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Detailed Guide for

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers in California

May also be called: Registered Diagnostic Sonographers; Sonographers; Ultrasound Technicians; Ultrasound Technologists

Specialties within this occupation include: Abdominal Sonographers; Breast Sonographers; Gynecologic Sonographers; Neurosonographers; Obstetric Sonographers; Ophthalmic Sonographers

What Would I Do?

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers play an important role in the diagnosis of medical problems by collecting data for doctors to analyze. They use special equipment to direct high frequency sound waves into areas of the patient’s body. The equipment collects reflected echoes and forms an image that may be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician.

Sonographers explain the procedure to the patient and record any medical history that may be relevant to the condition being viewed. Although techniques vary, Sonographers usually spread a gel on the skin to aid the transmission of sound waves. They then select appropriate equipment settings and direct the patient to move into positions that will provide the best view. To perform the exam, Sonographers use a transducer, which transmits and receives sound waves. Viewing the screen during the scan, Sonographers look for subtle visual cues that contrast healthy areas from unhealthy ones. They decide whether the images are satisfactory for diagnostic purposes and select which ones to show to the physician.

In addition to working directly with patients, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers keep patient records and adjust and maintain equipment. They may also prepare work schedules, evaluate equipment purchases, or manage a sonography or diagnostic imaging department.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographers may specialize in cardiac sonography focusing on the heart, vascular sonography to diagnose problems with the circulatory system, or ophthalmic sonography which is limited to the eye and surrounding tissue.

Abdominal Sonographers inspect a patient’s abdominal cavity to help diagnose and treat conditions primarily involving the gallbladder, bile ducts, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, and male reproductive system. Abdominal Sonographers may also scan parts of the chest, although studies of the heart using sonography usually are done by echocardiographers.

Breast Sonographers use sonography to study diseases of the breasts. Sonography aids mammography in the detection of breast cancer. Breast sonography can also track tumors, blood supply conditions, and assist in the accurate biopsy of breast tissue. Breast Sonographers use high-frequency transducers, designed exclusively to study breast tissue.

Neurosonographers focus on the nervous system, including the brain. In neonatal care, Neurosonographers study and diagnose neurological and nervous system disorders in premature infants. They also may scan blood vessels to check for abnormalities indicating a stroke in infants diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia. Like other sonographers, Neurosonographers operate transducers to perform the sonogram, but use different frequencies and beam shapes from those used by obstetric and abdominal Sonographers.

Obstetric and Gynecologic Sonographers specialize in the imaging of the female reproductive system. Included in the discipline is one of the more well-known uses of sonography: examining the fetus of a pregnant woman to track the baby’s growth and health.

Sonographers use blood pressure cuffs, hypodermic needles, lancets, ultrasound monitors, video equipment, printers, and computers with medical, spreadsheet, and word processing software.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Provide sonogram and oral or written summary of technical findings to physician for use in medical diagnosis.Oral Expression
Decide which images to include, looking for differences between healthy and pathological areas.Problem Sensitivity
Operate ultrasound equipment to produce and record images of the motion, shape and composition of blood, organs, tissues and bodily masses such as fluid accumulations.Critical Thinking
Observe screen during scan to ensure that image produced is satisfactory for diagnostic purposes, making adjustments to equipment as required.Near Vision
Select appropriate equipment settings and adjust patient positions to obtain the best sites and angles.Coordination
Prepare patient for exam by explaining procedure, transferring them to ultrasound table, scrubbing skin and applying gel, and positioning them properly.Customer and Personal Service
Observe and care for patients throughout examinations to ensure their safety and comfort.Social Perceptiveness
Obtain and record accurate patient history, including prior test results and information from physical examinations.Active Listening
Determine whether scope of exam should be extended, based on findings.Judgment and Decision Making
Maintain records that include patient information, sonographs and interpretations, files of correspondence, publications and regulations, or quality assurance records such as pathology, biopsy, or post-operative reports.Written Expression
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Sonographers typically work in clean health care facilities for a variety of departments, such as obstetrics, gynecology, or cardiology. They usually work with diagnostic imaging machines in darkened rooms, but also may perform procedures at patients’ bedsides. Sonographers may be on their feet for long periods of time and may have to lift or turn disabled patients. The nature of their work can put Sonographers at an increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back strain, and eye strain. However, greater use of ergonomic equipment methods should minimize such risks. They must also practice proper safety procedures to limit risks from possible exposure to body fluids.

Some Sonographers work as contract employees and may travel to several health care facilities in an area. Some Sonographers work with mobile imaging service providers which travel to patients and use mobile diagnostic imaging equipment to provide service in areas that otherwise do not have the access to such services.

