Abdominal AortaCan I ask you a question?

I am asked these two questions as a Sonographer almost on a daily basis.

  1. how long does it take to actually become a Sonographer?
  2. Is it fun performing ultrasounds on babies all day?

It’s difficult to answer these questions because the first question depends on the steps you take to become a Sonographer and the second question arises from a bit of ignorance concerning the job.


It may take three to four years of school to earn a degree in Diagnostic Medical Ultrasound but as a Sonographer you are always learning. There are many types of Ultrasound degrees, certificates and programs that you may be able to take. Generally the school that offers certificates have a fairly short duration of less than 2 years. Usually this is not the most desirable route since you will not gain sufficient experience. Most programs offer an Associates degree in Applied Health Science specifically pertaining to Diagnostic Medical Sonography. This is generally the best route to take since it will give you sufficient classroom time as well as clinical time.

There are Bachelor and Master’s degree programs but these generally are not required to begin a career as a Ultrasound Technologist.

One tip is to search for a CAAHEP accredited school. If the school you are planning on going to is not accredited try to find out how long it will take for them to get accredited. If a school is not accredited you have to go through a few hoops on graduation to sit for your ARDMS registration boards.

Where do you work?

Typically most Ultrasound technologists will work in a hospital. The reason for this is the volume of patients requires permanent staff. With inpatients, outpatients and emergency patients added together that usually justifies one, two or even Sonographers for even a small hospital. It tends to be even more, to account for 24 hour coverage. Another option would be an outpatient clinic. This could be a clinic that is a branch of the main hospital or a physician that specializes in a certain area of medicine. This could be an Obstetrician Gynecologist, an Orthopedist or a Cardiologist. This way they can have the exams done in the office and have the results almost immediately. There are specialized clinics that offer all modalities, such as Ultrasound, Cat scan (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and X-rays. Employment opportunities abound.

What do you do all day?

So what would a normal day be like? Well, it’s a little different depending on the environment. Let’s go over each.Fetal profile with nasal bones

If you like having a set schedule and routine, then working in a clinic is probably your best bet. They will have a schedule of patients and possible take a few emergency cases. A doctor’s office would have a predictable daily routine and for this reason many Sonographers prefer it to a hospital.

If you were to work in an Obstetrical Gynecologist’s office then you would perform all manner of female oriented exams. Pelvic ultrasounds to evaluate the uterus and ovaries, early obstetrical exams to determine more accurate size and dates or even to make sure that the pregnancy is viable. An anatomical survey is the exam that most people are familiar with. This is the exam that is performed to evaluate the fetus and all the internal organs for any anomalies. At the end of a pregnancy you usually will scan the baby to determine a probable birth weight or check the Amniotic fluid level.

Clinics that have other modalities, such as a mammogram X-ray, will have an Ultrasound correlate any abnormal findings. They may send over a patient for a breast ultrasound to evaluate an abnormality on X-ray that appears suspicious for cancer or even to check that it is a benign finding.

General physicians will order exams to evaluate patients with abdomen pain for possible Gallstones or Urinary tract infections. Other patients may have swelling in their legs so we will check to make sure there are no blood clots or fluid collections that may be the cause. So, in a clinical setting most patients walk in and walk out. Hours are normal 9-5.

Working in a hospital is a little different. Usually there are still scheduled outpatients but you also cover all the departments of the hospital.

The Hospitalist (a physician that is in charge of patients in the hospital) will order exams throughout the day. So you may see all the exams I described above and more (e.g. kidney ultrasounds for obstruction or Carotid arteries for stenosis). Many exams are urgent and must be performed immediately to facilitate patient care. You could work with the Radiologists and perform biopsies or fluid drainages. They prefer Ultrasound because our equipment is small and portable and able to visualize the needles as they enter the area of interest.

The ultrasound department performs exams for the Emergency room as well. There are a variety of emergent ultrasounds that you will be required to perform. It may be to evaluate an Appendix that possibly ruptured or a mother, who is early in her pregnancy that is having unusual bleeding.

Another exciting area is the surgical department. More and more we are being used by the surgeons to guide them into structures to minimize the risk of damaging vessels, muscles or other organs that are nearby the area of interest.

Many of these institutions provide the availability for Ultrasound exams 24/7. So the Sonographers will rotate coverage on call. This means that if they need you, they call you at any time and you come in and perform the exam. Usually you will be on call a few nights and evenings a month and maybe a weekend or two.

Ultrasound is such an exciting field. It is maturing into a very useful method of interrogating the body more and more each day. There are always new ways to view the body and new things to learn. For this reason I love my job!

Franco Vallejos, RDMS

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I am the founder and lead Instructor here at ExamRefresh.com. I strive to help those that are entering the field of Ultrasound to be the best that they can be. Ultrasound is my passion.

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