Getting a sonography degree is usually as easy as enrolling in and completing a course of study designed specifically around the medical art of ultrasound technology, but in most places there are a number of programs out there; making the right choice is often the hardest part of the equation. Many universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in this field. These tend to be the most intensive, and usually take about four years to complete. You might also be able to get an associate’s degree, often from a vocational school or community college; the work is usually less rigorous in these settings, and you can usually be done in about two years.
The job opportunities that will be open to you and the possibilities for advancement are sometimes different between the two, so researching your options and making sure that you make the choice that is best for your circumstances is usually an important first step. In some cases it’s also possible to do all or part of your coursework online. Internet-based degree programs offer a lot of flexibility, but you usually need to be very careful to make sure that courses are accredited or otherwise approved by employers. Earning a degree that won’t be recognized professionally isn’t usually very useful.
Research Your Options
One of the very first things you need to do is gather information about the programs that are available in your area. Most will send you packets of literature and other information that describes the program being offered in some detail. If you intend to be working while you’ll be studying, you might want to look for courses that are offered in the evenings or on weekends, and looking at payment plans and financing options is also usually wise at this point.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s time to actually apply. Application requirements vary from place to place, but most ask for a letter of intent, some form of recommendation letters or references, and transcripts of any former study you’ve done. If you intend to apply for loans or grants to cover your education, some of this paperwork often needs to be filed at the outset, too. Then it’s just a matter of waiting to hear back, deciding where to enroll, and, of course, actually completing the course of study and graduating with a degree or diploma.
Many of the most rigorous and well-respected sonography degree programs are offered by universities. Participants typically leave with a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree in sonography or ultrasoundography, and tend to be very marketable to hospitals and doctors’ offices. Admission often tends to be the most rigorous, too, as slots are limited and are often highly desirable. In most cases this sort of degree takes about four years of full-time study to complete; more if courses are spread out over evenings, less if some are picked up in the summer.
In most places you can get an associate’s degree in sonography from a community college or vocational school. These programs tend to cover the basics and often focus more on enabling students to operate the machinery and technology on a daily basis than the science underlying it all. An associate’s degree is usually easier to earn; you can often get one in as little as two years. The overall cost is often a lot lower, too. It isn’t as prestigious, and you probably won’t be able to jump into more senior sonography roles as quickly with these sorts of credentials. Still, in the right circumstances, they can be ideal.
Possibility of Online Study
A growing number of schools and institutions offer online degree programs in sonography and related technical fields. Some of these are legitimate and can be a very flexible — and often very inexpensive — way to earn credentials. It is very important to do a lot of research before enrolling, however, since not all schools offer programs that are either respected or even accepted by many employers.
The thing to look for in most cases is accreditation. Online programs that are accredited by authorities in the field of medical education are usually understood by those in the community as offering a sound and legitimate education. In some cases, degrees that sound “too good to be true” actually are, and earning one can hinder rather than help your chances of employment. If you’re unsure, see if you can talk to someone in a hiring department of a hospital or clinic. People in these positions are usually able to give you information about what sort of credentials they look for, and can also let you know how online degrees are regarded in the workplace.
Diving Into Your Studies
Enrolling, of course, is only half the battle. You must also complete the coursework and ultimately graduate in order to actually have your degree. While in school, students typically learn the skills to use various types of sonography equipment to obtain images of a patient's organs. These images are used to diagnose a number of different conditions, depending on the reason for the ultrasound. In addition to operating the machinery, sonographers may also be required to read the results of the images to assist the physician in delivering a diagnosis for the patient.
Main Job Responsibilities
The typical work environment for sonographers is a 40 hour work week, though weekends, evening shifts, and on-call shifts may be required for professionals who work in hospital environments. Sonographers usually work directly with patients, keep patient records, and adjust equipment. Aside from hospitals, people with this sort of training may also be able to find employment in the offices of general practice physicians and gynecologists.
Potential for Advancement
Graduates of accredited sonography degree programs may be able to continue their education to become what’s known as a diagnostic medical sonographer. People in these positions are often able to choose a specialty, such as neurosonography or obstetric sonography. A neurosonographer specializes in ultrasounds of the central nervous system and brain. Obstetric sonography is the most common specialty, and focuses on the female reproductive system. It is used throughout pregnancy to monitor the growth of the fetus or to find potentially dangerous issues that could harm either baby or mother. Other specialty areas include opthalmologic sonography, which is related to the eyes, and abdominal sonography, which focuses on the kidneys, liver, and other abdominal organs.
In the United States, students who have earned a sonography degree may consider testing to become part of the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) to increase their chances of landing a desirable position in the field. ARDMS is an independent organization that certifies that sonographers have a certain level of training in the field. Employers often look for this certification when sorting through applications; however, this may or may not be a requirement in order to secure a position. Most countries have similar professional associations that may be worth looking into.