How to become Diagnostic Medical Sonographer ?
Updated on May 22, 2019 - 11:59 a.m. IST by Triti Zalka

With the help of high-tech medical imaging equipment, a diagnostic medical sonographer takes a closer look at what’s happening inside the human body. A career in sonography lets you choose from many specializations. Read the complete article below to know more about how to become a sonographer. Technology has become a game-changer in modern diagnosis. Equipment like ultrasound machines are the stethoscopes of today. They provide a clear window into the inner happenings of the human body and help arrive at a more precise diagnosis. It is a diagnostic medical sonographer, who wields these tools.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer job description

As the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words. In the medical context, a sonographer plays the role of a photographer. Using specialized imaging technologies, sonographer projects high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of a patient’s body. These sound waves are not audible to the human ear. In fact, they’re so high that they’re called ‘ultra-sounds’. Now you know where an ultrasound machine gets its name! But how exactly does it work?

You’ve seen it in movies a hundred times but to put it in technical terms: a gel is applied and an instrument called an ultrasound transducer is pressed to the part of the body that needs to be examined. This device emits sound pulses that bounce off internal organs and tissue, causing echoes. These echoes are received by the ultrasound machine, which processes them to create real-time images. And there you have it—a clear picture of what’s really going on inside.

Dr. Mona BhatiaThese images help doctors detect and diagnose a variety of conditions. “There’s a difference between the general physician (GP) you go to consult and a diagnostic. A GP doesn’t always know the cause until he knows what’s happening inside. It’s ultimately a diagnostic who puts it down on a piece of paper and gives you the whole gamut of what’s happening, and signs that piece of paper. The final diagnosis is seldom from a physician but comes from diagnostics. It’s in your hands, so you’re a very important piece to the diagnosis of many patients,” says Dr. Mona Bhatia, Head of Department, Department of Radiodiagnosis and Imaging, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.

Steps to become a Sonographer

Obstetrics is the most popular specialty that has garnered the most attention. Naturally, monitoring the health of a fetus and an expecting mother can be a delight to be a part of. Gynecology is also a prominent area, especially considering the rise of reproductive health-related disorders in women today. The same goes for rising of heart disease. Echocardiography has emerged as a very pertinent field in the healthcare system today. Musculoskeletal sonography deals with joints, ligaments, and tendons. The promising field holds a lot of scopes, especially riding on the back of the ever-growing sports industry. Abdomen, breast, vascular sonography and neurosonology are some of the other fields in sonography.

Requirements for Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Degree Bachelor's degree; certificate, Associate degree program
Degree FieldSonography technology, Radiology specialization
City offering degreeDelhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore
Licensure and CertificationFew states require licensure; sonography certification, basic life support (BLS) or CPR certifications typically required
ExperienceNo experience except educational training
Key SkillsInterpersonal, technical skills; ability to operate computerized instruments and complex machinery
Average SalaryRs 780,000 - Rs 3,800,000

Sonographers demand

As the healthcare industry grows in the modern world, the demand for sonographers is rapidly on the rise. A diagnostic sonographer is usually the one to confirm the happy news for growing families across the globe, but the profession is certainly not limited to detecting pregnancy. As a diagnostic medical sonographer, one can be a part of many life-altering moments in patients’ lives. Advancements in technology have also catapulted the diagnostic medical sonographer to a unique position—there are better diagnostic machines out there, and more and more people are required to operate them. This is the time to enter the industry and ride the tide as diagnostics goes from strength to strength.

Sonographer roles and responsibilities

Besides the obvious responsibility of operating the equipment itself, a diagnostic medical sonographer is also responsible for preparing and maintaining it. While performing an examination, a sonographer has to be sure that all the necessary images have been captured and that they’re of good quality to aid in diagnosis. Analyzing these images to write up a preliminary record of the findings is a crucial part of the job. This record is critical to a patient’s diagnosis. In many ways, the future of a patient’s diagnosis and treatment is determined in these very moments. Knowing that a sonographer has to proceed with the utmost care. It’s on the basis of this record that a physician is able to reach a decision.

Besides this, recording a patient’s medical history, preparing patients for procedures, discussing findings with the interpreting doctor and keeping track of records can also fall into the purview of a sonographer.

Same job, different situations

Diagnostic medical sonographers go by many names—sonographer, ultrasound technician, sometimes radiologists—but their job is the same, to paint a clear picture of what is happening inside the body. Government and private hospitals have a huge demand for diagnostic sonographers and are set to grow further. There are many private clinics and physicians’ offices coming up across the country where a diagnostic sonographer is needed. Diagnostic labs and medical labs are always on the lookout for hiring more sonographers to meet the increasing daily demands.

Not a day goes by in the life of a sonographer that isn’t filled with surprises, challenges and new experiences. The work itself is largely the same, but the contexts can vary a lot. One moment, you may be delivering happy news to a young mother. The very next, you could be holding your breath, waiting to see whether an old man’s cancer is in remission. Yet another, you may be discussing the plan of action for a patient of kidney stone with their referring doctor. Through all these moments, a diagnostic medical sonographer is a critical piece of many patients’ experiences with healthcare.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer skills

Like most medical professions, becoming a sonographer requires a couple of unique skills -- dexterity in both hands, and impeccable hand-eye coordination. One hand scans the patient while the other operates the machine. This also requires the ability to multi-task. Not just because both hands perform different functions at the same time, but also because all the while, a nervous patient will be asking you to explain what’s going on. Interacting with them in stressful situations calls for patience, empathy, and compassion. Communication skills are just as important as medical know-how. A sonographer is usually the first person to have a clear understanding of a patient’s condition. Communicating that to a distressed or nervous patient takes a lot of sensitivity, empathy, and patience.

A career as One thing to know about ultrasound is that it is very operator dependent. As the operator, a sonographer needs to have a thorough knowledge of anatomy to actually be able to detect an anomaly and document it correctly. Many times, these are too small. Only with keen attention to detail can a sonographer spot even tiny changes in an image. It’s easy to miss a diagnosis if you simply don’t see it. “The advantages of ultrasound are that it’s easy, it’s rapid, you can take it to the bedside. There’s no radiation involved. But at the same time, it’s very operator dependent. If you don’t know anything, you won’t see it. You have to see it, know it, and document it. If it’s not documented, it’s never existed,” explains Dr. Bhatia.

To make sure you find what you’re looking for, or in many cases find something unexpected, alertness and concentration are everything. “It’s sometimes tricky to find the diagnosis, but it’s interesting to think of each patient as a scientific quiz, and to find the solutions. You have to be very structured and systematic so you can tick off all the boxes and come to the right diagnosis,” advises Dr. Bhatia, who has been in the field for many years as both a professor at Maulana Azad Medical College and a practitioner in the US and India. Bottom line is, you need to know you want to be a caregiver to succeed as a diagnostic medical sonographer.

How to grow as a Sonographer

The path to a successful career as a diagnostic medical sonographer is paved with accuracy and trust. How many times can you get a diagnosis right? How comfortable are patients around you? How many years of experience do you have? Holding a Bachelor’s or higher degrees significantly improves a job seeker’s scope in the booming industry.

Sonographer - Future Scope

“There is a huge requirement for more sonographers. It has become your stethoscope. We’re already short of doctors, but at the same time, there needs to be a quality restriction, because there’s scope for mistakes. Some say a lot of people should be allowed to enter, others say it should be restricted to radiologists and other more qualified people,” says Dr. Bhatia.

Abroad things are different. The qualifications to become a diagnostic medical sonographer are fewer and easier, so there’s a lot more scope to enter the industry. There are educational courses, which can improve prospects.

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