A career as a sonography technologist provides a high degree of job security, because changes in the economy have a minimal impact on those who provide healthcare services. Sonography jobs are particularly secure because nearly every field of medicine relies on sonography imaging examinations to provide diagnostic information. Sonographers are members on the healthcare team whose services will be in demand by an increasingly older population. The U.S. population is aging and will require an array of complex healthcare services. According to the U.S. Census Bureau projections, by 2030 adults aged 65 and over are expected to constitute 20% of the total U.S. population, and they will require the specialized imaging services such as those provided by sonography technologists.
There are many kinds of imaging examinations that may be used to diagnose medical conditions; but of these, sonography is considered the most “patient-friendly”. Ultrasound, unlike x-ray examinations, does not involve any radiation exposure and is rapidly being hailed as the best examination for imaging pediatric patients and pregnant women. Also, in many cases, sonography is less expensive than an x-ray or radiologic examination.
Employment Benefits for Sonographers
While hospitals will continue to be the principal employer of sonography technologists, the demand for sonography staff will also increase in outpatient clinics, physician’s offices and wellness centers. All of these organizations typically provide a wide range of employee benefits such as medical and dental insurance coverage, retirement plan, vacation and sick leave, tuition benefits, parking, uniform allowance, and continuing education reimbursement.
Sonographers are considered important members of a multi-disciplinary team that is dedicated to providing quality medical care. Working in such a team environment provides sonographers with opportunities to meet others with similar medical education and training and promotes professional collaboration and friendships.
A career in sonography also allows individuals to have a flexible schedule and freedom to move to another geographic location without fear of “not finding a job.” One of the benefits of a career in sonography is that a qualified technologist has a choice about how they want to work. Such flexibility includes work that is available as full-time, part-time, temporary, or locum tenens (that is, short-term jobs filling in for others, sometimes for only a few days at a time).
Career Risks in Sonography
A sonographer performs his or her daily duties while standing, walking and using upper body strength to transfer and position patients for examinations. A person considering career in sonography should be healthy and should not have any condition that compromises his or her immunity to common germs. Individuals who have a chronic medical condition may not be best suited for the career.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), healthcare workers, especially sonographers, are at greater risk of on-the-job injury than many other occupations. A recent study by the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography indicates that more than 80% of sonographers experience some degree of work-related injury during their professional careers. The study concluded that these injuries are directly related to individual ergonomic scanning practices, such as poor or incorrect posture. OSHA and sonography professional organizations support equipment designs that will relieve these risks, and educational programs have been developed to educate sonographers about best practices to protect themselves from work-related injuries.
Career Specializations in Sonography
One of the greatest advantages to a career in sonography is the ability to continue to advance and learn new skills. The opportunity to add new skills or specialized competencies is virtually unlimited. Qualified general sonographers may have an interest in additional training in the following specific areas.
Breast sonography provides images to further assess an abnormality identified on a mammogram. It is used to evaluate palpable breast abnormalities and further characterize the mass as either solid or cystic. Breast sonography requires that the technologist have comprehensive knowledge about breast anatomy and physiology. Breast sonographers also participate in interventional breast examinations, which requires skills in sterile technique, surgical treatment and changes to the breast.
Obstetrics and Gynecological Ultrasound
Obstetrics and gynecology sonography provides images of the female reproductive system and is used to evaluate a wide range of disorders and diseases. Sonography is frequently used during pregnancy. First trimester sonography examination is used to visualize the mother’s pelvic structures and certain fetal structures. First trimester sonography is also used to determine gestation age of the fetus, evaluate the baby’s cardiac activity, and to confirm the number of fetuses. Second and third trimester sonography examinations are performed to diagnose complications and anomalies that might require medical intervention.
Vascular sonography is used to evaluate blood flow and to detect abnormalities that may impede circulation. Vascular ultrasound technologists must have advanced knowledge of arterial and venous hemodynamics to obtain quality images. The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) considers vascular sonography a post-primary category of certification. The ARRT designates primary pathways to vascular sonography as satisfactory attainment of radiography, nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, sonography, or magnetic resonance imaging certification. The American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) provides credentialing in vascular technology and provides several avenues for attainment of the registration credential. The Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) also administers an examination for cardiac sonographer, vascular specialist, and phlebotomy sonographer.
Cardiac sonography provides images of the heart and its valves and chambers. Cardiac sonographers work closely with cardiologists and interventional radiologists to diagnose heart failure, vessel blockage, and infarction.
Abdominal sonography provides images that assist in evaluation of organs within the abdominal cavity such as the kidneys, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, spleen, bile duct, and male reproductive organs.
Neurosonography is used to diagnose disorder of the nervous system, which includes scanning the brain and the spinal cord.
Ophthalmologic sonography provides images of the eye to diagnose and track tumors, blood supply conditions, separated retinas, and other surrounding tissue. Ophthalmologic sonography is also used when accurate measurement of the eye is needed for prosthetic lenses.