Echo techs are echocardiology technicians or technologists. Also called echocardiographers or cardiac sonographers, they use sound waves to produce diagnostic images of a patient's heart and major blood vessels. The minimum requirement for an echo tech job is usually an accredited postsecondary certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree in echocardiography or a related major.
The accrediting agency for echo technologist programs is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Passing exams for professional certification will also improve your job chances.
Getting a Sonography Certificate
Certificate programs in cardiac sonography usually take one year and are geared to those who already have a college degree or training in a related health profession. The required prerequisite classes depend on the particular program, but they may include physics, anatomy, physiology and algebra. Some of the courses in a certificate program include diagnostic sonography, anatomy and physiology of the cardiovascular system, ultrasound physics and vascular testing. Students also receive clinical practice as preparation for the job market and certification.
Earning an Associate Degree
Associate degree programs for echo techs typically take approximately two years full time and are intended to prepare high school graduates for jobs and certification. A high school diploma with strong preparation in math and science is usually required. The coursework for an associate degree parallels that for a certificate, but it includes more advanced classes. Programs may also offer the opportunity to specialize -- for example, in adult or pediatric cardiac sonography. Similar to other associate degrees, these programs require general studies classes such as English and humanities.
Going for a Bachelor's Degree
High school graduates or students with a previous degree can pursue a bachelor's degree in medical sonography or echocardiography. The bachelor's enables students to start a career as an echo technologist or qualify for advancement. These programs may take as little as two years for transfer students with the proper prerequisites. In addition to general echocardiography classes, a comprehensive bachelor's program provides more in-depth instruction in multiple specialties, including adult, pediatric and fetal echocardiography and vascular imaging. Bachelor's students also typically receive a broader range of clinical experience.
Qualifying for Certification or Licensing
Most employers prefer to hire echo techs with certification because many insurance plans only cover procedures performed by certified technicians. The credentialing agencies for cardio techs are Cardiovascular Credentialing International and the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. To receive certification, technicians must meet educational requirements and pass a qualifying exam. Although some states require licensing of sonography technicians, certification usually helps fulfill licensing requirements.
Improving Your Job Prospects
The job market for diagnostic medical sonographers overall is growing much faster than most occupations – at a rate of 23 percent between 2016 and 2026 – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although hospitals with continue to need large numbers of echo techs, doctors' offices and diagnostic labs will experience the most job growth. Technicians with one or more certifications and understand multiple specialities have the best chances of finding work.
Diagnostic medical sonographers could expect to earn an average wage of $73,860 in 2018. Outpatient care centers offered the best salary prospects with an average wage of $88,820, which compared to $74,180 for echo techs working in hospitals. California, Florida and New York had the most echo tech jobs.