Ultrasound technicians are in demand. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects faster-than-average growth in the field through 2016. Want to get involved? The fastest way to get a job in the industry is by completing an accredited, two-year course of study at a college or university.
Ultrasound technicians, or diagnostic medical sonographers, use high-frequency sound waves to "see" inside patients. They control the equipment that produces these sound waves and decipher the images that are produced. Most people associate ultrasounds with pregnancy, but not all technicians work in obstetrics. Many specialize in sonography of the heart, nervous system, vascular system or eyes as well.
There are many ways to become an ultrasound technician. Most people entering the field attend a two- or four-year program at a college or university. As of 2006, there were 147 training programs accredited by the Commission for Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs. Without previous experience in health care, completing a two-year college program culminating in an associate's degree is the fastest way to find a job in the industry; many employers are hesitant to hire inexperienced applicants without a degree. There are some one-year training programs available for people who have prior experience in other medical fields, but these programs are not accredited and may not be looked upon as favorably.
Not all technicians complete formal training at a school. Some receive training through military service. Others are hired and trained on the job. However, these alternatives to formal study are rare, and most people who do manage to enter the field without a degree have a college background or experience in health care.
There are no licenses required to practice as an ultrasound technician. The American Registry of Diagnostic Sonographers provides certification and registration for technicians who wish to join. To become certified through the organization, technicians must pass an exam and hold at least an associate's degree in the field. Thirty hours of continuing education are required every three years to upkeep the certification. Many employers look favorably on certification, and some only hire applicants that have achieved it.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for ultrasound technicians was $57,160 in 2006. The highest paid techs made more than $77,000 annually, while the lowest paid brought in less than $40,000. Ultrasound technicians working in doctors' offices made slightly more money than those working in hospitals and clinics.