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Diagnostic medical sonography uses ultrasound technology to examine the body’s organs, blood vessels and tissues. A career in diagnostic medical sonography offers exciting rewards and challenges, and certification is a great way to make a strong start.
Sonographers, also known as ultrasound technicians, 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.
Employment opportunities are expected to grow in diagnostic medical sonography as baby boomers continue to age. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects notable growth for this career—14.7%, faster than average, through 2031.
What Certifications Do You Need to Be a Sonographer?
Although no state requires sonography certification, getting your certification can be a smart move. Certification provides an independent, objective measure of an individual’s expertise and knowledge, 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, according to the BLS.
Why Get Certified?
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 in the job market. Most employers prefer to hire sonographers with certification, and many insurance providers will only pay for a diagnostic imaging procedure performed by a certified professional.
Certificate vs Certification
- A certificate is awarded by an educational institution, and signifies that a student has satisfactorily completed a given curriculum. Certificate programs can help students prepare for certification exams.
- A certification is generally awarded by a trade group after an individual has met certain professional requirements (e.g. earned a specific degree, worked professionally in a given field for a set amount of time, etc.) and passed a certification exam.
In short, a certificate is evidence that someone has completed an educational program, while a certification denotes that someone has met a certain set of professional criteria and/or passed an exam.
Not all programs offered are designed to meet state educator licensing or advancement requirements; however, it may assist candidates in gaining these approvals in their state of residence depending on those requirements. Contact the state board of education in the applicable state(s) for requirements.
What It Takes to Be a Sonographer
While it’s great to understand hard numbers like median salary and predicted job growth, these statistics don’t give you the full picture of what day-to-day life as a sonographer may entail.
Vickie Martin, MHSA, RDMS, RVT, RT(R), a sonographer and co-director of the Diagnostic Ultrasound Program at the University of Kansas Medical Center, says sonography “takes a lot of self-confidence and problem-solving ability. 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 challenges you confront each day. “You have to look at the anatomy and pathology, and decide what pictures need to be taken,” Martin says.
How Do You Become a Certified Sonographer?
Earning a certification in diagnostic medical sonography involves several steps:
- Education: Complete an education program from an accredited school.
- Clinical Experience: Complete clinical work experience requirements.
- Pass an Exam: Pass one or more exams to earn a certification.
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 Sonographer Certification
The first step is to complete your education requirements. Sonography program options include:
Most diagnostic medical sonographers hold an associate 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 allied health professionals and are looking to transition into diagnostic medical sonography. These can be found at colleges and some hospitals.
Most diagnostic medical sonographers have an associate degree, but bachelor’s degree programs are also available and may include more areas of specialization.
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 imaging laboratory.
Whichever path 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 nationally recognized standards for the profession. Other regional accrediting agencies, such as the Canadian Medical Association, may accredit sonography programs.
Once you have completed your education and the clinical experience required, you must pass one or more exams to earn a certification.
Types of Sonography Certification
There are a number of sonography certification organizations, each offering a variety of certification exams in different specializations. Three certification organizations are listed below, along with the certifications they offer.
The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
The ARDMS offers certification exams in these specialties:
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
The ARRT offers certification exams in these specialties:
Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)
The CCI offers certification exams in these specialties:
How Much Does Certification Cost?
Once you meet the prerequisites of the certifying organization—which may include medical education and clinical experience—the final hurdle is passing one or more exams.
The cost of exams varies:
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.
How Long Does Certification Last?
The length of your certification—and the requirements for maintaining your credential—also will depend on the organization.
To maintain an ARDMS certification:
To maintain an ARRT certification:
To maintain a CCI certification:
Salary and Job Outlook
Salaries for sonographers can vary based on several factors, including your education, certification, and where you work.
But the field is growing and there’s a demand for sonographers. According to the BLS, jobs in the field will grow by 14.7%, faster than average, through 2031.
Don’t hesitate to take these steps toward 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.
Finding Accredited Sonography Programs
The first step is to check whether a program is accredited by searching the CAAHEP website. The following types of courses are included in programs accredited by CAAHEP:
Accredited programs also 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. 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.