Preparing for Ultrasound Technician School

Colleges and universities offer both two-year associate’s and four-year bachelor’s degree programs in sonography and in cardiovascular and vascular technology. One-year certificate programs also are available from specific trade colleges and some hospitals.

Sonography, cardiovascular, echocardiography and vascular education programs usually include courses in anatomy, medical terminology, and applied sciences. Most sonography programs are divided into the specialized fields that correspond to the relevant certification exams, such as abdominal sonography or breast sonography. Cardiovascular and vascular programs include coursework in either invasive or noninvasive cardiovascular or vascular technology procedures. In addition to requiring classroom study, most programs include a clinical component in which students earn credit while working under a more experienced technologist in a hospital, a physician’s office, or an imaging laboratory.

Ultrasound technologist training is generally geared toward providing the student with practical, real-world medical and ultrasound knowledge and principles, including practices and techniques the student can apply directly to an entry-level medical sonographer position in a hospital, physician’s clinic, diagnostic imaging center or other health care facility.

Students are typically trained on one or more ultrasound specialties, where they learn to conduct ultrasound scans of the abdomen, pelvis (including the pregnant female pelvis), vascular systems, brain and nervous system, and superficial structures. Depending on the program, the student may also learn basic medical office assistant practices and other administrative duties.

The basic course consists of a lecture where fundamental theories and principles are introduced, a lab where students apply these principles using real world circumstances, and an externship where the student performs the duties of an ultrasound technician at a medical facility.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Curriculum

The specific topics covered during ultrasound training vary depending on the school, but some topics are covered consistently by the vast majority of ultrasound training programs. They are:

Anatomy: The study of the human body and the structure of its internal organs. Anatomy is a branch of biology

Physiology: Closely related to anatomy, physiology is the study of the functions of the healthy body’s internal organs

Medical terminology: An overview of the language and terminology used in medical professions, including word etymology (history) and construction

Ultrasound principles: The basic fundamentals of ultrasound, including the characteristics of echoes, Doppler ultrasound, bioeffects and safety

Physics: The study of matter, forces and motion, and how physical structures behave when forces are introduced

Equipment use and maintenance: Training on the proper use and care of ultrasound instruments such as the transducer, display, scan converter and hard copy units

Patient care: Communication techniques and the fundamentals of taking patient history, as well as sterile techniques and body mechanics

Medical law and ethics: The study of the relationships between law, ethics and bioethics as they apply to health care professionals

Ultrasound/Sonography Externships

At the end of the curriculum-based portion of the training, ultrasound students engage in an unpaid externship at a hospital or clinic, where they perform typical ultrasound duties under the supervision of a sonographer or physician.

The externship is usually 960 hours, or 40 hours a week for 24 weeks, during which the student maintains a log and undergoes performance evaluations. Externship sites are usually assigned by the school, and can include hospitals, physicians’ clinics or diagnostic imaging centers.

Upon completion of the externship, assuming good performance and grades, the student is qualified to take any exams their school is accredited for, and to pursue entry-level employment as a diagnostic medical sonographer.

Depending on the school, the student may be placed at the same site as the externship or may have access to school-based placement services.

Tuition & Costs

Tuition and additional costs such as room and board can vary greatly depending on the type of school, location and the level of degree. Many schools offer financial aid packages for student loans as well as local and national scholarships.

For example, certificates in sonography can cost between $5,000-$25,000 and can be completed in one to two years. A one-year certificate in sonography from Mercy Medical Center in Canton, OH, costs $13,000. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, offers a 21-month certificate in sonography for $24,000.

Associate's degree programs in diagnostic medical sonography cost about $6,000-$40,000 total and may last two to four years. For example, Bunker Hill Community College in Boston offers a two-year Associate of Arts degree in sonography which costs $6,800 total for tuition and fees for residents and $16,600 for non-residents. An 18-month associate's degree program from San Joaquin Valley College in Bakersfield, CA, costs $38,000 including books and fees.

