How & Why to Become a Certified Ultrasound Technician
Diagnostic medical sonography, also known as sonography, uses ultrasound technology to examine the body’s organs, blood vessels and tissues. Sonographers work one-on-one with patients on the front lines of healthcare and play a critical role in helping to detect and monitor a variety of life-changing medical conditions such as high-risk pregnancies, cancers and heart defects.
A career in diagnostic medical sonography offers exciting rewards and challenges, and certification is a great way to make a strong start. Because of its promising job growth and good salary, U.S. News and World Report ranks diagnostic medical sonography #3 in its list of best healthcare support jobs.
Diagnostic medical sonographers earn an average annual salary of $73,860, and the typical entry-level education is a two-year associate’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
What’s more, employment opportunities are expected to grow in diagnostic medical sonography as the baby boomer generation ages. The BLS marks an ultrasound technician career as having notable growth, about 14% faster than average.
19% Job Growth
projected through 2028
What Certifications Do You Need to Be an Ultrasound Technician?
Although no state requires ultrasound technician certification, getting your certification can be a smart move. Certification provides an independent, objective measure of an individual’s professional standing, particularly in specialty areas such as abdomen, breast, obstetrics and gynecology, and cardiac sonography. In fact, most diagnostic imaging workers have at least one certification.
Why Get Certified?
Certification is the gold standard that promotes best practices for improved patient safety. Employers and insurance providers increasingly require sonographers to demonstrate their competence through certification in each specialty area, according to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
That’s a key reason why obtaining a professional certification will help you become more competitive on the job market. When making hiring decisions, most employers prefer to hire sonographers with certification, and many insurance providers will only pay for a diagnostic imaging procedure if it was performed by a certified professional.
An Inside Look at the Sonography Career Path
While it’s great to understand hard numbers like median salary and predicted job growth, these statistics don’t tell you the full picture of what day-to-day life as a sonographer may entail.
Vickie Martin, medical sonographer and co-director of the General Vascular Technology Program at the University of Kansas Medical Center, explains what skills are needed to excel in this career. “Sonography takes a lot of self-confidence and problem-solving ability,” she says. “It’s not just taking one picture—it’s knowing how to get the images you need.”
There’s a lot to love about the job and the unique challenges you confront each day. “You have to look at the anatomy and pathology, and decide what pictures need to be taken,” Martin explains. “I liked helping people, and I liked the complexity of the exam.”
Martin points to many different positives in the ultrasound sonography career path: “Since it’s sound waves, there’s nothing that can harm you. There’s lots of work available, especially in smaller towns. In the past, most sonographers were women, but I think that’s changing. Medical ultrasound used to be all about obstetrics, but vascular imaging and heart echo imaging are a larger part of it now. I think its becoming more interesting to men.”
“There are no limitations in this field for anyone.” – Vickie Martin
Could a career in sonography be a good fit for you? Read on to learn more about what it takes to become an ultrasound technician and get answers to frequently asked questions about the qualifications that employers want.
How Do You Become a Certified Ultrasound Technician?
Earning a certification in diagnostic medical sonography involves several steps:
- Completing an education from an accredited school
- Finishing any clinical work experience requirements
- Passing an exam
We’ll explain each of these steps in more detail below, so you have a clear understanding of how the process works from start to finish.
Prerequisites for Ultrasound Technician Certification
The first step is to complete your education requirements. Ultrasound tech program options include:
- 1-year certificate
- 2-year associate’s degree
- 4-year bachelor’s degree
Most diagnostic medical sonographers hold an associate’s degree, but bachelor’s degree programs are also available and may include more areas of specialization.
Certificate programs, which range from 12 to 18 months, are designed for people who already have experience and education as an allied health professional and are looking to transition into diagnostic medical sonography. These can be found at both colleges and some hospitals.
Most education programs require both classroom study and a clinical component where students work with a technologist in a medical setting, such as a hospital, physician’s office or imagining laboratory.
