A Career in Ultrasound
If you're thinking about a career in ultrasound, the Inside Scoop may be able to help you get a more detailed understanding of what sonography is all about. And hopefully help you decide if this is the right career path for you.
Question 1: Profession: What do sonographers do?
Question 2: Earning potential: What can you realistically expect to earn?
Question 3: Work environments: Take a glimpse into the world of sonography?
Question 4: Physical demands: What are the physical demands of being a sonographer?
Question 5: Legal aspects: What are some legal issues surrounding the ultrasound profession?
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Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS), commonly known as “ultrasound”, is a mode of diagnostic medical imaging that utilizes ultrasound energy (sound frequencies much higher than sound which are audible by humans) to produce real-time images of the body’s anatomy. Performed by a sonographer, these images are then conveyed to an interpreting physician for diagnosis.
Sonographers have extensive and direct patient contact which includes: imaging vessels, organs, tissue, and pathology. Sonographers also use ultrasound to guide needles for biopsies and, drain cysts and ascites (free fluids). Sonographers must be knowledgeable about hazardous waste disposal, disease processes, and infection control measures.
Ultrasound can be used in detecting and determining the cause of:
* Female pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding or other menstrual related problems such as: cysts, fibroid tumors, polyps, and ovarian and uterine cancers
* Ectopic Pregnancy
* Suspicious lumps or nodules in breast tissue
* Male prostate abnormalities
* Heart blockage and heart valve diseases
* Blood clots
* Aortic aneurysms
Ultrasound allows the visualization of the pregnant uterus to evaluate and document: fetal position, placenta, number of fetuses, congenital abnormalities, gestational age, and fetal size.
The professional responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
* Obtaining and recording accurate patient history
* Performing diagnostic procedures and obtaining diagnostic images
* Analyzing technical information
* Working independently utilizing critical thinking to make adjustments to the scope of the procedure according to the diagnostic findings when necessary.
* Providing an oral and/or written summary of the technical findings to the physician for medical diagnosis
* Providing quality patient care for patients from all socioeconomic and cultural background
* Collaborating with physicians and other members of the health care team
* Operate Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) for electronic recording keeping, and image archiving
Sonographers can specialize in: General (abdominal, OB/GYN, breast), Vascular, Adult or Pediatric Cardiac Ultrasound. To view information on each specialty track, visit the individual pages at DMS Specialty Tracks.
The ability to interact compassionately and effectively with people who range from healthy to critically ill is a must for the sonographer.
Many sonographers also assist in electronic and clerical scheduling, record keeping, and computerized image archiving.
Sonographers may also have managerial or supervisory responsibilities.
Ultrasound is a very "hands on" modality. More than other radiology methods, ultrasound images depend on the technique of the person doing the study. Learning proper technique requires many hours spent scanning in class, in open skills enhancement scan lab, and during clinical hours.
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2. Earning Potential for Sonographers
Sonographers receive variable rates of compensation depending on geographic area, level of experience, type of employment (per diem, shift differential, full-time part time, or temporary) and type of employer (hospital, specialty clinic, government center, or out-patient center).
As sonography students, we come into contact with a variety of working sonographers and sometimes we get street-level information about what people are making. Unfortunately, this information seems to be pretty unreliable in terms of what any given individual can expect to earn. The reason is that there is a big range in compensation within the field of sonography, depending on geographic area, level of experience, the individual institution where one works and the specifics of the work relationship (employed vs. freelance). The salary is also dependent upon when a person is working full-time, part-time, or per-need basis (PRN).
Salaries for sonographers are competitive with or higher than other professionals with similar level of education. In fact, the US Department of Labor ranked sonography as one of the top ten best-paying jobs for someone with an Associate's Degree.
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3. Work Environments
Sonography is a dynamic profession that has grown significantly over the past 20 years. With rapidly developing new technologies and increased use of diagnostic ultrasound procedures, growth is projected to continue in the future with employment opportunities for qualified sonographers in both urban and rural areas nationwide. Sonographers and vascular technologists can choose to work in clinics, hospitals, private practice physician offices, public health facilities, laboratories, and other medical settings performing examinations in their areas of specialization. Career advancement opportunities exist in education, administration, research, and in commercial companies as education/application specialists, sales representatives, and technical advisors, etc.
More information about a career in Sonography can be found at Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
Since most sonographic work is in clinical settings, we thought we would offer some input as to what these environments are like:
Hospitals: In a hospital setting the level of commitment that is expected of hospital workers is quite high. The overall attitude is that patients' needs come first, especially in emergency situations. If a patient comes in to the emergency room at three in the morning needing a sonogram exam, you might very well get a call in the middle of the night.
Even without emergency situations, hospitals have high personnel needs because they are open all the time. Sometimes hospital employees are required to work different days each week, or even different shifts each day. So, why would anybody do it? For one thing, hospital work is a great way to get a really broad base of experience. Also, sonographers may be compensated for being on call, and on days when they're not called in.
Outpatient Clinics and Doctor's Offices: An outpatient clinic operates similar to a doctor’s office, except it is larger. Compared to the hospital setting, outpatient clinics or doctor’s office have more fixed schedules, usually Monday through Friday. Patients are scheduled to come in during regular daytime hours and, if there is bad weather they can choose to close and direct patients to the hospital. Patients who come to clinics are generally much healthier than hospitalized patients. For one thing, they are able to walk or get around in a wheelchair. In contrast, hospital patients are often very ill and are confined to a hospital bed or stretcher.
So, why would anybody not choose to work in an outpatient clinic? There are several reasons. For one thing, some people might find that a clinic is too quiet or boring compared to a hospital. Another potential problem with clinical settings is that, because of the relatively small personnel groups, individual workers are much more dependent on having good coworker relations.
In general, each work environment offers its own advantages and disadvantages. As student in Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program at Montgomery College, you will experience a variety of work environments as part of your clinical training. By the time you finish, you will know what your individual preferences are.
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4. Physical Demands of Sonography
One thing students might not realize about sonography is that it is quite physically demanding. In fact, there are specific physical standards that one must be able to fulfill in order to do the work. For example, vision must be adequate to distinguish fine shades of gray on a computer screen. Sonographers also need to be physically strong in order to help patients move around if they are not fully mobile on their own. Read the Technical Standards of physical fitness published by Montgomery College for more information about physical requirements.
Because of the physically demanding nature of sonography, work-related injuries can be a problem for sonographers. In fact, injuries are the number one reason sonographers eventually retire. Fortunately equipment manufacturers are incorporating ergonomic design into sonographic equipment, and managers are recognizing the need for exercise and relaxation to improve job performance. Take a look at the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography web pages on ergonomic issues and exercises at www.SDMS.org.
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5. Legal Aspects of Being a Sonographer
Everyone has heard stories about malpractice lawsuits. Although the incidence of lawsuits brought against sonographers is relatively low compared to physicians, it is a risk that students need to be addressed.
A sonographer who makes a mistake can potentially cause serious harm to a patient. Therefore it is important to get good training and document anatomy and pathology with skill. It is also important to keep up to date with changes in technology and maintain their level of training. Malpractice insurance is available for sonographers and is relatively inexpensive. Find out more about liability insurance at the SDMS website. www.SDMS.org
The good news is that sonographers can reduce the risk of lawsuits by maintaining good standards of practice and keeping up their level of training. The other good news is that malpractice insurance is readily available for sonographers and is relatively inexpensive. Find out more about liability insurance at the SDMS website.
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