Ballpark Estimate: $4,000 for a certification to $30,000 for a degree
The need for ultrasound technicians (also known as diagnostic medical sonographers or ultrasonographers) remains strong in the United States today, even in the midst of a challenging job market. These highly trained professionals specialize in using the latest diagnostic imaging equipment to assess patients’ symptoms and to diagnose a host of medical conditions. If you are looking for a career change and think becoming an ultrasound technician or technologist might be a good fit for you, just keep in mind that this position requires a serious commitment and extensive education. But if you are interested in health care, enjoy working with people and are willing to pay your dues, this could just be the perfect job for you.
A Variety of Uses
You may be familiar with using ultrasound technology for prenatal care. Many obstetricians rely on this ultrasound equipment to monitor pregnant women and view the fetus in order to track development and determine its health and wellbeing. While this is one common aspect of ultrasound, ttechnicians also rely on this technique to diagnose a host of medical conditions affecting adults and children.
Ultrasound technology or sonography works by measuring high frequency sound waves in order to create a detailed picture of a patient’s insides. This allows the ultrasound technologist get a first-hand look at the tissues, internal organs and flow of blood. This information can be crucial for enabling doctors to be able to diagnose serious problems in an early stage. Many ultrasound technicians specialize in a certain area of the body or field, which can include the abdomen, gynecology, vascular and echocardiography.
If you want to become an ultrasound technician, there are a variety of places that provide training in this field. This can include hospitals, vocational schools, colleges and universities. These settings offer anything from ultrasound certificate programs to two and four year degrees. Many students go with the middle of the road approach and earn a two-year Associate’s Degree to work in this field. People that are working in the health care field, however, may opt for a certificate program, which is often enough to build on their existing knowledge base and broaden out their expertise.
Accreditation Is Key
Whether you opt for an ultrasound certificate or prefer to earn a two or four-year degree as an ultrasound technician, some professionals say that the most important thing is to ensure that whatever program you select is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). About two-thirds of all ultrasound programs (out of a total of about 150) are accredited and this status is important since students who complete an accredited training program then go on to take the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) exam to become a registered diagnostic medical sonographer. Passing this exam is a requirement for most jobs in the field. To become registered ultrasound technician, you need to pass both a general and specialty exam and you also need to take continuing education courses to stay up to date on best practices.
(Note that if you attend a non-accredited school, you may be required to work for a year in the field prior to qualifying to take this exam. However, it can be difficult to get an employer to hire you without you being registered so this can be a challenging path to take.)
It is also worth pointing out that no state licensing currently exists for medical sonographers, so the ARDMS registration is the standard for the field.
What You Will Learn
Students who participate in diagnostic medical sonography training programs usually learn a variety of basics including anatomy, physiology and physics. You will also learn how to operate the ultrasound equipment, how to interact with patients and you may also be required to have some clinical, on-the-job experience, such as an internship, prior to graduating and/or earning your certificate.
What to Look for in a School
When considering different ultrasound training schools, there are a number of factors you will want to weigh to determine the best fit for you and your goals. First, the scope of the ultrasound program (such as whether it is a certificate program, a two-year associate’s program or a four-year college degree) is important to consider. In addition, you will need to find out the requirements. Some ultrasound training programs actually require that you already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree prior to being accepted.
You will also likely want to find out more about how the coursework is structured and what will be covered. Keep in mind that some of the basic information you will learn in the ultrasound program will consistent no matter where you go, you will find different schools have different teaching styles so the experience can vary a great deal in the end. For instance, some programs will give more of an in-depth introduction into the sonography equipment, while other programs may put more emphasis on interacting with patients and other health care providers. You will also want to look at the cost of the ultrasound program and determine what, if any, financial aid is available to help cover the expenses.
When in doubt, you may want to talk to a few potential employers that interest you and ask them what type of training they prefer for their ultrasound technicians. This may help point you to the right program to help you along your career path.
What It Costs
What you can expect to pay to become an ultrasound technician can vary a great deal, depending on which of the various paths offered that you take to achieve this goal. For instance, if you decide to participate in an accredited ultrasound certificate program offered right in a hospital setting, Rhode Island Hospital’s School of Diagnostic Imaging has a 12-month ultrasound training option that provides a mix of classroom study and direct patient interaction. The cost of tuition is $4,000. On the higher end, the University of Maryland Baltimore County offers an accredited one-year sonography certificate program that costs about $18,000.
If you prefer to get an Associate’s Degree toward an ultrasound technician degree, an accredited program such as one offered by Armstrong Atlantic State Universityin Savannah, Georgia, provides sonography training within its broader radiology program. That enables this two year, multi-focus program to give its graduates an edge in the field. The cost to become a ultrasound technician for in-state students is about $3,000, while out-of-state tuition runs close to $11,000.
The Mayo School of Health Sciences also has a two-year, associate’s degree option for sonography students. Most of the lectures are held live at its Rochester, Minnesota campus, but students in its Jacksonville, Florida campus have the option to participate long distance through a state-of-the-art video classroom capability. Regardless of which ultrasound program location you select, both have access to highly-respected Mayo Clinic facilities and the students receive hands-on training. The cost for the 21-month accredited ultrasound program will set you back almost $14,000.
If earning a four-year degree towards becoming a ultrasound technician appeals to you, you could pursue this option through Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. The tuition for this accredited Bachelor degree program, which consists of three years of academics and one year of on-the-job training, will cost you close to $25,000. Similarly, Seattle University in Seattle, Washington, has an accredited Bachelor degree program that costs almost $30,000.
So tuition for a one-year sonography certificate program starts at $4,000 and goes up to almost $30,000 for a bachelor’s degree in the field.
Exploring Your Options
To learn more about your options, you can find a list of ultrasound technician and sonography schools at All Allied Health Schools. You can also do a keyword search online for schools that offer such programs. In addition, you may want to check out the list of schools that are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRCDMS) through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Educational Programs (CAAHEP).