Intro to Diagnostic Medical Sonography Degrees

The field of diagnostic medical sonography is the practice of using sound waves to create medical images. Diagnostic medical sonographers are highly-skilled professionals who use specialized equipment to view internal parts of the body. These images help physicians diagnose a range of diseases including cancer and neurological disorders as well as monitor fetal development. By pursuing a health services degree, you can train to become a diagnostic medical sonographer. These programs provide the clinical education and fundamental skills needed to qualify for entry-level positions in the field. You’ll study sonography techniques, anatomy and physiology of various organs, and how to manage and use numerous specialized equipment.

Earn a Healthcare Service Degree Online

If you already have a job and don't have time for rigid class schedules, earning a degree online is the way to go. With the degree programs listed below, you can earn your health services degree by attending classes with flexible schedules. Although there aren't any specific sonography degrees online, a related health services degree is just what you need to jump start your career as an ultrasound tech.

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What is Medical Sonography?

Sonography is a radiation-free imaging technique used to examine many parts of the human body, such as the female reproductive system, breasts, prostate, abdomen, heart, and blood vessels. Recent developments in sonography now detect and treat heart disease, heart attacks, and vascular diseases that can lead to strokes. Additionally, sonography is used in guiding fine needle, tissue biopsies, assisting in taking a sample of cells from an organ for lab testing (such as taking a breast tissue sample when testing for cancer). The procedure of examining these body parts is often referred to as a sonograph, or an ultrasound scan.

Sonographers typically have a diagnostic medical sonography degree and is specifically trained and licensed in the procedure. Sonographers require an excellent understanding in ultrasound physics, cross-sectional anatomy, physiology, and pathology and communication skills, as well as highly-developed psychomotor skills.

In the field of sonography there are several areas of specialization that a sonographer can enter into:

  • Abdomen: evaluation of all the soft tissues, blood vessels and organs of the abdominal cavities (for example, liver, spleen, urinary tract, pancreas)
  • Breast: frequently used to evaluate breast abnormalities that are found with screening or diagnostic mammography
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology: evaluation of the female reproductive system and sonograms of pregnancies
  • Echocardiography: evaluation of the anatomy and hemodynamic (blood flow) of the heart, its valves and related blood vessels
  • Vascular Technology: evaluation and analysis of the hemodynamic (blood flow) of peripheral and abdominal blood vessels
  • Neurosonology: evaluation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Ophthalmology: evaluation of the eye, including orbital structures and muscles

The process of completing a sonograph involves placing a transducer against the patient’s skin near the body area that needs to be imaged. The transducer then sends a stream of high frequency sound waves into the body that bounce off the structures inside. The transducer can then detect the sound waves as they bounce off the internal structures of the body—sound waves are reflected differently depending on the internal structures. A computer then analyzes the sounds to make an image of the body structure on a television screen and then recorded for future reference.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Degrees

A person can receive an associates degree, bachelor degree, or masters in diagnostic medical sonography in order to become a sonographer, or a diagnostic medical professional (a non-physician professional) who operate ultrasonic imaging devices to produce diagnostic images, scans, videos, or 3D volumes of anatomy and diagnostic data. Sometimes sonographers are known as a vascular technologist, which means they specialize in imaging and tests of blood vessels. Learn more about sonography degrees and related subjects:

Programs that offer this degree prepare individuals to utilize medical ultrasound techniques to gather sonographic data, including instruction in obtaining, reviewing, and integrating patient histories and data; patient instruction and care; anatomic, physiologic and pathologic data recording; sonographic data processing; sonography equipment operation; diagnosing conditions and diseases; and professional standards and ethics.

What Does a Medical Sonography Degree Entail?

Employers prefer sonographers who have received formal education at an accredited program. Therefore, getting your medical sonography degree from a college or university is important. Going through an online program is helpful if you’re already a working professional as it gives you greater flexibility, and you can work on the degree at your own pace. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is a good recourse to look into to make sure the online university you’re interested in has the official accreditation you need.

There are both 2-year associate’s degree and 4-year bachelor’s degree programs for formal training from colleges and universities, with 2-year programs being the most popular choice. There are also more advanced degrees in vascular ultrasound, but one must already have previous training to enter those programs.

Usually an online program takes a student 24 months and requires around 60 course credits. Schools typically allow you to transfer a certain number of applicable credits from other regionally accredited institutions. Most bachelors of sciences degrees in diagnostic medical sonography require students to be previously registered in sonography by a credentialing organization. These organizations are:

Medical sonography degree programs enhance a student's understanding and performance of clinical responsibilities. Core classes often include:

  • Anatomy
  • Statistics
  • Physiology
  • Instrumentation
  • Basic Physics
  • Patient Care
  • Medical Ethics
  • Technical Writing
  • Legal aspects of Healthcare
  • Leadership and Organizational Behavior
  • Marketing and Healthcare
  • Healthcare Financial Management
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Advanced topics for Sonography and Sonographic Specialties
  • Case Studies in Healthcare
  • Research Methods

After competing your degree you won’t only be a registered sonographer, but you also could move into a management position, gain more insight into an area of sonography specialization, learn about emerging technology trends, and become an overall better sonographer through other certifications and training.

If you’re wondering if a medical sonography degree would be a good option to you, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Does your curiosity get the best of you?
  • Do you like working independently?
  • Are you self-motivated and directed?
  • Do you like to analyze things?

If you answered yes, then this could be great career option for you.

Job Duties of a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

A graduate of a diagnostic medical sonography program is a highly-skilled professional who can use specialized equipment to create images of structures inside the human body. Physicians use these structures to aid in making a medical diagnosis.

The professional responsibilities of a sonographer include, but are not limited to:

  • Obtaining and recording an accurate patient history
  • Performing diagnostic procedures and obtaining diagnostic images
  • Analyzing technical information
  • Using independent judgment in recognizing the need to extend the scope of the procedure according to the diagnostic findings
  • Providing an oral or written summary of the technical findings to the physician for medical diagnosis
  • Providing quality patient care
  • Collaborating with physicians and other members of the health care team.

Sonographers must be able to interact compassionately and effectively with people who range from healthy to critically ill. Limiting the risk from possible exposure to blood and body fluids and being knowledge about such issues is also the responsibility of a sonographer. Sonographers also sometimes assist in electronic and clerical scheduling, record keeping, and computerized imagine archiving, and others have obtained managerial or supervisory responsibilities.

Degree Opportunities in Diagnostic Medical Sonography

There are excellent career opportunities for those with a diagnostic medical sonography degree. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to increase by about 18 percent through 2018—faster than the average for all occupations. Sonographers 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. There are career advancement opportunities in education, administration, research, and in commercial companies as education/application specialists, sales representatives, technical advisors, and other fields.

Salaries vary depending on years of experience, specialties practices, and geographic location, but on average sonographers earn$61,980 per year, with the middle 50 percent of sonographers earning wages between $52,570 and $73,680 a year. The typical hourly rate is $30. Overtime is often asked of sonographers, in which case they earn even more.

Looking for a sonography degree?

Use our degree finder, and we'll help you find a degree program suitable for sonographers.