer a certificate or even bachelor’s degree programs, an associate’s degree in sonography is the most common. From this article, you can learn everything you need to know about becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer with a diagnostic medical sonography associate degree.

Ultrasound uses soundwaves to show pictures of the inside of a patient’s body. For example, it is used to find the source of pain or swelling, as well as to examine unborn children and the brain and hips of infants, according to the Radiology Info website. Doppler ultrasound allows blood flow within the body to be seen and tracked. There are three types of Doppler ultrasound. Color Doppler uses different colors to show the direction and speed of the blood flow. Power Doppler, which was more recently developed, shows more detail but does not show direction. Spectral Doppler shows distance-over-time measurements for blood flow rather than displaying in color; it is also capable of converting the information into an audible sound.

According to the Radiology Info website, the equipment used is a computer screen, a computer console, and a transducer. The sonographer places a special gel on the area to be examined, which allows soundwaves to travel more freely. The soundwaves travel back and forth between the area being examined and the transducer. An image will then form on the computer screen. The image is formed based on frequency, amplitude, and the time that it takes for the signal to come back.

Ultrasound is used to evaluate and examine the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, bladder, pancreas, gallbladder, spleen, uterus, liver, eyes, and other parts of the body. It can also help reveal where there are tumors, narrowing of vessels, or blockages to blood flow, among other things. This makes it an invaluable tool for doctors. Diagnostic medical sonographers are essential health workers who clear the way for doctors to save lives.

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To become a diagnostic medical sonographer, an individual must complete an accredited associate’s or bachelor’s degree program in sonography. Diagnostic medical sonography associate degree programs are generally found in community colleges and technical schools. Ultrasound tech associate’s degree programs in vascular and abdominal sonography are also available at these schools. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs should accredit the sonography programs. This is very important, especially because it is usually a condition of certification.

The ultrasound associate’s degree program takes about two years to complete and includes courses in applied sciences, medical terminology, anatomy, vascular sonography, physiology, and abdominal sonography, among other things. Additionally, as part of the ultrasound associate’s degree, the student must complete clinical education to obtain hands-on training working with patients in a real work environment.

Is There Such a Thing as an Online Associate’s Degree in Sonography?

If you want convenient, inexpensive options for your ultrasound technician associate’s degree, you may want to consider studying online. According to Best Colleges, online associate’s degree in sonography options do exist. However, in the article we found, there were only two associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography online options listed. It may be slightly harder to find online sonography associate degree options, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. It may be worth researching ultrasound associate’s degrees to find the best option for you, whether that is an associate degree in diagnostic medical sonography online or an associate’s degree sonography on campus.

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Licensure requirements vary from state to state. Some might require a diagnostic medical sonographer to be licensed, but others may not. In states where licensure is required, it may be obtained by passing a certification exam or a state licensing exam, depending on the state requirements. Some employers also require their diagnostic medical sonographers to be certified, as a condition for employment.

Medicare, Medicaid, and some insurance companies will not pay unless certified sonographers or technologists performed the sonography procedures. Certification, which is obtained by passing a certification exam, can be obtained through organizations like the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI).

Areas of Specialization in Sonography

Diagnostic medical sonographers who have completed an ultrasound technician associate’s degree can choose to complete a training program, obtain certification, and begin working in the radiography department of a hospital or clinic. They can also choose to specialize in one or more other areas of sonography to enhance their career opportunities. Here are some of the available areas of specialization an aspiring sonographer can choose to pursue. Certification in these specialized areas can be obtained through the ARDMS.