Most full-time Sonographers work about 40 hours a week. Hospital-based Sonographers may work evenings and weekends. They may also be scheduled to work on call, so they must be ready to report to work on short notice.

So far, there has been little unionization for Sonographers. However, hospital and State employees may be covered by unions tied to their employer. For example, Service Employees International Union represents State employees.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Sonographer may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve working with ideas and that require an extensive amount of thinking. This occupation involves searching for facts and figuring out problems. Results-oriented individuals who are independent workers and like to make their own decisions, should enjoy this type of job.

Sonographers need good communication and interpersonal skills because they must be able to explain technical procedures to their patients, some of whom may be nervous or ill, about the exam or the problems it may reveal. Good hand-eye coordination is particularly important for obtaining quality images.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers in California is $97,878 annually, or $47.05 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$76,736$97,878$119,680
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. In addition, some employers pay for job-related training courses.

What is the Job Outlook?

Job growth is expected as sonography becomes increasingly attractive to those seeking an alternative to X rays. Unlike most diagnostic imaging methods, sonography does not involve radiation, so harmful side effects and complications from repeated use are less likely for both the patient and the Sonographer. Sonographic technology is expected to evolve rapidly and to spawn many new sonography procedures, such as 3D- and 4D-sonography for use in obstetric and ophthalmologic diagnosis. However, high costs and approval by the federal government may limit the rate at which some promising new technologies are adopted.

Hospitals will remain the principal employer of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. However, employment is expected to grow more rapidly in offices of physicians and in medical and diagnostic laboratories, including diagnostic imaging centers. This growth is expected because of the strong shift toward outpatient care, encouraged by third-party payers and made possible by technological advances that permit more procedures to be performed outside the hospital.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers are expected to increase by 29.4 percent, or 1,500 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2014-2024)
5,1006,6001,50029.41,000
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 160 new job openings per year is expected for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, plus an additional 100 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 250 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2014-2024)
160100250
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

There are several avenues for entry into the field of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Sonographers may train in hospitals, vocational-technical institutions, colleges and universities, or the military.

Colleges and universities offer formal training in both two- year associate or four-year bachelor degree programs. Two-year programs are more prevalent.

A few one-year programs are accepted as adequate education by employers. These programs typically provide education for workers already in health care who seek to increase their marketability by training in sonography. These programs are not accredited but may offer a certificate.

The Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) normally accredits the formal training programs offered by colleges and universities. Some hospital programs are accredited as well.

Experience

Many employers prefer to hire candidates who have experience in the employer's specialty.

Early Career Planning

Those interested in becoming a Sonographer should take mathematics, biology, physics, algebra, English, speech, health, and computer courses.

Work Study Programs

Some Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) offer introductory courses in health care careers and medical terminology. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

It is helpful that Sonographers enjoy learning because continuing education is the key to Sonographers staying abreast in the ever-changing field of diagnostic medicine. Professional organizations offer educational programs and materials for their members. To maintain certifications offered by the different professional associations, a range of 24-36 continuing education credits is required for each two- to three-year recertification period.

Certification

A State license is not required. However, most employers prefer credentialing or registration with organizations such as the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), or the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Some employers allow applicants to obtain certification within a short time after hire.

The ARDMS offers the following credentials: Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS), Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS), and Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT). Registration with ARDMS requires passing a general physical principles test and instrumentation examination and a test in a specialty, such as obstetric and gynecologic sonography.

The CCI offers credentials for those specializing in cardiology, such as the Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS). To receive the RCS credential, applicants must meet education requirements or hold a current, approved credential and pass the required tests.

The ARRT offers a primary certification in sonography in addition to post-primary certifications in vascular and breast sonography.

For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Diagnostic Medical Sonographers are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 54.2%
Offices of Physicians 24.6%
Outpatient Care Centers 9.2%
Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories 9.1%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at their college or university. Newspaper classified ads, professional associations, and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

  • Clinics
  • Health
  • Hospitals
  • Laboratories
  • Medical
  • Physician

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Sonographers specializing in one particular discipline often want to be competent in others. For example, obstetric Sonographers might seek training in abdominal sonography to broaden their opportunities and increase their marketability.

Experienced Sonographers may advance to become a lead or a supervisor. Sonographers may find advancement opportunities in education, administration, research, sales, or technical advising.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Diagnostic Medical Sonographers with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
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Industry
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Clinical Laboratory Technologists and TechniciansProfile
Nuclear Medicine TechnologistsGuide
Radiologic Technologists and Technicians*Guide
Respiratory TherapistsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-2032
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Diagnostic Medical Sonographers29-2032.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)ISR
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Diagnostic Medical Sonography/Sonographer & Ultrasound Techn510910
   Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, & Treatment Professi510999
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Polysomnography121100
   Diagnostic Medical Sonography122700