Ultrasound technicians help diagnose diseases and conditions by using special equipment that creates images through sound. The career is fast growing, with employment projected to increase by 44 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also called diagnostic medical sonographers, ultrasound technicians must complete accredited college-level training. Although certificate programs are available, most sonography programs grant an associate or bachelor's degree.
An accredited certificate program is the shortest path to work as an ultrasound technician. Certificates take as little as one year and are usually designed for students with previous college or credentials in health care -- for example nurses. Physiology, physics, medical terminology and seven other college prerequisites are necessary to begin the certificate program in sonography at Louisiana State University. The program takes one year, including summer, and includes classes such as instrumentation, the abdomen, obstetrics and gynecology and superficial structures. Students also complete three sections of clinical observation and practice.
Associate Degree Programs
Associate degree programs in sonography usually take two years and are designed for high school graduates who have taken science and math in secondary school. For example, Springfield Technical Community College in Washington state offers a full-time associate degree in medical sonography that requires two years, including summer sessions. Required sonography classes include anatomy and physiology, sonographic physics and instrumentation, sonographic procedures, obstetrical and gynecologic procedures and abdominal procedures. Students also complete four sessions of clinical practice and general education classes in English composition, technical writing and oral communication.
Bachelor's Degree Programs
Bachelor's degrees for ultrasound technicians usually take four years full time but may take less for students with an associate degree in sonography or transferable units. Typical bachelor's programs include general education and science classes, sonography classes and clinical internships. For example, the bachelor's degree program at Rochester Institute of Technology requires four years and includes classes in biology, pre-calculus, statistics, computers and writing. Students also study anatomy and physiology, scanning skills and techniques, sonography physics and instrumentation, pathophysiology, sonography for specific body areas and patient care. In addition, they must complete a minimum of two clinical internships in medical facilities.
Certification and Licensing
Many employers prefer to hire technicians who have achieved certification in diagnostic sonography. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certifies those who have the necessary education and can pass required exams. Specialty certifications, for example in breast exams, are also available. In some states, ultrasound technicians must have a license. Certification is a prerequisite for licensing, although other state requirements vary. Ultrasound technicians must also complete continuing education units to maintain professional certification.
The average annual income of a full-time ultrasound technician was $66,360 in 2012, according to the BLS. Eighty percent of technicians earned between $44,990 and $91,070 per year in 2012. Most diagnostic sonographers have full-time jobs, and night or weekend work is common.