Sonographers work in a variety of different settings, including hospitals, physician's offices, and medical and diagnostic laboratories. Sonographers complete orders placed by a physician, taking x-rays and doing a primary assessment for the physician. Sonographers are often in charge of preparing the patient for the procedure and taking any relevant medical history. Sonographers talk patients through procedures in order to make them feel comfortable and are in charge of taking images, making sure they have all that the physician needs in order to make a proper diagnosis. While sonographers often leave comments for a physician, it is up to the physician to diagnose what is found during the scan.
While there is no state or national law that states how much education a sonographer must have, hospitals and medical settings are more likely to hire a sonographer who is formally trained and highly qualified. Some colleges and universities throughout the United States offer two- and four-year programs, resulting in an associate's or bachelor’s degree. Aspiring sonographers take classes in anatomy, physics, medical ethics, patient care, physiology and instrumentation. Some hospitals and other establishments offer one-year programs that result in a sonography certification upon completion. As of 2006, the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Program accredits 147 different training programs for sonographers throughout the United States.
Like any other medical profession, on-the-job training is often a requirement for sonographers. While employers prefer candidates who are already formally trained, many hospitals and medical establishments have their own training programs for newly hired sonographers. Sonographers may be asked to work alongside trained sonographers at the beginning of their career to ensure that they know how to handle a wide variety of different situations.
In the sonography field, there are many different branches of specialty sonographers. Many offices and hospitals require that sonographers go through a separate training in order to work as sonographers in certain fields. Obstetric and gynecological sonographers' work centers on the female reproductive system. It is often the sonographer's task to examine a baby’s growth, development and overall health during the pregnancy. Abdominal sonographers help diagnose conditions in the gallbladder, liver, pancreas, spleen, kidneys and bile ducts. Abdominal sonographers also work with sonography in the male reproductive system. Neurosonographers work with the nervous system, which includes the brain, and breast sonographers are typically in charge of detecting breast cancer and tracking tumors and blood supply conditions throughout the breasts. Specialty training can often be done while working alongside a sonographer who has already been trained in that area.
As of 2009, none state requires sonographers to become licensed in diagnostic medical sonography. However, the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) offers a registration process that sonographers can go through. The registration process, which consists of passing a general physical principles and instrumental exam, shows prospective employers that the sonographer is highly qualified in her field. Specialty examinations are also available for sonographers looking to become registered in their specific field. In order for registration with the ARDMS to stay current, sonographers must take a predetermined amount of continued education courses within specified time periods.
In order to be successful in the sonography field, sonographers must have good communication and interpersonal skills. Sonographers must feel comfortable interacting with both patients and doctors in a variety of different settings. Sonographers must be able to make a patient feel comfortable while completing the testing and then must be able to convey to the doctor or other medical staff member what they found through their sonography assessment. Sonographers should have good hand-eye coordination in order to produce crisp, clear images.