Sonographers can go by many different names. And no matter whether you are called a sonographer, ultrasound tech, ultrasound technician or the more formal diagnostic medical sonographer, essentially what that means is you will use diagnostic ultrasound to assess some area of the body using soundwaves. So, with the help of the ultrasound machine, you will interpret the images on the screen and effectively be able to see with sound. Much like superman’s X-ray vision, you will have your own type of superpower that allows you see into people’s bodies using sound. In fact, where superman was simply blessed with his skillset, you will use your intellectual prowess and experience to see and interpret what’s going on inside. Some people may argue that it is the machine that is doing all hard work and you just take the pictures, but if try saying that to a real sonographer and see what happens. Where, as the often do, patients see the sea or the clouds or a moon, you will see a carotid plaque, adnexal mass or CBD stone that will help to save someone’s life. Just like a superhero.
Do you really want to be a sonographer?
The first step to becoming a sonographer is to actually decide whether you want to become a sonographer. As you may have already found out, sonography training can be both long and arduous as well as costly so it is crucial to know this is the right career for you before you start. Read our article. ‘Is sonography right for you?’ to give you a brief insight into life as a sonographer. We also recommend you experience time in a couple of different ultrasound departments to gain first-hand experience of what the job entails. The staff there will often give you helpful advice from their experience that you might not find elsewhere. In addition, sonography is a rewarding career but isn’t for everyone. You should also think carefully about what kind of attributes a sonographer needs to see if matches your own. To start with, sonographers need to be caring, friendly, hardworking and comfortable working indoors for hours on end – often with little to no natural light. They may also have to deal bodily fluids or open wounds. However, if, after thinking long and hard about these points, the answer is a resounding YES, then great! Sonography is a tremendously rewarding career with good career prospects and opportunities to cross-train into different disciplines along the way.
Choosing your school
There are lots of factors when choosing an ultrasound school. You will spend a lot of time training and amount and qualify of training you will receive will play a big part in your level of competency and confidence when you leave and ‘go solo’. A good place to start, where possible, is to choose a course that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The CAAHEP has over 200 accredited courses and a small number of online courses and offers an independent seal of approval to those that it accredits, giving you a higher degree of confidence for the money and time you will be investing. However, other, non-accredited, programs are available but you should always investigate thoroughly before making your decision. Other factors such as cost, location, quality and type of clinical placements are all important features and where possible it is best to view the school and/or try to speak to current or past graduates to get their opinions. Here are a few questions you may wish to ask a potential course provider:
- Is your course CAAHEP accredited?
- How much teaching/clinical time will I receive?
- Do you have training simulators?
- What percentage of your students pass/fail the course?
- What are your graduation employment figures like?
Should you choose an online course?
While there are very few online courses, currently only 3 are accredited by the CAAHEP, they do offer a valuable alternative for those wishing to follow this route. While they offer the convenience to work around your current commitments, they also rely on a high degree of personal commitment and time management from their students.