Also known as ultrasonographers or sonographers, ultrasound technicians work in a variety of fields with specialty equipment to produce images of structures inside the body. The equipment emits inaudible high frequency sound waves that penetrate harmlessly into body tissues, and records the varying reverberations of the sound waves to create an accurate picture of the patient’s body. This sound imaging machinery works in a similar way as radar technology that is used to map ocean floors, except that ultrasound equipment is utilized to map the human body. Specialty areas of the job include using the equipment on the patient’s abdominal area, obstetrics and gynecology for female reproductive health, echocardiography for heart-related issues, nuerosonology for inspection of the brain and spinal cord, and opthalmology for looking at the patient’s eyes and correlating muscles.
Ultrasonographers are responsible for preparing patients for the ultrasound procedure as well as performing the procedure itself. Typically, ultrasonographers explain the procedure to the patient and note any conditions that are relevant to the ultrasound reading. For example, if a patient is scheduled for a mammogram, the patient’s family history of breast cancer as well as self-examination results is recorded. Usually, a gel is applied to the patient’s skin to aid the transmission of the sound waves so that a more accurate image may be obtained. As the images shows up on the equipment’s screen, ultrasonographers examine it for evidence of abnormalities in the patient’s tissues. Some images are then stored for the physician’s records. In addition to these duties, ultrasound technicians are often also in charge of managing and maintaining the equipment they use.
Those looking to join the ultrasound technician field must obtain at least a two-year Associate’s degree from a technician school that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), according to the Lancaster General College of Nursing & Health Sciences. To gain admission to an ultrasound program, applicants must have at least a high school diploma, and most programs prefer students who have a strong background in math, science, or any other healthcare-related subjects. The training program prepares future ultrasonographers with education on anatomy, physiology, physics, equipment use, and medical ethics. Those who are already working in the health care, such as registered nurses, may take a one-year certification course to bolster their marketability in the field.
Upon completion of the program, students can register as professional ultrasonographers with the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), a standard for employment widely accepted in health care facilities across the country. The average salary for ultrasonographers was $57,160 a year in May 2006, according to the most recent information available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, most ultrasound technician salaries vary based on the specialty field in which the technician works, as well as the technician’s experience in the health care industry.