Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists

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What They Do[About this section] [To Top]

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, operate special imaging equipment to create images or conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions. Some technologists assist physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures.

Duties

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, typically do the following:

  • Prepare patients for procedures by taking a patient’s medical history and answering any questions about the procedure
  • Prepare and maintain diagnostic imaging equipment
  • Operate equipment to obtain diagnostic images or to conduct tests
  • Review images or test results to check for quality and adequate coverage of the areas needed for diagnoses
  • Recognize the difference between normal and abnormal images and other diagnostic information
  • Analyze diagnostic information to provide a summary of findings for physicians
  • Record findings and keep track of patients’ records

Diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in creating images of the body’s organs and tissues. The images are known as sonograms (or ultrasounds). Sonograms are often the first imaging test performed when disease is suspected. Diagnostic medical sonographers may work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures. The following are examples of types of diagnostic medical sonographers:

  • Abdominal sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s abdominal cavity and nearby organs, such as the kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or spleen. Abdominal sonographers may assist with biopsies or other examinations requiring ultrasound guidance.
  • Breast sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s breast tissues. Sonography can confirm the presence of cysts and tumors that may have been detected by the patient, physician, or a mammogram. Breast sonographers work closely with physicians and assist with procedures that track tumors and help to provide information for making decisions about the best treatment options for breast cancer patients.
  • Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in imaging muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. These sonographers may assist with ultrasound guidance for injections, or during surgical procedures, that deliver medication or treatment directly to affected tissues.
  • Pediatric sonographers specialize in imaging child and infant patients. Many of the medical conditions they image are associated with premature births or birth defects. Pediatric sonographers may work closely with pediatricians and other caregivers.
  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system. Many pregnant women receive sonograms to track the baby’s growth and health. Obstetrical sonographers work closely with physicians in detecting congenital birth defects.

Diagnostic sonography uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. The sonographer uses an instrument called an ultrasound transducer on the parts of the patient’s body that are being examined. The transducer emits pulses of sound that bounce back, causing echoes. The echoes are then sent to the ultrasound machine, which processes them and displays them as images used by physicians for diagnosis.

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians create images, conduct tests, or assist with surgical procedures involving the heart. The following are examples of types of cardiovascular technologists and technicians:

  • Cardiac sonographers (echocardiographers) specialize in imaging a patient’s heart and use ultrasound equipment to examine the heart’s chambers, valves, and vessels. The images are known as echocardiograms. The echocardiogram procedure may be done while the patient is either resting or after being physically active. Cardiac sonographers also may take echocardiograms of fetal hearts so that physicians can diagnose cardiac conditions during pregnancy. Cardiac sonographers work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures.
  • Cardiovascular invasive specialists or cardiac catheterization technologists, also known as cardiovascular technologists, monitor patients’ heart rates and help physicians in diagnosing and treating problems with patients’ hearts. They assist with cardiac catheterization, which involves threading a catheter through a patient’s artery to the heart. They also prepare and monitor patients during open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and stents. Technologists prepare patients for procedures by shaving and cleansing the area where the catheter will be inserted and administering topical anesthesia. During the procedure, they monitor the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Cardiographic or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians specialize in electrocardiogram (EKG) testing. EKG machines monitor the heart’s performance through electrodes attached to a patient’s chest, arms, and legs. The tests can be done while the patient is at rest or while the patient is physically active. For a stress test, the patient walks on a treadmill and the technician gradually increases the speed to observe the effect of increased exertion.

Vascular technologists (vascular sonographers) are closely related to cardiovascular technologists and their duties are similar to those of diagnostic medical sonographers. Vascular technologists create images of blood vessels and collect data that help physicians diagnose disorders affecting blood flow.

Vascular technologists often measure a patient’s blood pressure and the volume of blood in their arms, legs, fingers, and toes to evaluate blood flow and identify blocked arteries. They complete noninvasive procedures using specialized ultrasound instruments or blood pressure cuffs to record information, such as the blood flow in arteries and veins, blood pressure (blood volume), oxygen saturation, and the presence of blood clots in the body. Vascular technologists may work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures.

