Ultrasound technicians, also known as ultrasound technologists or diagnostic medical sonographers, are vital members of the healthcare industry who help visualize and record the inner workings of the human body. In the broadest of terms, an ultrasound technician job description involves using a wand-like device called a transducer (or probe) to create a digital image of a patient’s internal organs or blood vessels. This in turn allows a physician to properly diagnose or monitor any irregularities. In actuality, specific job duties can vary greatly depending the individual ultrasound tech’s area of specialization. While it’s certainly not impossible for a tech to specialize in more than one area, most choose to focus on one of three types of sonography: echo, vascular, or general/diagnostic.
What Do Ultrasound Technicians Do?
A majority of ultrasound techs work full-time hours in a hospital settings. However for an ultrasound technician, no two days are exactly the same. Each shift brings with it a new docket of patients with different ailments. The ultrasound technician job description may call for a tech to be on their feet for a majority of the day; working in darkened rooms while performing their scan. Every appointment is different from the last and these sessions can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. When finished, the reports are then sent to a radiologist for review and diagnosis. Like many healthcare jobs, working so closely with a physician or surgeon under stressful circumstances can become a little overwhelming. This is why thorough and proper training from a CAAHEP-certified institution is vital for any prospective ultrasound tech. While only a physician can properly diagnose a patient, a talented ultrasound technician should have an excellent grasp on anatomy and an ability to spot any irregularities with the imaging.
Ultrasound Technician Job Duties
While the types of sonograms performed by a vascular or cardiac sonographer might be vastly different from those performed by a diagnostic sonographer; many of their overall responsibilities are still the same. Almost every ultrasound technician job description will involve the following tasks:
- Greeting the patient and preparing for their exam
- Operating and maintaining the ultrasound equipment or machinery
- Analyzing imaging data to ensure sufficient coverage of test area
- Preparing a summary of findings for the physician
Above all else, it cannot be stressed enough that personality is key in the ultrasound field. Ultrasound techs are, by virtue of their profession, in direct one-on-one contact with the patients. It’s not uncommon for someone getting a sonogram to have a lot of questions so a polite and friendly bedside manner is often considered an unofficial part of the ultrasound technician job description.
How Does an Ultrasound Scan Work?
An important part of the ultrasound technician job description includes being able to understand how ultrasounds work in order to assist doctors in coming up with an accurate diagnosis. The process begins with the technician placing conductive gel on the patient’s body, specifically in the area that the doctor wants to have examined. This water-based translucent gel provides a frictionless surface necessary for an optimal imaging as the transducer sends ultrasound waves into the body. Once the ultrasound beam reflects off of the patient it creates an echo. The transducer picks up this echo and creates an accurate image of the patient’s insides. This image is displayed on a monitor and can be captured as either a series of images or a video. Depending on the purpose of the ultrasound, the technician may show these images immediately to the patient.
Types of Ultrasound Technicians
There are several specialties that fall under the ultrasound technician job description. Most of the ultrasound technician specialties involve a specific medical condition or part of the body. Some of the most common specialties of the ultrasound technician job description include the following:
- Abdominal sonography
- Obstetric and gynecological sonography
- Breast sonography
- Cardiac sonography
- Vascular sonography
Technicians that practice any of these specialties will go through the same training as standard ultrasound technicians. In addition, they will complete additional education courses and training programs designed to prepare them for their specific area of expertise. Specific salary rates can change depending on the demand for each specialty in a given market.
How to Become an Ultrasound Technician
In order to become familiar with all aspects of the ultrasound technician job description, prospective workers will have to complete a comprehensive education program. There are several options available including both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs. If a student wishes to finish their education in less time they can also complete a certificate program. Although certificate programs typically only take one year to complete, students will have to pursue further education if they want to pursue a more specialized position in the ultrasound field. In addition to traditional education programs, students will typically have to complete clinical training that prepares them for most of the duties found under the ultrasound technician job description. This may involve working alongside a trained technician in a hospital or physician’s office. During this time technicians will perform their first ultrasounds under the supervision of a certified professional. Ultimately it is in the best interest of a prospective ultrasound technician to become familiar with the needs/demand of their local community. While cardiovascular and vascular technologists dominate the field on a national level, ultrasound technician job availability will always be determined by the demand of the market.