In today’s Know More Stuff article, we take a close look at sonography. What exactly is it? How does it work? How can you become a sonographer? Read on to find the answers to all these questions and more.
To find out what sonography is and how it differs from ultrasound then read on. To find out about jobs, salary, and programs you might want to skip to here.
The Quick Answer
Sonography is basically the use of ultrasound devices.
Sonography vs ultrasound
While ultrasound devices are the tools used, sonography is the medical skill or profession of a person.
So, no that person in the hospital is not called an ultrasounder nor the ultrasound operator, she/he is the sonographer. They studied sonography and that is their profession.
The Detailed Answer
Sonography Definition: The word sonographer is derived from Latin. There’s sono meaning ‘sound’, and graph which comes from the similar word graphein meaning ‘to write’. In essence, ‘sound writing’, and that’s a pretty good way of describing the role of a sonographer.
Though the word sonographer might not be familiar to us all, the role itself certainly is. We might not all have experienced an ultrasound, but I’m pretty sure we’ve seen one, at least on TV.
So, what’s ultrasound?
The medical tool is commonly used to check the health of a pregnant mother’s baby. But, that’s not its only use. Ultrasound scans (sonographs) are also used to detect and monitor health conditions in the abdomen area. The health of the liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, and gall-bladder can all be monitored with ultrasound. In fact, medical fields like cardiology (the heart & circulatory system), ophthalmology (eye & vision), urology (urinary tract system and reproductive organs), and the nervous system all use ultrasound technology.
It works using high frequency sound waves that penetrate the skin and provide feedback that can be seen as a detailed image on a screen.
The sound waves used in ultrasound are so high that we can’t hear them. The human range of hearing is typically 20Hz- 20kHz (at it’s very best), while ultrasound-waves exceed our 20kHz hearing limit. Animals like bats and dolphins actually use ultrasound-waves to locate their prey.
When these high-frequency sound-waves encounter materials of different consistencies (muscles, bones, organs etc.) their speed changes and they “bounce” back as echoes.
The data received is processed by a computer and forms the image that we call a sonogram.
What’s a sonographer’s role in this?
The sonographer carries out the procedure and has to “translate” what is being seen on the monitor into usable, scientific information.
First, they apply the ultrasound gel. This usually contains propylene glycol and water. It forms a conductive bond between the transducer and the skin, so that the sound waves easily pass into the body. They then move the transducer around the area of focus. As we mentioned before, the high frequency waves react differently to body tissue, muscles, bones, and organs and provide data accordingly.
The sonographer studies the real-time image (sonogram) on the screen. They look for any indicators of poor health, and make a preliminary study of the baby/person’s health. They then record the key images from the ultrasound for the doctor to study in more detail.
We’ve kept our description quite brief, so if you’re thirsty for more detail you should check out this video on performing an ultrasound examination.
How to become a sonographer
We’ve done some digging and over at the United States Department of Labor they’ve got some really interesting stats on sonography jobs. These are the key takeaways from the report published in May, 2016:
- The mean annual wage for a sonographer is $69,650. This is up from $68,390 in 2014.
- The top 10% of sonographers earn $99,100 on average.
- The average hourly wage is $33.49.
- The state with the highest average salary is California.
- The average sonography salary is $93,350 in the Golden State.
- In Pennsylvania the average salary is just $66,010 in comparison.
- The metropolitan area paying sonographers the most is the South San Francisco/Redwood City area.
- Average salaries here are $116,480.
- The highest earning sonographers work in outpatient care centers.
- The average salary is $82,940.
- The field of diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to see huge growth over the next few years.
- The U.S. Labor Department projects growth of 23% in this field for the period 2016-2026.
- This is much faster than the average for all occupations.
- The massive growth is contributed to the baby-boom population reaching advanced years of age. There’s an increased need to diagnose problems like heart disease, using ultrasound.
- A further reason is the increased popularity of ultrasound over techniques that involve radiation. The world is becoming more health conscious as a result of a deeper scientific understanding of these techniques.
- The most popular place to do sonography is in general medical and surgical hospitals.
- 39,130 sonographers out of a nationwide total of 65,790 are employed here.
To take a look at the officially recognized sonography programs you should visit the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) website here. It’s a great resource for the budding sonographer and has a job board too.
The prerequisites differ from college to college. A Bachelors or Associates qualification requires a high school diploma or GED, but some might require college credits or completed health programs. A Masters degree requires a completed Bachelors. You may find that you need specific credits relating to subjects like anatomy or biology too.
Things to look for in sonography programs
- You should choose a program that includes a certification exam accredited by the ARDMS. Having this accreditation will greatly enhance your job prospects.
- Check the standard and availability of their ultrasound equipment. Do they use current technology? How much actual hands-on experience will you get?
- Are there any opportunities for funding/scholarships/bursaries?
- What are the career prospects of graduates from this school?
So to conclude today’s article, let’s summarize the key takeaways.
- What is sonography? It’s the medical profession of using an ultrasound device and understanding the images presented.
- The term is derived from two Latin words meaning sound and write.
- The profession is on an upward trend with job prospects seemingly very good.
- If you’re a sonographer looking for a new job, the outpatient care centers in San Francisco, are statistically speaking, the best salaried roles 😉
Well that’s the end of today’s piece. We hope you found it informative and interesting. If you’ve got anything to add then drop us a comment down below. We’d love to hear from you. Until next time!