How to become an ultrasound tech in 2024
Ultrasound technicians work in the healthcare field. They use sonography machines to examine the inside of the body.
While you've probably heard of ultrasounds during pregnancy, the uterus isn't the only area these health professionals can check. Depending on their specialty, ultrasound techs can examine the heart, muscles, blood vessels, and more.
This is a career area with a positive job outlook. By 2031, there are set to be 14,700 new positions — a 10% increase from 2021.
If you're looking for a new career path, consider becoming an ultrasound technician. This position includes opportunities for advancement, and no two shifts are ever the same.
We've written this article to help you decide whether to pursue a career as an ultrasound tech. We'll tell you everything you need to know about this profession.
What is an ultrasound technician?
Ultrasound technicians are experts in human anatomy and use specialized ultrasound equipment to learn more about an individual’s health.
They work with sonography equipment, which relies on sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the human body. When a probe is used on the body, the sound waves echo, and images are shown on a computer screen.
Trained technicians can use this ultrasound technology to look at different areas of the body. For example, they can capture images of the spinal cord, internal organs, or the reproductive system.
Doctors often require ultrasounds to help them with their diagnoses.
In addition to capturing the images, ultrasound techs can interpret them. However, it's usually a doctor's job to make the final call on an image and discuss the results with their patients.
Ultrasound techs can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient centers, and physician's offices.
Most ultrasound technicians work full-time, but there may be part-time roles available. Depending on the work environment, they may work evening, weekend, and holiday shifts.
How much does an ultrasound technician make?
If you're considering this career path, you’ll want to know how much you can earn. In the US, the average annual salary for an ultrasound tech is $65,877.
The lowest earners make around $45,000 per year, while those in the highest percentile can make up to $101,000 per year.
The hourly rate ranges from $21.77 to $41.85, with an average of $30.82.
Your experience can also impact your wage. For example, if you've been in the industry for less than a year, you can expect to earn about $27.18 per hour. Once you hit five years, the average jumps to $30.32. An ultrasound technician with over 10 years of experience can make around $37.21 per hour.
Ultrasound technicians usually get benefits, including medical, dental, and vision insurance. Profit sharing, retirement plans, and bonuses may also be available.
How to become an ultrasound technician
Ultrasound technicians are skilled professionals, and they do have to gain certain knowledge to do their jobs well.
You'll need to complete a few steps before you can work as an ultrasound technician. Here's a rundown of the career pathway:
1. Get prepared
The first step to becoming an ultrasound tech is to complete your high school diploma or equivalent and enroll in a program. There may also be a minimum age requirement, such as 18 or 21, depending on your location.
Getting a spot in an ultrasound technician program can be competitive. Your local college or university may even set a minimum grade point average (GPA) score to qualify.
Healthcare experience isn't essential, but it'll help you in your new career. For example, if you've ever worked as a medical receptionist or nurse aide, you'll understand basic medical terminology and know the importance of providing quality patient care.
If you're still undecided, you can speak to others in the industry to learn about the ups and downs of the job.
2. Choose a specialty
Before you enroll in an educational program, you should think about different ultrasound specialties. The option you choose can affect your study plan.
Here's a rundown of some popular ultrasound specialties:
Cardiac sonographers focus on the heart and surrounding areas
Vascular sonographers look at the veins and arteries
Abdominal sonographers examine the stomach
Obstetric sonographers check fetuses for abnormalities
Musculoskeletal sonographers look at muscles and bones
Think about what you're interested in and where you'd like to work. For example, if you want to take medical images of broken bones, you'll probably work in an emergency department.
Need some advice? You can speak to a course advisor at your local college or university about what pathway might be best for you.
3. Complete a degree
When you're ready, it's time to go back to school. You'll need to choose an ultrasound technician program from an accredited educational institution.
If you're new to the healthcare industry, there are two degree programs to choose from.
The first is a two-year associate degree program in medical sonography, which is a good starting point. You'll learn how to use an ultrasound machine, and your coursework will include both classroom learning and hands-on training.
The second option is a bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography. This program will take at least four years to complete and will give you additional skills. During your studies, you'll complete clinical training and focus on your specialty. Those with a bachelor's degree may qualify for more career opportunities.
Already have a bachelor's degree? If it's in health or science, your pathway to becoming an ultrasound technician might be shorter. There are sonography certificate programs available to graduates that take around one year to complete.
4. Get work experience
Education courses usually include workplace training. To get your qualification, you'll need to participate in clinical placements. You'll also need to gain laboratory experience.
Your clinical training might happen toward the end of your degree program. You'll work in a hospital or medical practice under the supervision of a medical professional.
If you have a specialty, that'll be your focus during your clinical rotations. For example, if you want to work with moms-to-be, you'll get hands-on experience in prenatal sonography.
