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How to Become 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.

Licenses and Certification

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. A few states require diagnostic medical sonographers to be licensed. Typically, professional certification is required for licensure; other requirements vary by state. Sonographers must take continuing education to keep their certification current.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. 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.

Hand-eye coordination. 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.

Interpersonal skills. 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.

Stamina. Diagnostic medical sonographers work on their feet for long periods and must be able to lift and move patients who need assistance.

Technical skills. Diagnostic medical sonographers must understand how to operate complex machinery and computerized instruments.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition