Sonography has become one of the hottest allied health careers. A diagnostic sonographer performs medical tests using diagnostic equipment that creates images through sound waves. Approximately 60% of sonographers work in hospitals with the rest being employed at clinics and doctor’s offices.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sonography field is expected to grow 20% through 2018, making it one of the fastest growing occupations. Economists say that the demand is being driven the increased diagnostic exam needs of an aging population.
The average sonographer earns an annual salary of $62,000. Wages vary greatly depending on years of experience and geographic location. The lowest states, which are typically in the South, pay approximately $55,000 per year. The highest paying states located in the West and Northeast pay annual wages of $75,000-$80,000 per year. Some metropolitan areas in Southern California pay as much as $100,000 per year.
Becoming a sonographer requires attending an accredited postsecondary institution and being accepted into a diagnostic sonography program. Most programs are offered through community colleges and private institutions, and last two years. Upon completion of the program the graduate earns a two year associate’s degree.
Some programs offered mainly through career colleges and technical institutes offer a one year certificate sonography program. Graduates of those programs start out in assistant positions. Due to the increase in medical technology advancement there are a growing number of four year bachelor’s programs, but for now the predominant training method continues to be the two year associate’s track.
Sonography programs require students to apply. Programs admit applicants based upon criteria such as grade point average, completion of specific classes, timeliness of application, and supplemental test scores. Prerequisite classes typically include courses such as:
- Cell biology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- English Composition
Most programs continue for two straight years. Most are very academically rigorous and require a lot of outside study time. The curriculum is taught through classroom instruction, laboratory practice, and spending several hundred hours in the field under the supervision of a sonographer.
Students who graduate can expect a strong job market, although job competition will be keen. Graduates who are able and willing to relocate will be the most likely to earn a position.
Sonographers work non-traditional hours much like nurses and doctors. Many entry level sonographers must be willing to work the graveyard, swing shift, and weekends. They may also work for multiple health care organizations and work at multiple locations.