A top ultrasound technician program must be properly accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. A program that has been given formal accreditation will give you the best didactic and clinical education. Whether you are doing a 1-year certificate program as part of a cross-training scheme, or earning an associates, bachelors or master’s degree, prospective employers will expect you to have attended 1 of the many accredited ultrasound technician programs in the nation. For those whose schedule or responsibilities make distance learning a better option, there are some online ultrasound technician programs available. Though this option is growing in popularity, you are more likely to get the most benefit from a traditional campus-based education.
ULTRASOUND TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATE PROGRAMS
As of 2012, there are 84 programs in the U.S. that offer 1-year ultrasound technician certificate programs, but these should really only be considered if you are cross-training from another medical field. When you are looking for a certification program, you should consider opportunities to perform clinical rotations, take formal coursework in Sonography and receive solid training in health and safety procedures.
For any degree level, the best ultrasound technician training programs will always include a number of rotations. At the very least, you should work in obstetrics and gynecology, vascular and abdominal Sonography as part of your program, but it is better if you perform a few more rotations as well. This will make you more marketable once you have graduated, as well as allowing you to see what you are best at and what you most enjoy, which will be helpful when you choose your first specialty.
Didactic Courses in Sonography
Even if you have been working as a nurse or radiology technician, you should still look for an ultrasound tech program that demands 8 hours a week of classroom work. You will need to master the physics of all the equipment and the intricacies of the various forms of Sonography. The more you learn in class, the more ready you will be to jump in feet first when you start the job.
Health and Safety Discussions
Medical professionals already know the importance of maintaining their own health at work, but an ultrasound tech program should include at least an overview of what you will need to do to keep yourself healthy in this field. That will include how to use safety gear and how to monitor any radiation to which you might be exposed. You will also be expected to be fit, as you must be able to push and pull an 800-pound machine, bend, kneel, squat and lift patients on and off tables.
ULTRASOUND TECHNICIAN ASSOCIATES DEGREE PROGRAMS
Ultrasound tech associates degree programs are by far the most common education level in this field. When you are choosing a school, you should know that the best ultrasound tech programs offer include clinical rotations, opportunities to get first-hand patient care experience, coursework in psychology and communication skills training.
The more rotations you do in training, the better an ultrasound technician you will be from your first day. Look for an ultrasound technician program that offers 4 or more rotations throughout your 2 years of study. If you have time, you might want to seek an extra rotation either through your program or as an externship. Employers are looking for candidates with the most experience, and this will help you to secure a higher salary as well.
Patient care is arguably the most important aspect of your job. Successful treatment will in part depend on you and your imaging. You will be expected to take patient histories, explain the procedure and answer any questions. Your patients might be frightened, skeptical, seriously ill or traumatized. It is vital that you learn how to work with people of all ages and backgrounds so that you can help them get well.
A top program will require that you take at least a few courses in psychology. While you are learning how to image the inside of bodies, you will do better work if you understand their brains and psyches. Patients who are embarrassed about their condition or nervous might not tell you the whole truth, or they might be hostile. If you understand how to read their mood and behavior, you will do a better job of being able to communicate with them to achieve the optimum result.
While mastering strong communication skills is obviously necessary for working effectively with patients, it is also vital for working with the rest of your medical team. It can be more challenging to communicate with the doctors than with patients. If you understand a variety of communication techniques before you begin work, you will settle in more comfortably and advance more quickly.
ULTRASOUND TECHNICIAN BACHELORS AND MASTERS DEGREE PROGRAMS
There are only 27 bachelor’s degree programs and 2 master’s degree programs accredited by CAAHEP, and nearly none are online ultrasound technician programs. Things to look for when opting to do a higher degree are clinical rotations and lab coursework, classes that pose real-world scenarios and opportunities to conduct research or perform independent study.
Clinical Rotations and Labs
For higher degree work, you will already have some experience in the field. Continuing to perform clinical work will keep you involved as well as teach you the most advanced levels of Sonography. Students who take higher degrees in the field are those expecting to go into research and teaching, so it is important that they stay fresh and focused.
Courses in Practical Problems
When you first begin work in Sonography, you will encounter concerns and imperfections with the equipment and the imaging. For higher degree work, you will discuss the issues that Sonography was designed to treat in addition to problems within the Sonography field and ways that the discipline can grow. Understanding the problems inherent in the field will give you valuable source material for choosing a research subject.
Research and Independent Study
For master’s degree students, and even some bachelor’s degree students, research is a critical part of the course of study. You will be expected to research and write 1 or more papers that will contribute to the discussion of the discipline and how it might further develop. This will also prepare you for teaching and consultation work. While it is usually not required, you may be encouraged to join a few professional associations, especially the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.