During this time, you'll be practicing your skills. You'll work with real patients and get to know others in the field.
5. Pass an exam
Licensing and certification requirements can vary between states. For example, if you're in New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, or Oregon, a license is essential.
If you're anywhere else, a certification may be recommended to widen your job opportunities.
Licenses are issued by a government agency in your state. On the other hand, certifications come from professional organizations. For example, you may apply for a certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).
Exams are usually required for both licenses and certifications. There may also be ongoing educational requirements and a yearly membership fee.
6. Apply for work
Once you've finished your training and passed the licensing or certification exam, you can start looking for work.
You can search for ultrasound technician positions on our job board. You can also set up alerts to get email notifications for any new job openings.
Remember to keep training and pursuing educational opportunities to gain additional skills and knowledge.
What skills do you need to be an ultrasound technician?
There are a few extra skills you'll need if you want to work as an ultrasound technician. Let's take a look at the top five:
As healthcare professionals, ultrasound technicians need excellent communication skills. This is a soft skill that you may have gained in a previous role.
Ultrasound technicians work closely with patients and need to be able to make them feel comfortable. Patients may be feeling nervous or worried about the examination. Ultrasound techs need to explain each patient's procedure to them and answer any questions they may have.
Confidence and friendliness are essential, as well. Ultrasound technologists should exhibit positive body language and excellent listening skills. In most cases, they won't be able to share the results with the patient, so they should be careful not to react to the images.
These healthcare workers need to collaborate with others in the industry. For example, they may speak to radiologists, doctors, and surgeons. They need to communicate with professionalism and respect.
Written communication skills are also important.
Then there's manual dexterity. Ultrasound technicians use diagnostic imaging equipment, so they need a steady hand.
For example, if they're using a doppler ultrasound machine to check someone's blood flow, it'll come with a scanner. This is a hand-held device that needs to be used with care.
If you want to improve your manual dexterity, practice using your fine motor skills. Activities to try include painting, drawing, sewing, and pottery. Learning a musical instrument such as the guitar or piano can also improve your hand-eye coordination.
Attention to detail
Another top skill is attention to detail. Ultrasound techs need to be experts in their field. They must understand the human body and do their job to a high standard, as the results of an ultrasound can impact a patient's treatment.
Ultrasound techs need to read the referral correctly and make sure they scan the right area of the patient's body. They also have to check the patient's details to ensure they have the correct person.
They need to look for abnormalities and take clear images. They need to avoid distractions and keep from rushing the procedure.
Before the ultrasound tech sends the images to the patient's doctor, they'll need to make notes. They should write clearly and check their work for mistakes.
The role of an ultrasound technician can involve long hours spent standing and walking. Because this is a physically demanding position, physical fitness is required.
Bending, stretching, and maneuvering can also be part of the job. For example, the ultrasound tech may have to reach over patients to capture images. Back, knee, neck, and leg pain can be hazards of the job.
If you want to succeed in this role, you'll need to take care of yourself. When bending, make sure you bend from the knees and not your back, and be sure to maintain good posture.
Regular exercise and visits to a physiotherapist can help you stay fit and healthy. Also, invest in quality shoes that support your feet.
Finally, you'll need technical skills. You'll get technical know-how and medical knowledge during your studies. You'll start to understand medical terminology and be able to translate medical jargon. And you'll learn to use dedicated equipment for the job, including ultrasound machines and computer systems.
When ultrasound technicians are just starting out, there's a lot to learn. So it's important to keep adding to your skill set through continued training.
You can, for instance, work with a mentor to improve your skills. You can also enroll in short courses to boost your confidence and open up new job opportunities.
Once you've chosen your specialty, you'll know what technical skills to work on.
Where to find a job as an ultrasound technician
So, you've completed your studies and earned your ultrasound certification. This means you can start looking for work.
Head to our job board and search for ultrasound technician positions. You can also look for sonographer roles.
Create a free account, and you'll get member perks that make searching for your dream job even easier. For example, you can chat in our community discussions and use our resume builder.
Now is a good time to reach out to your professional network. Your teachers, supervisors, and anyone else you've worked with may be happy to refer you to a job.
You can also check with your local hospital, outpatient care centers, and physician's office to see if there is any work available.
Becoming an ultrasound technician
Ultrasound technicians use medical imaging equipment to examine patients. They can have different specialties, such as obstetrics, the cardiovascular system, or the reproductive system.
If you want to work in this role, you'll need to follow a few steps. You'll have to choose your specialty and complete your training. There are associate's and bachelor's degrees you can complete, as well as certificates for those who already have a healthcare qualification.
Depending on where you live, you may need a license. And certification can improve your chances of getting hired.
You'll also need excellent communication skills, manual dexterity, attention to detail, and physical fitness to work as an ultrasound tech. Plus, you'll need technical skills.