Work Environment[About this section] [To Top]

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists hold about 112,700 jobs. The industries that employ the most diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists are as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 68%
Offices of physicians 20
Medical and diagnostic laboratories 7

These workers complete most of their work at diagnostic imaging machines in dimly lit rooms, but they also may perform procedures at patients’ bedsides. Diagnostic imaging workers may be on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients who are disabled.

Work Schedules

Most diagnostic imaging workers work full time. Some may work evenings, weekends, or overnight because they work in facilities that are always open.

How to Become One[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers near you!

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, need formal education, such as an associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. Many employers also require professional certification.

Education

Colleges and universities offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in sonography and in cardiovascular and vascular technology. One-year certificate programs also are available from colleges or hospitals.

Employers typically prefer graduates of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Sonography, cardiovascular, and vascular education programs usually include courses in anatomy, medical terminology, and applied sciences. Most sonography programs are divided into the specialized fields that correspond to the relevant certification exams, such as abdominal sonography or breast sonography. Cardiovascular and vascular programs include coursework in either invasive or noninvasive cardiovascular or vascular technology procedures. In addition to classroom study, most programs also include a clinical component in which students earn credit while working under a more experienced technologist in a hospital, physician’s office, or imaging laboratory.

High school students who are interested in diagnostic medical sonography, cardiovascular technology, or vascular technology should take courses in anatomy, physiology, physics, and math.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most employers prefer to hire diagnostic imaging workers with professional certification. Many insurance providers and Medicare pay for procedures only if a certified sonographer, technologist, or technician performed the work. Certification is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Credentialing International.

Diagnostic imaging workers can earn certification by graduating from an accredited program and passing an exam. Most of the certifications are for specialties in diagnostic imaging; for example, a sonographer can earn a certification in abdominal sonography. Most diagnostic imaging workers have at least one certification, but many earn multiple certifications.

In addition, many employers prefer to hire candidates who have a Basic Life Support certification, which shows they are trained to provide CPR.

Few states require diagnostic medical sonographers to be licensed. Professional certification is typically required for licensure; other requirements vary by state. Contact state medical boards for more information.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Diagnostic imaging workers must follow precise instructions to obtain the images needed to diagnose and treat patients. They must also pay attention to the screen while scanning a patient’s body because the cues that contrast healthy areas with unhealthy ones may be subtle.

Hand-eye coordination. To get quality images, diagnostic imaging workers must be able to accurately move equipment on the patient’s body in response to what they see on the screen.

Interpersonal skills. Diagnostic imaging workers must work closely with patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain or mental stress, and they must get cooperation from the patient to create usable images.

Physical stamina. Diagnostic imaging workers are on their feet for long periods and must be able to lift and move patients who need assistance.

Technical skills. Diagnostic imaging workers must understand how to operate complex machinery and computerized instruments.

Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians is $54,880. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,170.

The median annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers is $68,970. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,390.

The median annual wages for diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Medical and diagnostic laboratories $66,830
Offices of physicians 64,960
Hospitals; state, local, and private 62,590

Most diagnostic imaging workers work full time. Some may work evenings, weekends, or overnight because they work in facilities that are always open.

Job Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to grow 26 percent through 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, is projected to grow 22 percent through 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

As imaging technology evolves, medical facilities will continue to use ultrasound to replace more invasive, costly procedures. Ultrasound is often less expensive than other imaging technologies and is often used as a first-line tool for diagnosis. Third-party payers encourage the use of these noninvasive measures over invasive ones in order to save on costs. Diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, and vascular technologists will continue to be needed in healthcare settings to provide an alternative to imaging techniques that involve radiation.

As the large baby-boom population ages, the need to diagnose medical conditions—such as blood clots and heart disease—will likely increase. Imaging technology is a tool used in making these diagnoses.

Additionally, the number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. Diagnostic imaging workers will continue to be needed to use and maintain the equipment needed for diagnosis and treatment.

Job Prospects

Diagnostic imaging personnel who are certified are expected to have the best job opportunities. Job opportunities increase when diagnostic imaging personnel are certified in more than one specialty.

Employment projections data for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists 112,700 140,200 24 27,600
  Cardiovascular technologists and technicians 52,000 63,500 22 11,500
  Diagnostic medical sonographers 60,700 76,700 26 16,000


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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