Ultrasound technicians have an important role in the well-being of patients. Generally, they are with a patient who listens to her baby’s heartbeat. Some ultrasound technicians assist doctors with diagnosing and treating diseases. Others will offer emotional support during trying circumstances. In radiology labs, an ultrasound technician uses equipment to create images of a patient’s body for doctors to review.
Ultrasound technicians are skilled at using various types of medical imaging technologies to diagnose and treat health conditions. Depending on the purpose of the tests, they may use an ultrasound, X-ray or MRI machine. Also known as medical sonographers, ultrasound technicians may use the equipment to capture images of internal organs. Their responsibilities may also include interpreting the results of the images with a team of healthcare professionals.
Specific job duties may vary based on the specialty, education and health care facility where the ultrasound technician works.
Education Requirements to Become an Ultrasound Technician
Educational programs are offered through hospitals, universities and community colleges for ultrasound technician training. The U.S. military also provides training to enlisted soldiers. The average time to complete most programs is one to two years.
Nearly 176 training programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs are available throughout the country. Admission into either program usually requires having a background in basic physics, algebra and/or natural sciences. Students can expect program coursework that covers medical ethics, patient care procedures, physiology and anatomy.
Professional certification is preferred by most employers that want to hire ultrasound technicians. The initial certification is obtained after passing the required examination upon graduating from an accredited educational program.
In some states, ultrasound technicians must also obtain a license to practice in the field. Continuing education courses are necessary to maintain certification and licensure throughout the ultrasound technician’s career.
In addition to basic certification, ultrasound technicians may wish to seek expert certification. This can expand employment opportunities when the technician has a specialization and credentials in reading imaging files on certain body parts.
For example, a graduate of an ultrasound technician program may receive additional certification in areas such as neurosonology, obstetrics and gynecologic sonography, or abdominal ultrasound. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography offers these additional certifications known as the Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer certification. Students interested in becoming a specialist in reading heart ultrasounds may receive a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer certification.
Generally, two examinations are required to receive these credentials. One exam covers sonography principles, and equipment usage. The other exam covers the anatomy of the organs for the specific expert certification.
Skills Needed to Work as an Ultrasound Technician
Other skills are required to successfully perform the duties of an ultrasound technician. Beyond formal education, ultrasound technicians should have excellent communication skills. Much of their daily work involves assisting doctors with diagnosing and treating medical conditions. Their role is to effectively communicate between the doctor and patient test results and possible treatment plans.
This requires an ability to explain complex medical terms and technical procedures to patients. Constant advancements in the health care industry require continued knowledge of current trends in the diagnostic and technology field.
Job Description for an Ultrasound Technician
The job description for an ultrasound technician may vary slightly depending on the medical facility where he or she is employed. Responsibilities, work hours and patient volume may have an impact on the differences. However, there is a general description of basic roles and responsibilities that every ultrasound technician can expect to fulfill regardless to where he or she works.
For the most part, ultrasound technicians will do more than simply operate imaging equipment. Generally, ultrasound technicians can expect constant interaction with patients who need some type of imaging test. The ability to operate equipment properly while having a firm understanding of human anatomy is essential to job performance.
Ultrasound technicians are usually employed in diagnostic laboratories, doctor’s offices, outpatient care facilities, hospitals, universities and any other facility where imaging examinations are needed. Their general job duties may include:
- Answering patient questions about the ultrasound procedure
- Keeping the room used for procedures sterilized and maintaining ultrasound equipment
- Ensuring the ultrasound probe captures every angle of the area being assessed
- Evaluating the quality of images and interpreting the results
- Maintaining patient records