How to Choose a Ultrasound Technician Degree

This article provides information about ultrasound technician degree programs and how this can be a good choice for a career. We also will provide information and links to some good online degree programs in ultrasound technology.

What is an Ultrasound Technician Degree?

Choosing an ultrasound technician degree depends largely on what the student hopes to do after completion of the program.

A degree as an ultrasound technician allows an individual to operate special imaging equipment to create images or conduct tests that help doctors diagnose and treat illnesses. An ultrasound technician may even assist physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures that require ultrasound guidance for the placement of surgical tools. Ultrasound technicians also perform follow-up testing to monitor treatment progress.

Ultrasound technicians prepare patients for procedures and answer any questions patients may have about the procedure. They prepare and maintain diagnostic imaging equipment then operate that equipment to obtain diagnostic images or to conduct tests. Ultrasound technicians review images and test results to ensure high quality and adequate coverage needed for diagnoses. They have the expertise to recognize the difference between normal and abnormal images, analyze the information found on those images to create a summary of findings, and provide the clinician with other diagnostic information relating to the ultrasound image. Finally, the ultrasound technician records findings and keeps track of patient ultrasound records.

Ultrasound technicians use sophisticated tools to create images of organs and tissues, known as sonograms or ultrasounds. Ultrasounds are frequently the first imaging test performed when doctors suspect disease. Technicians, also known as sonographers, often work closely with general practitioners and surgeons before, during, and after procedures.

There are several types of ultrasound technicians, including:

  • Abdominal sonographers: Use ultrasound to create an image of the abdominal cavity and nearby organs; may assist with biopsies and other examinations that require ultrasound guidance.
  • Breast sonographers: Specialize in imaging breast tissues to confirm the presence of cysts and tumors detected by the patient, physician, or mammogram. These ultrasound technicians work closely with physicians, assist with procedures that track tumors, provide information the clinician needs to make decisions regarding treatment options for breast cancer patients.
  • Musculoskeletal sonographers: Specialize in imaging muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. Technicians may provide ultrasound guidance to help doctors place injections in a precise location or during surgical procedures in which surgeons deliver medication or other treatments directly to affected tissues.
  • Pediatric sonographers: Specialize in imaging child and infant patients, especially premature babies and children with birth defects. Pediatric sonographers work closely with pediatricians.
  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers:  Specialize in imaging the female reproductive system, especially in pregnant patients to detect or monitor congenital birth defects. Ultrasound is helpful in tracking the baby’s growth and overall health.

Ultrasound technicians may work as cardiac sonographers who use ultrasound to examine the heat’s walls, chambers, vessels and valves. Others work as vascular sonographers who use ultrasound equipment to create images of blood vessels.

An ultrasound technician degree program teaches patients how to use diagnostic ultrasound equipment and assess the images captured by the machine. Diagnostic ultrasound utilizes high-frequency sound waves to produces images of organs and other tissues inside the body. Ultrasound technicians use special instruments, known as ultrasound transducer, on the parts of the patient’s body in need of examination. The handheld transducer emits pulses of sound that bounce back and cause echoes. The ultrasound machine receives and processes the echoes, displaying them as images physicians can use for diagnosis.

Why Earn an Ultrasound Technician Degree?

There are tremendous opportunities for employment for those with an ultrasound technician degree. Employment of ultrasound technicians is expected to grown 26 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is much faster growth than expected for all occupations. There were 112,700 ultrasound technology jobs in 2014.

A number of factors influence the increase in demand for ultrasound technicians. Imaging technology is evolving rapidly and ultrasound is often less expensive than other technologies, so a growing number of medical facilities are using ultrasound to replace more invasive and costly procedures as a first-line diagnostic tool. Third-party payers often encourage the use of non-invasive procedures like ultrasound over invasive ones as a cost-saving measure. Furthermore, ultrasound will likely grow in popularity because it is an effective replacement for other imaging techniques involving radiation.

Ultrasound technicians work in comfortable environments, usually in hospitals, doctor offices and outpatient facilities. Technicians often work in darkened rooms but sometimes perform procedures at patient bedsides.

Most ultrasound technicians work full time but part time work is available. Some evening, night, weekend, and holiday work may be required in facilities that are always open.

The median pay was $54,880 in May 2015, according to BLS, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $97,390.

Students can enter the field quickly – in just two years – with an associate’s degree. Relied on heavily by obstetricians for prenatal testing, ultrasound imaging is now helping doctors of all specialties treat patients.

Choosing Your Ultrasound Technician Degree Path

Ultrasound technicians typically have a certificate or diploma, an associate’s degree or a master’s degree.

  • Certification: 1-year certificate or diploma
  • Associate’s degree: 2-year degree
  • Bachelor’s degree: 4-year degree

Ultrasound technician degree programs usually offer courses in physics, ultrasound equipment, anatomy, medical terminology, and applied sciences. Programs may offer classes in specialized fields that correspond to the relevant certification exams, such as abdominal ultrasound or breast ultrasound.

Online Degree Options

Flexible, cost-effective online programs can help students acquire the skills they need to get started in a career as an ultrasound technician. Online coursework is similar to traditional schools that offer classes in human anatomy and physiology, ultrasound physics and instrumentation, medical terminology, pathology, and principles of communication.

Online programs include classes in obstetrics and gynecology ultrasound and more to those already working in the health field who seek to increase their skill set and marketability.

Washburn University offers three online ultrasound technician programs – cardiac only, vascular only, and general/vascular. The programs are entirely online except for clinical requirements, which students can fulfill in various sonography departments throughout the United States, Canada, and a few other locations worldwide. Class sizes are usually 30 to 35 students per year.

Programs for cardiac and vascular only programs are 12 months in duration, while the general/vascular degree takes 22 months. The clinical portion of the program is 24 hours per week throughout the entire program.

Programs begin every August; application deadline is February 1. This program is accredited.

Accreditation

Potential employers prefer to hire ultrasound technicians who graduated from an accredited program. Accreditation ensures that the institution has met certain standards in terms of administration, faculty, resources, and facilities, and has provided the student with the education necessary to perform duties as an ultrasound technician. Accreditation assures that a qualified workforce provides quality healthcare services.

Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits ultrasound technician programs.

Summary

Ultrasound technology is a growing field with a great deal of potential for those who want to work with doctors and surgeons to help diagnose illness. Availability of jobs, good pay, and comfortable working conditions makes ultrasound technician a promising profession.

Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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