  • Breast sonography
    • Breast sonography, also known as ultrasound, is usually safe for those who cannot safely have x-rays, such as pregnant women. It is not usually done to screen for breast cancer, according to Health Images. Instead, it is used if a screening mammogram gives unexpected results and the physician wants to follow up. As well as producing an image for examination, ultrasound may be used to guide a physician in collecting a tissue sample to be tested for breast cancer. While a breast ultrasound may not be as effective as a mammogram for catching early signs of breast cancer, it may be safer for some women, such as pregnant women or younger women.
  • Echocardiography
    • According to Mayo Clinic, an echocardiogram “uses sound waves to produce an image of your heart.” These images show your heart pumping blood and allow doctors to check for heart disease. There is more than one type of echocardiogram. A transthoracic echocardiogram is the most standard. In this type of echocardiogram, the transducer is handheld and is pressed against the skin on the chest. If the heart is still difficult to see, an enhancing agent may be injected through an intravenous, or IV, line to make your heart show up more clearly. The second type of echocardiogram is the transesophageal echocardiogram. The patient’s throat is numbed, then a tube with a transducer on it is guided down their esophagus. The transducer picks up the sound wave echoes from the heart, allowing an image to be formed on the monitor.
  • Vascular sonography
    • This specialization within sonography uses ultrasound to examine the blood flow in veins and arteries, according to Gurnick Academy. This is useful for reaching a diagnosis of congenital vascular malformations, deep vein thrombosis, or atherosclerosis; helping doctors determine whether a patient should undergo certain vascular procedures, like angioplasty; and evaluating whether procedures such as bypass surgery or graft transplantations have been successful. Vascular sonography usually takes place in the radiology department or vascular laboratory of a hospital; however, the equipment is usually quite portable and can be brought to different parts of a hospital if it is needed for emergency use.
  • Abdominal sonography
    • Abdominal sonography is used to check for a variety of problems in the abdominal area, such as gallstones, abdominal aortic aneurysm, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, cancer, fatty liver disease, enlarged spleen, or bladder stones. What is being examined are the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidneys, spleen, bladder, and abdominal blood vessels. According to Cleveland Clinic, abdominal sonography is a commonly used branch of sonography.
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
    • This branch of sonography deals with the health of pregnant women and their unborn children, according to Ultrasound Schools Guide. Those who focus on obstetrics are experts in coming up with a clear image of the child and finding information about development, while gynecologists examine the female reproductive system. Ultrasound is used routinely in this field, not only when a doctor thinks there is a problem, but to check on the regular development and growth of the unborn child and to ensure that there is no problem. The sonographer, also known as an ultrasound technician, does not diagnose a problem, if there is one. Instead, they make it easier for the doctor to do so, with the images from the ultrasound.

Career Goals as a Sonographer

With the aging population in need of professionals to diagnose medical conditions, diagnostic medical sonographers will continue to be in demand, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Sonographers should see employment growth of 12 percent during the 2019-2029 decade, which is much faster than average. A May 2020 report by the BLS states that diagnostic medical sonographers earned an average annual wage of $75,920. Those who obtain multiple certifications in various areas of sonography typically experience the highest wages. California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Illinois employed the highest number of diagnostic medical sonographers, as of May 2020.

Diagnostic medical sonography is a field that offers many career opportunities and excellent wages. Diagnostic medical sonographers also have the option to advance into other areas of sonography, making it an excellent career choice. The fact that it only requires an associate’s degree makes it ideal for many candidates who are interested in joining the workforce sooner rather than later.

What Makes a Good Sonographer?

A good sonographer must, first and foremost, be well trained. Since this field involves the use of technology, it is essential that those operating the technology are knowledgeable and comfortable with its use. This is why many states and employers insist that the sonographer be certified. This field, which is so important for helping doctors diagnose issues in order to treat them, requires both theoretical and practical knowledge for the sonographer to be successful. This is why associate’s degree sonography graduates must be so well prepared.

A sonography associate’s degree is only the first step to becoming a good sonographer, and there are other skills a sonographer needs that are not learned in school or from a sonography associate’s degree. Ultrasound Technician Center lists 10 characteristics that make a good sonographer. These are not skills that can be learned with an ultrasound tech associate’s degree, but they are interpersonal skills that put patients at ease, make the technician easy for other professionals to work with, and overall make interactions with them a memorably pleasant experience. One of these skills is problem-solving. When working with people or with technology, it is important to have good problem-solving skills. This is still more important, however, when someone will be working with both at once, all of the time. If the sonographer is able to think clearly to solve problems, they will be able to keep patients calm while they solve those problems and make the experience better for everyone involved.

It is also important that a sonographer is patient. This is necessary because those who come in to be examined by ultrasound are often concerned about potential or existing health issues, and these concerns can make people difficult to work with. A patient sonographer will go a long way towards making the situation better. A good sonographer must also have the ability to coordinate well with others. The sonographer is often the link between several people, such as the imaging department, the patient, and doctors. This means that they must have the skills to communicate not only the technical information they need to convey, but the concerns of the patients they are working with.

In conclusion, diagnostic medical sonography is a field where you can make a difference. You may not have the desire to stay in school for many years, but still want to make a reasonable amount of money in your career. You may be interested in the healthcare field as a means of helping people, but concerned about the cost of school or the time it will take. Careers in the healthcare field have a reputation for paying well and for making a positive difference in the lives of others, but also for taking a great deal of time to prepare for. This is an option that offers many of the benefits of this field without the setbacks of excessive time or money.

OAD Staff
August 2021

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This concludes our article about how to become a diagnostic medical sonographer with an associate’s degree.