A bachelor's degree in sonography can cost about $30,000-$48,000. Rush University in Chicago offers a bachelor's in vascular ultrasound for $44,640 tuition and fees over seven academic quarters. New York Methodist Hospital offers a bachelor's degree in coordination with two colleges. The program costs $16,000 per year the first two years and $8,000 per year for the second two years through partnership with the Clarion University of Pennsylvania online program, for a total of about $48,000.

To learn more about specific tuitions costs and financial aid packages contact the school directly. An admissions representative will be able to advise on available scholarships, financial aid, and student loan options.

Financial Aid & Student Loan Information

Individual schools may offer scholarships to qualified students. We highly suggest inquiring about available scholarships while going through the student loan process. Below is a list of the nationally awarded scholarship programs for those looking to attend sonography school.

SDMS Foundation Scholarship Programs

The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) Foundation is pleased to offer scholarships to support the sonography community.

Sonography Student Scholarship

The SDMS Foundation Sonography Student Scholarship Program provides a $2,500 scholarship to a deserving sonography student who has been accepted or is currently enrolled in an educational program in diagnostic medical sonography or cardiovascular technology that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Educational Programs (CAAHEP). Applications for this scholarship opportunity are accepted throughout the year, and judging occurs following the June 30 and December 31 deadlines.

Advanced Degree Scholarship

The SDMS Foundation Sonographer Advanced Degree Scholarship Program awards a $2,500 scholarship to a deserving sonographer who has a minimum of two (2) years full-time sonography experience and has been accepted or is currently enrolled in an advanced sonography-related* degree program (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral) in an accredited institution recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Applications for this scholarship opportunity are accepted between January 1 and June 30 each year.

The American Society of Echocardiography Travel Grants & Scholarships

The ASE Foundation offers numerous student, sonographer, and fellow travel grants and scholarships to support training and educational conference participation. By fostering the next generation of cardiovascular ultrasound professionals, the ASE Foundation is ensuring that echocardiography continues to play a prominent role in the future of healthcare.

ASEF Council Travel Grants

The ASE Foundation funds Council Travel Grants each spring for trainees to support their attendance at the ASE Annual Scientific Sessions. These travel grants are part of an ongoing effort by the Foundation, in assistance with the Council Steering Committees, to encourage trainees to focus on sub-specialty practice. By facilitating their attendance at the annual meeting, these grants provide trainees with a deeper understanding of the imaging field, and cultivate the development of meaningful mentoring relationships with established imaging faculty.

Click here for application criteria

Alan D. Waggoner Student Scholarship Award

Established in 2001 in recognition of Mr. Waggoner’s professional achievements and service to ASE, the Alan D. Waggoner Student Scholarship Award funds scholarships of $1,000, which also includes complimentary registration for ASE’s Annual Scientific Sessions, and annual meeting travel support.  The Alan D. Waggoner Student Scholarship Award is given to sonographer students enrolled in CAAHEP accredited educational programs who exhibit a passion for the discipline of echocardiography and demonstrate leadership abilities.

Click here for nomination criteria

Katanick Student Scholarship Award

The Katanick Scholarship Award will be given annually and includes a $1,000 student scholarship for the highest ranking student sonographer candidate nominated for ASEF scholarship awards. The award also includes up to $500 in travel reimbursement to attend the ASE Scientific Sessions. This award was established in 2016 and was named to honor the legacy of Sandy Katanick, RN, RVT, CAE, who retired as CEO of the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission after over 25 years of service to the field.

UltraEcho, Ltd. Cardiovascular Sonographer Student Travel Grant

The UltraEcho, Ltd. Cardiovascular Sonographer Student Travel Grant is supported by a grant to the ASE Foundation and is presented to a sonographer student enrolled in an accredited cardiovascular ultrasound program.  This grant provides funding to assist a student to attend ASE’s Annual Scientific Sessions or another ASE-sponsored educational course.

