Ultrasound Tech Job Description

What Do Ultrasound Technologists Do?

Ultrasound technologists, also called ultrasound technicians or diagnostic medical sonographers, work in hospitals, physicians’ clinics or diagnostic imaging centers, where they use ultrasound equipment help detect medical conditions ranging from gall and bladder stones to pregnancy.

Working alongside a physician, an ultrasound technician uses ultrasound to generate images of the interior of the patient's body, which the physician can then use to make a diagnosis. This can be done many different ways depending on the specific condition being diagnosed. (See: ultrasound technician specialties.)

How an Ultrasound Scan Works

During an ultrasound scan, the ultrasound technician uses a small handheld device called a transducer to send a narrow beam of ultrasound into the patient’s body. A conductive gel is used to aid the transmission of sound waves, for better image quality. The ultrasound waves reflect off of objects within the patient's body, and are picked up by the transducer to create a visual "echo."

A machine then translates the data into an image, which is displayed on a monitor. The live image can be recorded to produce video, or can be photographed. Once this process is completed, the ultrasound technician chooses the best images to show to the physician.

Ultrasound scans are most commonly used during fetal imaging, but is also used for a host of other conditions.

Ultrasound Specialties

The field of medical sonography contains several specialties, which focus on different areas of the body.

The ultrasound specialties include:

  • Abdominal sonography (the liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas and male reproductive system)
  • Obstetric and gynecological sonography (the female reproductive system)
  • Neurosonography (the brain and nervous system)
  • Breast sonography
  • Cardiac sonography (the heart)
  • Vascular sonography (the circulatory system)

Though the principle is the same for each specialty, the specific process varies, as well as the training involved. In some instances, the sonographer will use dopplar ultrasound, a type of ultrasound that involves prolonged exposure to the ultrasound beam to create a moving, real-time video image. Dopplar ultrasound is thought to have no more risk to the patient than standard ultrasound.

Here you can find out more about ultrasound technician training, or see salary figures.