What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

Career and Quick Facts

Woman receiving ultrasound examination, smiling
An ultrasound technician gives an abdominal sonogram to a patient. Joos Mind/Iconica/Getty Images

An ultrasound technician operates special equipment that uses high-frequency sound waves to record images of internal organs. Using this equipment helps doctors and other health professionals diagnose patients' ailments. Other job titles for this occupation include ultrasound tech, diagnostic medical sonographer, or sonographer.

Ultrasound technicians work directly with patients and physicians. They may specialize in obstetric and gynecologic, abdominal, breast, vascular, or cardiac sonography.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, ultrasound technicians earned a median annual salary of $69,65 and median hourly wages of $33.49.
  • Approximately 61,000 people were employed in this occupation in 2014.
  • Most work in hospitals; doctors and diagnostic imaging centers employ others.
  • Jobs are typically full time.
  • The job outlook for ultrasound technicians is excellent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies it as a "Bright Outlook" occupation because employment is expected to grow much faster than it will in most other occupations through 2024.

Roles and Responsibilities

What is it like to work in this occupation? To learn about job duties, we consulted some job announcements on Indeed.com. We learned that ultrasound techs may:

  • Prepare exam room and ultrasound equipment to conduct sonography examinations in accordance with infectious disease, sterilization, and patient safety protocols, policies, and process
  • Assist radiologists with ultrasound guided biopsies and vascular ultrasound procedures as needed
  • Recognize and record appropriate anatomy and pathology using sonographic equipment
  • Care for the equipment to ensure longevity of the machine and transducers; report equipment failure to the supervisor
  • Write reports based upon completion of the scan
  • Alert the appropriate medical staff of abnormalities that require immediate attention

The Truth About Being an Ultrasound Technician

  • Expect to work nights, weekends, and even holidays, especially if you work in a hospital.
  • You will be on your feet for a large part of your day.
  • You will have patients with mobility problems who will need you to lift and move.
  • Changes in technology and procedures will require you to keep your knowledge up-to-date.

How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

If you want to become an ultrasound technician, you can choose from among four routes to get there. The first, a one-year certificate program, is available only to those who have experience working in other healthcare occupations. If you do not meet this requirement, you should earn an associate or bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography from an accredited program. It will take you about two years to earn an associate degree and about four to get a bachelor's degree (Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs). The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits diagnostic medical sonography educational programs in the United States.

 

After you graduate, you will have to take a national credentialing exam to become a certified diagnostic medical sonographer. While you aren't required to do this, most employers will not hire you without this credential. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) all offer certification (Who Is Qualified to Perform Your Exam? Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography). Some states require ultrasound technicians to be licensed. You can use the License Finder Tool from CareerOneStop to find out if the state in which you want to work is one of them.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Active Listening: Your patients may have questions about the procedure you are performing. You must be able to understand what they are asking so you can provide the information they are seeking.
  • Verbal Communication: To get accurate images, you must be able to convey instructions to your patients.
  • Interpersonal Skills: In addition to listening and speaking skills, you must have excellent social skills and the ability to sympathize and empathize with your patients.
  • Reading Comprehension: Doctors will send written instructions to let you know images they need. You must be able to understand them.
  • Critical Thinking: This skill will let you evaluate alternative solutions to problems.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Ability to problem solve and make decisions"
  • "Must be able to work independently or with little supervision and in a team environment"
  • "Ability to manage multiple priorities, projects and display flexibility in a fast paced and changing work environment"
  • "Must have good work ethic and a friendly and cheerful disposition"
  • "Ability to maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality required"
  • "Pursues professional development for the continual improvement of patient care"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
Cardiovascular TechnologistUses invasive and non-invasive procedures to help doctors diagnose and treat cardiac and vascular issues$55,570Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Cardiovascular Technology
Radiologic TechnologistUses xrays, CT scans and MRIs to help physicians diagnose illnesses and injuries$57,450Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Radiologic Technology
Respiratory TherapistAdministers treatment to patients who have breathing and cardiopulmonary problems$58,670Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Respiratory Therapy
Surgical TechnologistAssists surgeons and surgical nurses in the operating room$45,160Associate Degree in Surgical Technology

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited July 3, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited July 3, 2017).