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How and Why to Become a Certified Sonographer

Getting certified as a medical sonographer can be a smart move because many employers expect job candidates to have a credential.

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Home » Medical Sonographer » Certification

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% from 2020-2030.

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.

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:

  1. Education: Complete an education program from an accredited school.
  2. Clinical Experience: Complete clinical work experience requirements.
  3. 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:

  • 1-year certificate
  • 2-year associate degree
  • 4-year bachelor’s degree

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:

  • Abdomen
  • Breast
  • Fetal Echocardiography
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatric Sonography
  • Adult Echocardiography
  • Pediatric Echocardiography
  • Vascular Technology
  • Musculoskeletal

American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)

The ARRT offers certification exams in these specialties:

  • Sonography
  • Vascular Sonography
  • Breast Sonography

Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)

The CCI offers certification exams in these specialties:

  • Phlebology Sonography
  • Vascular Sonography

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:

  • The ARDMS fee is $225, plus a $100 processing fee.
  • ARRT fees range from $200 to $400, depending on the certification.
  • CCI ranges from $175 to $450, depending on the certification.

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: 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: 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—also will depend on the organization.

To maintain an ARDMS certification:

  • Pay an annual renewal fee
  • Agree to compliance policies each year
  • Earn continuing medical education credits
  • Recertify every six years

To maintain an ARRT certification:

  • Pay an annual renewal fee
  • Complete continuing education requirements every two years
  • Refresh your skills every 10 years by completing qualification requirements

To maintain a CCI certification:

  • For your first renewal, pay a fee and sign a code of ethics
  • After the first renewal, pay a fee, sign a code of ethics, and earn continuing education units every three years

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% from 2020 to 2030.

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:

  • Physical sciences
  • Applied biological sciences
  • Patient care
  • Clinical medicine
  • Applications of ultrasound
  • Instrumentation
  • Related diagnostic procedures
  • Image evaluation

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.