The information below will help you understand who ultrasound technicians are and how to become one.

Who are ultrasound technicians?

Ultrasound techs, or, as they are often called, sonographers, are medical professionals who perform ultrasound screening of patients’ organs, blood flow and tissues. They discuss the results with doctors, helping them come up with the correct diagnosis.

As an ultrasound technician, you will be responsible for explaining the details of procedures to patients, answering their questions, and working with and updating medical records.

How to become an ultrasound technician?

To become a sonographer (or ultrasound technician), you will need to complete a minimum of an associate’s degree in ultrasound technology. It will usually take you 2 years to do so. This degree level is the most common choice for prospective technicians. You can also find bachelor’s and even master’s degrees (we will review how they differ below), but for securing a job, an associate’s is usually enough.

It’s important that you choose CAAHEP-accredited program. This way it will be easy for you to get your certification and license. Also, employment opportunities are better for graduates of accredited schools.

Once your training is complete, you will need to get certified by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). This requires an exam. Depending on the state, you will also need to get a license, which will be easy assuming you already have a degree and certification.

Ultrasound technician schools & training

When it comes to education levels for ultrasound techs, there are 4 options to choose from:

A certificate in ultrasound technology is the most basic educational level. You can earn it in approximately 1 year of study. It makes sense to enroll in a certificate (or diploma) training program only if you already have some clinical experience (for example, you’re currently a CNA) and you want to transfer to a career as an ultrasound technician. Otherwise, if you’re starting from scratch, the certificate won’t be enough for you to find a job as an ultrasound technician.
An associate’s degree is the most common choice for future ultrasound technicians. It usually takes only 2 years to accomplish. This is the most optimal path towards a career as an ultrasound technician. Over 100 schools in the US are accredited by CAAHEP and offer degrees in ultrasound technology. Although you can find a couple of online programs (which is an option if you’re working full-time), you will still have to complete clinical practice, and there can be drawbacks as you proceed.
These two degrees are not very popular among the majority of ultrasound technicians. Usually they’re a good option if you want to get a lead position as an ultrasound tech, or you want to do research. Both of them assume some working experience as an ultrasound technician, so in either case you will need to start with an associate’s degree.
Although you can find some online ultrasound technician courses (usually certificate or diplomas), this is probably not the best option if you’re just entering the field. Training assumes a very significant practical component, which will be hard to fulfill with an online program. It’s much easier to complete certification and start working as an ultrasound technician after you graduate from an on-campus training program.

Certification & Licensure

The industry standard for certifications in ultrasound technology are the ones obtained from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). In most cases, you will need a credential called Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, which you can earn by accomplishing the SPI (Sonography Principles & Instrumentation) exam in conjunction with one (or more, if you want) of the following specialty examinations: Abdomen (AB), Breast (BR), Fetal Echocardiography (FE), Neurosonology (NE), Obstetrics and Gynecology (OBGYN), Pediatric Sonography (PS).

If you want to specialize in echocardiography, you can become a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS), or Registered Vascular Technologist, if you see yourself in Vascular Technology. These credentials can be earned with the same SPI exam, but by choosing corresponding specialty exams.

You can see the complete outline of certifications at the ARDMS site here.

Certification pre-requisite requirements

ARDMS is very flexible when it comes to requirements for certification, and there are 7 main and 4 additional paths through which you can become eligible for the exam and certification.

The main idea is that you will either need an ultrasound degree from an accredited institution (and no job experience), or a non-related degree and clinical (usually ultrasound) experience – which is, of course, nearly impossible to get without a degree.

For the above reasons, we recommend that in order to become certified, you obtain a degree from an accredited school. This is the easiest and fastest way.

You can see the full list of certification requirements here.

Salary

The average annual salary of an ultrasound technician is $65,000. This amount differs from state to state, and varies based on the technician’s work experience and advanced certifications or degrees.

Ultrasound technician is one of the highest-paying careers in the US among those that require an associate’s degree.

Once you graduate, you can easily get a job with a base pay of around $45,000. We recommend that you don’t ask for a significantly higher salary, since in this stage it is important to secure a job. Once this is done, as your experience grows, and you earn more professional certifications (for a practicing ultrasound tech, even five is a very average number), your salary will eventually increase as well.