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
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.