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How to Become an Obstetric Sonographer

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Ultrasounds, diagnostic tests that use sound waves to provide images of body structures, provide valuable information regarding the growth and development of fetuses. The tests are performed by obstetric sonographers, medical imaging technicians who specialize in obstetrics. If you're considering a career as an obstetric sonographer, you’ll need excellent interpersonal skills, an affinity for the sciences and a two- or four-year degree.

Obstetric Sonographer Job Description

Ob gyn sonographers pass hand-held transducers that generate high-frequency sound waves over a pregnant woman’s abdomen during an ultrasound test. Echoes produced by the waves are turned into real-time images that appear on the sonographer’s monitor.

Sonograms provide important information regarding the pregnancy and fetus, including:

  • Fetal weight and position.      
  • Estimated delivery date.      
  • Development and size. 
  • Sex.       
  • Amount of amniotic fluid.       
  • Number of fetuses.       
  • Abnormalities, such as spina bifida, extra fingers, cleft lip, neural tube defects, or heart or brain anomalies.

Before performing a sonogram, the sonographer verifies the patient’s identification and reviews her medical history. Ob-gyn ultrasound techs must be able to distinguish between normal and abnormal structures and perform measurements and calculations during the course of the ultrasound.

If you’ve ever viewed a hazy ultrasound image, you may have found it difficult to identity organs and structures without a little help. Baby ultrasound technicians not only know how to operate ultrasound equipment but also have a keen eye for detail. They must be able to spot minor changes or anomalies that can signal potentially serious health or development issues for fetuses.

The ability to maintain a neutral expression, even if you see fetal abnormalities, is particularly important. You may not share the information with your patient or offer any recommendations. The physician who ordered the test will explain the implications of the results with the patient.

Obstetric sonographers work with little supervision during their shifts, although co-workers and supervisors are available for assistance if needed. As ultrasounds are conducted in darkened rooms, the ability to see well in low light is important.

During the work day, you’ll alternative between sitting and standing and must be able to move patients to position them properly. The mood in the ultrasound suite is usually positive, which helps make for a pleasant workplace. Expectant parents are often excited to attend appointments and are generally cooperative.

Education and Training

An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in sonography is the preferred entry-level requirement if you would like to work in the field. During your training, you’ll take classes in adult and fetal anatomy, sonography principles, the female reproductive system, medical terminology and other subjects.

In addition to classroom work, you’ll also spend time in the field, where you’ll work under the supervision of an experienced sonographer. Required continuing medical education classes, taken every year, will help you keep your skills sharp after graduation.

It may also be possible to become a sonographer after working in another allied health field, although this path is much less common. The transfer may require on-the-job training or completion of a one-year certificate program.

Certification is recommended and may be a requirement if you’re employed as an obstetric sonographer in a hospital or medical center. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography, the American Registry of Radiological Technologists or Cardiovascular Credentialing International all offer certification exams. Your job prospects may be brighter if you become certified in multiple areas, such as Obstetrics and Gynecology and Fetal Echocardiology.

Salary and Job Outlook

The median annual salary for diagnostic medical sonographers was $71,410 in May 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS expects employment of diagnostic medical sonographers to grow 23 percent by 2026.

  • Average earnings of diagnostic medical sonographers were between $48,890 and $67,670 a year in 2006.
  • Most obstetric sonographers work a 40 hour week, although some are required to work nights and weekends and be on call for emergencies.
  • Use ergonomically correct equipment or equipment designed with safety in mind. This will lower your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain and back and neck strain, which is common among obstetric sonographers.

Holly McGurgan has a degree in journalism and previously worked as a non-profit public relations and communications manager. She often writes about career and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared online on Healthline, Working for Candy and other sites.

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