What is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Diagnostic medical sonographers use special imaging equipment that directs sound waves into a patient’s body (in a procedure commonly known as an ultrasound, sonogram, or echocardiogram) to assess and diagnose various medical conditions. Most diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals. Some work in physicians’ offices or imaging clinics. Sonographers may be on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn disabled patients.

Find your next career

Sokanu matches you to one of over 500 careers by analyzing your personality, interests, and needs in life. Take the free assessment now to see your top career recommendations!

What does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer do?

Diagnostic ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. The sonographer presses an instrument called an ultrasound transducer to the parts of the patient’s body that are being examined. The transducer emits pulses of sound that bounce back, causing echoes. The echoes are then sent to the ultrasound machine, which processes them and displays them as images. Some responsibilities of a diagnostic medical sonographer include:

  • Preparing patients for procedures by taking a patient’s history and answering any questions about the procedure
  • Preparing and maintaining imaging equipment
  • Applying a gel to aid the sound waves’ ability to show the inside of the body
  • Operating equipment to get diagnostic images of areas in the patient’s body
  • Analyzing the images to check for quality and adequate coverage of the area needed for diagnosis
  • Recognizing the difference between normal and abnormal images
  • Analyzing images to provide preliminary findings for physicians
  • Recording findings and keep track of patients’ records

Diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in different parts of the body. The following are examples of specific types of sonographers: - Abdominal sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s abdominal cavity and nearby organs, such as the kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or spleen.

  • Breast sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s breast tissues. Sonography aids mammography in the detection of breast cancer. Breast sonography is also used to track tumors in breast cancer patients.
  • Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in imaging muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints.
  • Neurosonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s nervous system, including the brain.
  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system. Many pregnant women receive ultrasounds to track the baby's growth and health.
  • Cardiovascular and vascular technologists use sonography to assist physicians in diagnosing problems with a patient’s heart, arteries and veins.

What does it take to be a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Diagnostic medical sonographers need formal education, such as an associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. Many employers also require professional certification. Colleges and universities offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in sonography. One-year certificate programs also are available, although these are usually useful only to those who are already employed in related healthcare jobs, such as nursing. Employers prefer a degree or certificate from an accredited institute or hospital program. The accredited programs usually follow a specific course of study and include clinical training. These programs also include courses in medical terminology and interpreting sonographic images. Most programs are divided into the specialized fields that correspond to the relevant certification exams, such as abdominal sonography or breast sonography.

Some sonographers graduate with a degree in radiologic technology or nursing and then receive on-the-job training by their employer. High school students who are interested in diagnostic medical sonography should take courses in anatomy, physiology, and mathematics. Most employers prefer to hire sonographers who have professional certification. A sonographer can get certification by graduating from an accredited program and passing an exam. Most exams relate to the specialty that the sonographer is most interested in—for example, an exam to be become certified in abdominal sonography.

Diagnostic medical sonographers must follow precise instructions to obtain the images needed to diagnose and treat the patient. They also must pay attention to the screen while scanning a patient's body because the cues that contrast healthy areas with unhealthy ones may be subtle. To get quality images, diagnostic medical sonographers must be able to move equipment on the patient’s body in response to what they see on the screen. Diagnostic medical sonographers must work closely with patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain or mental stress, and the sonographer must get cooperation from the patient to create usable images. Diagnostic medical sonographers work on their feet for long periods and must be able to lift and move patients who need assistance. Diagnostic medical sonographers must understand how to operate complex machinery and computerized instruments.

What is the workplace of a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer like?

Diagnostic medical sonographers do most of their work at diagnostic imaging machines in dimly lit rooms, but they may also perform procedures at patients' bedsides. Sonographers may be on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients who are disabled.

How much does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer earn?

The median annual wage of diagnostic medical sonographers was $64,380 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,900, and the top 10 percent earned more than $88,490.

Learn more about being a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer