Cardiac sonographers, also called cardiovascular technologists, perform imaging studies with equipment that uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart. Physicians use these images to diagnose and treat various heart conditions. Cardiac sonographers may work with physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures. In addition, they perform tests called echocardiograms, obtain medical histories from the patient and record their findings in the medical record. You’ll need formal training and a minimum of an associate degree to become a cardiac sonographer.
Two Training Paths
Cardiac sonographers need formal training, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Your first choice is to complete an educational program in diagnostic medical sonography and your second choice is a program in cardiovascular technology. In either case, the BLS notes you will need a minimum of an associate degree. If you are already employed in a related field, such as radiologic technology, you may be able to complete a one-year certificate program to become a cardiac sonographer. The American Society of Echocardiography, or ASE, recommends you choose a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
Training Requirements and Content
Programs in sonography, cardiovascular or vascular education typically include courses in anatomy, medical terminology and applied sciences, according to the BLS. These programs are offered by colleges, universities and some technical-vocational schools. The diagnostic sonography program includes training in general as well as cardiac sonography, while cardiovascular programs are more focused on the heart. Your program should include a clinical component in which you work under an experienced technologist to gain hands-on experience. The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography notes you must meet certain physical requirements, such as the ability to routinely lift more than 50 pounds, push, pull and stoop. You must also have full use of your shoulders, wrists and hands, and be able to distinguish the colors on the screen.
Licensing and Certification
Some states require cardiac sonographers to be licensed, and certification may be required for licensure. Certification is also required by many insurance payers and Medicare. At the time of publication, ASE noted that Oregon required licensure for cardiac sonographers. New Mexico had passed but not yet implemented similar legislation. To become certified, you must pass an examination offered by either Cardiovascular Credentialing International or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Although you may not need to be certified to obtain a job, ASE notes that most employers will require you become certified within 12 to 24 months after you are hired.
Job Outlook and Salaries
Imaging technology used in cardiac sonography is a valuable tool for the diagnosis of medical problems such as heart disease, that are more common in the aging baby boom population. As a result, the BLS expects high demand for cardiovascular technologists, with a projected growth rate of 30 percent from 2012 to 2022. The average growth rate projected for all occupations is 11 percent. Although cardiovascular technologists worked mostly in hospitals in 2012, the BLS notes job growth may also occur in the outpatient sector. The average annual salary for cardiovascular technologists in 2013 was $53,990, according to the BLS.