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Cardiac sonographers are diagnostic imaging specialists who work at general hospitals, clinics, and heart health centers. They operate ultrasound machines to produce echocardiograms, or accurate renderings of patients' hearts. Cardiologists and other physicians rely on the findings of sonographers to make accurate diagnoses and determine treatment measures. The requirements to become a cardiac sonographer vary between regions and countries, but most hopeful workers earn two-year degrees, participate in internships, and take written certification tests to earn the necessary credentials.
A person who wants to become a cardiac sonographer can look into cardiovascular technology programs at local community colleges, technical schools, and allied health centers. Most programs take two years of full-time study to complete and award either associate's degrees or certificates upon graduation. It is important for a future sonographer to choose a school that is fully accredited by the appropriate national governing board, such as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Professionals in the United States. Information about accreditation and specific program components can be obtained by perusing a school's Web site or speaking with advisers on campus.
Once enrolled in a program, a student has the chance to develop essential knowledge and skills to help him or her become a cardiac sonographer. He or she attends lectures led by experienced instructors and participates in hands-on laboratory courses. Among other courses, a student usually takes lecture classes in anatomy, physiology, imaging technology, and medical terminology. In a lab on campus or at an actual health-care center, an individual learns how to operate machinery and produce accurate echocardiograms.
Many cardiovascular technology programs offer internship opportunities for students in their last year or half-year of study. Most internships take place at general hospitals, where students have the chance to work directly with patients under the supervision of established sonographers. Near the end of a degree program, an individual can determine if his or her region requires prospective technicians to pass registry exams before looking for work. Success on a written registry test is an important step to become a cardiac sonographer, as it ensures a person understands basic techniques, terminology, legal matters, and ethical practices.
With the appropriate degree and credentials, a graduate can become a cardiac sonographer assistant at a hospital or outpatient clinic. As an assistant, he or she gains valuable on-the-job training from an experienced professional. The length of training varies between regions and specific hospitals, but most workers are fully prepared for independent careers in about six months. Some countries and regions require new cardiac sonographers to pass additional certification tests before they can begin working unsupervised.