Click here for nomination criteria

Feigenbaum Cardiovascular Sonographer Student Travel Grant

The Feigenbaum Cardiovascular Sonographer Student Travel Grant is supported by a grant to the ASE Foundation from Elsevier, Inc., to honor Dr. Harvey Feigenbaum’s commitment and tenure as the former editor of the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography (JASE) for 20 years.  The award is presented to a sonographer student enrolled in an accredited cardiac ultrasound program.  This grant provides funding to assist a student to attend ASE’s Annual Scientific Sessions or another ASE-sponsored educational course.  Each grant amount is $1,000 and includes a complimentary registration to ASE’s Annual Scientific Sessions.

Click here for nomination criteria.

Find other available scholarships at Fastweb.

Many schools have their own scholarship programs. To learn more, contact the school directly.

Online Sonography Schools

While a fully online program for diagnostic medical sonography is rare, more and more programs are developing hybrid programs where the student can do the clinical component on campus and some of the reading and testing online. As of June 2016, there are few online programs which have received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP). While these programs offer didactic courses online, there is still an essential clinical piece of ultrasound technician training that requires hands-on experience. Students will not be able to earn the sonography certification necessary to obtain top employment without clinical practice in addition to classroom or online courses. Below is a sampling of online and hybrid certificate, associate, and bachelor’s programs for aspiring diagnostic medical sonographers:

  • Adventist University: This school based in Orlando, Florida provides an online BS in diagnostic medical sonography (BSDMS) program. When taken as a degree-completion program, the BSDMS is open to applicants currently registered in sonography through ARDMS, ARRT, or CCI. In as few as two years, students complete 34 credits of imaging courses such as advanced sonographic specialties and pathophysiology. Notably, Adventist University is CAAHEP-accredited and was one of the pioneers in distance-based education, offering online degrees since 2001.
  • Jackson College: As part of their allied health program, this Michigan-based college offers training in general, cardiac, and vascular sonography. Like Washburn, Jackson College offers their sonography didactic courses online but still requires students to complete an in-person clinical practicum. Students can expect to spend between 24 and 32 hours a week over the course of approximately one year at an approved clinical site near their home in order to successfully complete the program.
  • Oregon Tech Online: This school also provides an online bachelor of science (BS) degree-completion program in diagnostic medical sonography. Open to registered diagnostic sonographers, Oregon Tech’s courses include intro to diagnostic imaging, applications of abdominal sonography, pelvic sonography, and physics of medical imaging. Additionally, students complete a DMS externship at an approved clinical facility located close to their homes. Supervisors sign off on a DMS skills checklist as employment-ready skills are acquired.
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: Unlike the previous two schools on this list, UWM offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in biomedical sciences with a diagnostic medical sonography sub-major. Students complete two years of classroom training, either on campus or online, followed by two years of professional and clinical training at a UW clinical site. The school is affiliated with the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison but also has clinical sites in Milwaukee and Chicago. Students can choose a general focus or may concentrate on vascular or cardiac ultrasound.
  • Washburn University: This school, with its main campus in Topeka, Kansas, has been offering online diagnostic medical sonography training for more than a decade. All didactic courses are offered online, while clinical training can be arranged close to the student’s home for maximum flexibility and convenience. Graduating students are eligible for the ARDMS and CCI certification examinations. The program offers a general sonography certification program as well as specialized tracks in cardiac and vascular sonography.
  • There is a growing trend for online training in other healthcare professions that can be achieved 100% online. Click here to view an updated list of online healthcare schools. Programs range from diploma, degree completion, associate’s, bachelor’s and graduate programs.
  • Additionally, the number of schools converting from traditional campus-based curriculum to an online hybrid is quickly changing. Click here to view the schools accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP).

Ultrasound Technician Career Resources

Job Outlook for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026*, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of cardiovascular technologists and ultrasound technicians, including vascular technologists, is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

As the large baby-boom population ages, the need to diagnose medical conditions—such as blood clots and heart disease—will likely increase. Imaging technology is a tool used in making these diagnoses. Moreover, diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, and vascular technologists will continue to be needed in healthcare settings to provide an alternative to imaging techniques that involve radiation.

*according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Prospects

Diagnostic imaging personnel who are certified are expected to have the best job opportunities. Those certified in more than one specialty are expected to find even greater job opportunities.

