Some of the most desirable health careers are found in medical imaging. Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technicians, mammographers, radiographers and ultrasound technicians spend their days in a clean environment – helping patients and doctors, and earning good wages the process. Training is relatively brief and the job prospects are strong.
Medical imaging procedures play an important role in modern health care. Workers who understand the technology and can perform the procedures are in high demand. While medical imaging covers a broad range of specialties, ultrasound technology is one of the fastest growing health care professions.
Ultrasound technicians are also called sonographers or diagnostic medical sonographers. They use high-frequency sound waves to create images of internal organs and systems. This procedure helps doctors diagnose and monitor various health conditions, from pregnancy to heart disease and cancer.
Sonographers work in different medical environments: hospitals, doctors’ offices, medical imaging clinics and medical or diagnostic laboratories. They work directly with patients, usually in dimly-lit rooms but also at bedsides. Because ultrasound imaging is often needed in emergency situations, sonographers often weekends, evenings or overnight.
Diagnostic ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to produce medical images. To perform the procedure, sonographers press an instrument called a transducer to the parts of the body that need examining. The transducer emits sound pulses that bounce back and cause echoes. These echoes are sent to an ultrasound machine which displays them as images.
In Texas, sonographers can legally operate ultrasound equipment to create and record images of blood, organs, tissues and masses. They decide which images to include as they look for difference between healthy and abnormal areas. They can also perform certain medical procedures such as inserting and removing airways, administering oxygen, taking vital signs and performing emergency treatments like first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Most sonographers enter the career field through an accredited two-year degree program at a community college. There are 20 sonography schools in Texas. The education these schools provide give students a solid foundation in basic sciences, human anatomy and physiology. Students also learn how to operate sonography equipment and interpret ultrasound images.
Most programs incorporate hands-on training and clinical experience as part of the curriculum. Some sonographers complete their education in a four-year degree program. For those who want to advance their careers in ultrasound technology, a bachelor’s degree can pave the way to supervisory or management roles.
Certificate programs are open to health care professionals in other disciplines who want to fast-track their education. This includes CT and MRI technicians, radiographers, registered nurses (RNs) and physician assistants (PAs). Because these working professionals already have similar training, they need only the coursework that relates to ultrasound technology. Studies are usually condensed into an accredited one-year certificate program.
Required Skill Sets
In addition to education and training, ultrasound technicians require certain skills to be successful in their careers. Obviously, they should be able to use scientific methods to solve problems. They also require speaking skills to communicate effectively with patients, doctors and other health care professionals. Being an active listener is also important.
While certification is not mandatory for sonographers in Texas, it can impact job prospects and salaries. Graduates from an accredited degree or certificate program can write an exam through the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Both of these organizations test a graduate’s understanding, in theory and practice, of ultrasound technology.
In addition to basic certification, Texas sonographers can receive credentials for specialized areas of practice. Abdominal sonography, fetal echocardiography and vascular technology are common specializations. Credentials are earned through additional examinations.
In order to maintain their professional certifications, sonographers must meet continuing education requirements. For example, the ARDMS requires 30 continuing medical education (CME) credits in a three-year period. Ultrasound technicians can earn these credits through classes or additional certifications.
Ultrasound Technician Salary in Texas
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the average salary for an ultrasound technician as $65,800 annually or $31.63 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earns $44,950 yearly or $21.61 per hour, and the highest 10 percent earn $90,640 per year or $43.58 per hour.
According to Salary.com, Texas salaries are typically below the national averages. Fifty percent of technicians who perform the job in Houston and Dallas, earn less than the 2014 median income of $67,600 per year or $33 per hour.
An aging baby boomer population and their need for medical diagnoses should fuel employment for sonographers in Texas and across the country. The BLS expects a 44 percent increase in job growth for ultrasound technology professionals through 2020. The prospects will be best for technicians who specialize in one or more areas, such as obstetrics and abdominal sonography.