Whatever pathway you pursue, look for programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), the largest accreditor of health science professions. CAAHEP reviews diagnostic medical sonography programs to ensure they meet the nationally recognized standards of the profession. Other regional accrediting agencies may also meet the requirements for certification, such as the Canadian Medical Association.
Once you have completed your education and the clinical experience required, you must pass one or more exams to earn a certification.
Types of Ultrasound and Sonography Certification
There are a number of sonography certification organizations, which each offer a variety of certification exams in different types of specializations. Three certification organizations are listed below, along with the types of exams they offer for sonography.
- Fetal Echocardiography
- Obstetrics & Gynecology
- Pediatric Sonography
- Adult Echocardiography
- Pediatric Echocardiography
- Vascular Technology
- Vascular Sonography
- Breast Sonography
- Advanced Cardiac Sonographer
- Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer
- Registered Cardiac Sonographer
- Registered Phlebology Sonographer
- Registered Vascular Specialist
How Much Does Certification Cost?
Once you meet the prerequisites of the certification organization—which may include a combination of medical education and clinical experience requirements—the final hurdle is passing one or more exams.
The cost of exams varies:
- Examination application fees for ARDMS range from $225 to $250.
- Application fees for ARRT are $200 to $400.
- Application fees for CCI range from $365 to $450.
How Long Does It Take to Get Certified?
As mentioned above, there are different prerequisite pathways available, depending on your education and experience, and each will take a different length of time. Each credentialing organization has its own unique process.
- ARDMS: To earn an ARDMS credential, you must complete your educational requirement (typically either a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree in a sonography-related program from an accredited school) and have 12 months of full-time clinical ultrasound experience.
- ARRT: For your first ARRT credential, the organization requires a two-year associate’s degree or higher. If you want to earn a second credential, you must document a specific number of clinical procedures before you apply.
- CCI: A combination of education and clinical experience is needed for CCI certifications, and the requirements vary depending on the specific exam. Applicants are eligible to apply if they have an approved degree or have completed a specified amount of related full-time work experience.
How Long Does Certification Last?
The length of your certification—and the requirements for maintaining your credential—will depend on the organization.
- ARDMS: To maintain an ARDMS certification, you must pay an annual renewal fee, agree to compliance policies each year, earn continuing medical education credits, and recertify every six years.
- ARRT: To stay registered and renew an ARRT certification, you must pay a fee every year. Every two years, you must complete and report continuing education requirements, and every 10 years you must complete continuing qualification requirements to refresh your abilities.
- CCI: A credential from CCI is active for 9-12 months after passing the exam. For your first renewal, you must pay a fee and sign an agreement for a code of ethics. After the first renewal, you must pay a fee, agree to a code of ethics, and complete continuing education units every three years.
What Is the Starting Salary for Ultrasound Technicians?
For diagnostic medical sonographers, the average annual salary is $73,860, according to the BLS, with the highest 10% earning more than $100,000, and the lowest 10% earning less than $51,000.
Sonographers in outpatient care centers earned the highest average wage at $88,820, though only about 4% of the workforce was employed in these environments. Hospitals, employing roughly 60% of diagnostic sonographers, paid an average of $74,180 per year.
Finding Accredited Ultrasound Technician Schools
The first step is to check whether a program is accredited by searching the CAAHEP website.
The following types of courses are offered by programs accredited by CAAHEP:
- Physical sciences
- Applied biological sciences
- Patient care
- Clinical medicine
- Applications of ultrasound
- Related diagnostic procedures
- Image evaluation
In addition, these programs include competency-based clinical education to give you hands-on experience working with patients and using ultrasound equipment.
Other types of accreditation may also fulfill the education requirements of specific certification organizations. Currently, both ARDMS and CCI require sonography programs to be accredited under CAAHEP or the Canadian Medical Association. ARRT has a longer list of approved accrediting agencies.
Don’t hesitate to take these steps towards an ultrasound technician career by getting your education. You’re already ahead of the game by doing your research, so learn more by discovering programs that are right for you.