What Does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Woman receiving ultrasound examination, smiling
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An ultrasound technician helps doctors and other health professionals diagnose patients' ailments. He or she operates special equipment that uses high-frequency sound waves to record images of internal organs. Other job titles for this occupation include ultrasound tech, diagnostic medical sonographer, or sonographer.

Ultrasound technicians work directly with patients and physicians. They may specialize in obstetric and gynecologic, abdominal, breast, vascular, or cardiac sonography.

Quick Facts

  • Ultrasound technicians earn a median annual salary of $71,410 (2017).
  • Approximately 67,300 people are employed in this occupation (2016).
  • Most work in hospitals, doctors' offices, and diagnostic imaging centers.
  • Jobs are typically full time.
  • The job outlook for ultrasound technicians is excellent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies it as a "Bright Outlook" occupation because employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

Roles and Responsibilities

What is it like to work in this occupation? To learn about job duties, we consulted some job announcements on Indeed.com. We learned ultrasound techs:

  • "Prepare exam room and ultrasound equipment to conduct sonography examinations in accordance with infectious disease, sterilization, and patient safety protocols, policies, and process"
  • "Assist radiologists with ultrasound guided biopsies and vascular ultrasound procedures as needed"
  • "Recognize and record appropriate anatomy and pathology using sonographic equipment"
  • "Care for the equipment to ensure longevity of the machine and transducers; report equipment failure to the supervisor"
  • "Write reports based upon completion of the scan"
  • "Alert the appropriate medical staff of abnormalities that require immediate attention"

The Truth About Being an Ultrasound Technician

  • Expect to work nights, weekends, and even holidays, especially if you work in a hospital.
  • You will be on your feet for a large part of your day.
  • Patients with mobility problems will need you to lift and move them.
  • Changes in technology and procedures will require keeping your knowledge up-to-date.

How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

If you want to become an ultrasound technician, you can take one of four routes to get there. The first, a one-year certificate program, is available only to those who have experience working in other healthcare occupations. If you do not meet this requirement, earn an associate or bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography from an accredited program. It will take about two years to get an associate degree and about four to get a bachelor's degree (Diagnostic Medical Sonography. Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs).

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits diagnostic medical sonography educational programs in the United States. 

After you graduate, you can take a national credentialing exam to become a certified diagnostic medical sonographer. Certification isn't mandatory, but most employers will not hire you without it. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS), American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT), and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) all offer certification (Who Is Qualified to Perform Your Exam? Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography). 

Some states require ultrasound technicians to be licensed. Use the License Finder Tool from CareerOneStop to find out if your state is one of them.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Active Listening: Your patients may have questions about the procedure. To answer their questions, you must have a complete understanding of what they are asking.
  • Verbal Communication: Getting accurate images requires you to properly instruct your patients on how to position themselves.
  • Interpersonal Skills: In addition to listening and speaking skills, it is also essential to have excellent social skills and the ability to sympathize and empathize with your patients.
  • Reading Comprehension: Doctors will send written instructions to let you know what images they need. You must be able to understand them.
  • Critical Thinking: This skill will let you evaluate alternative solutions to problems.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Ability to problem solve and make decisions"
  • "Must be able to work independently or with little supervision and in a team environment"
  • "Ability to manage multiple priorities, projects and display flexibility in a fast paced and changing work environment"
  • "Must have good work ethic and a friendly and cheerful disposition"
  • "Ability to maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality required"
  • "Pursues professional development for the continual improvement of patient care"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Consider your interestspersonality type, and work-related values when choosing a career. If you have the following traits, you may enjoy working as an ultrasound technician:

Related Occupations

Description Median Annual Wage (2017) Minimum Required Education/Training
Cardiovascular Technologist Uses invasive and non-invasive procedures to help doctors diagnose and treat cardiac and vascular issues $55,270 Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Cardiovascular Technology
Radiologic Technologist Uses x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to help physicians diagnose illnesses and injuries $58,440 Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Radiologic Technology
Respiratory Therapist Administers treatment to patients who have breathing and cardiopulmonary problems $59,710 Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Respiratory Therapy
Surgical Technologist Assists surgeons and surgical nurses in the operating room $46,310 Associate Degree in Surgical Technology

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited October 8, 2018).