Salary Information for Ultrasound Techs

How much can I expect to earn as a diagnostic medical sonographer, cardiovascular technologist or ultrasound technician?

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $55,270 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount, and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,760.

The median annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers was $71,410 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,760, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,840.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for cardiovascular technologists and technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $63,700
Offices of physicians $58,310
Hospitals; state, local, and private $54,660
Medical and diagnostic laboratories $48,920

In May 2017, the median annual wages for diagnostic medical sonographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $81,200
Hospitals; state, local, and private $71,740
Offices of physicians $69,890
Medical and diagnostic laboratories $69,690

A day in the life of a sonogram technician

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, also called diagnostic imaging workers, operate special imaging equipment to create images or conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions.

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, typically have the following duties:

  • Prepare patients for procedures by taking their medical history and answering any questions about the procedure
  • Prepare and maintain diagnostic imaging equipment
  • Operate equipment to obtain diagnostic images or to conduct tests
  • Review images or test results to check for quality and adequate coverage of the areas needed for diagnoses
  • Recognize the difference between normal and abnormal images, and identify other diagnostic information
  • Analyze diagnostic information to provide a summary of findings for physicians
  • Record findings and keep track of patients’ records

Licenses and Registration

The registration test for sonographers costs $200 and is administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The renewal fee is $60 per year. Once an applicant has passed the test and paid registration fees, he or she may practice as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS).

Most employers prefer to hire diagnostic imaging workers with professional certification, or they may expect applicants to earn certification shortly after being hired. Many insurance providers and Medicare pay for procedures only if a certified sonographer, technologist, or technician performed the work. Certification is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Credentialing International, and American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

Diagnostic imaging workers can earn certification by graduating from an accredited program, although candidates also may qualify through alternative combinations of education and experience. All candidates must pass an exam. Most of the certifications are for specialties in diagnostic imaging; for example, a sonographer can earn a certification in abdominal sonography. Most diagnostic imaging workers have at least one certification, but many earn multiple certifications.

In addition, many employers prefer to hire candidates who have a basic life support (BLS) certification, which affirms that they are trained to provide CPR.

Few states require diagnostic medical sonographers to be licensed. Typically, professional certification is required for licensure; other requirements vary by state. Contact your state’s medical board for more information.

Types of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers:

  • Abdominal sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s abdominal cavity and nearby organs, such as the kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or spleen. Abdominal sonographers may assist with biopsies or other examinations requiring ultrasound guidance.
  • Breast sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s breast tissues. Sonography can confirm the presence of cysts and tumors that may have been detected by the patient, the physician, or a mammogram. Breast sonographers work closely with physicians and assist with procedures that track tumors and help to provide information that will aid doctors in making decisions about the best treatment options for breast cancer patients.
  • Cardiac sonographers (echocardiographers) specialize in imaging a patient’s heart. They use ultrasound equipment to examine the heart’s chambers, valves, and vessels. The images obtained are known as echocardiograms. An echocardiogram may be performed either while the patient is resting or after the patient has been physically active. Cardiac sonographers also may take echocardiograms of fetal hearts so that physicians can diagnose cardiac conditions during pregnancy. Cardiac sonographers work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures.
  • Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in imaging muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. These sonographers may assist with ultrasound guidance for injections, or during surgical procedures, that deliver medication or treatment directly to affected tissues.
  • Pediatric sonographers specialize in imaging children and infants. Many of the medical conditions they image are associated with premature births or birth defects. Pediatric sonographers may work closely with pediatricians and other caregivers.
  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system. Many pregnant women receive sonograms to track the baby’s growth and health. Obstetrical sonographers work closely with physicians in detecting congenital birth defects.
  • Vascular technologists (vascular sonographers) create images of blood vessels and collect data that help physicians diagnose disorders affecting blood flow. Vascular technologists often measure a patient’s blood pressure and the volume of blood in their arms, legs, fingers, and toes in order to evaluate blood flow and identify blocked arteries or blood clots in the body.