Which term is correct – Ultrasound Tech or Sonographer?
Both! Ultrasound Tech, or Technician, is the same as Sonographer. You may also hear the term Diagnostic Medical Sonographer as well as Ultrasonographer. Each of these titles refers to the profession of operating ultrasound machines, which produce images used to diagnose and treat patients. The ultrasound images are taken of the inside of the body, focused in the area of complaint or concern. In addition to diagnosis and treatment, ultrasound images are utilized by surgeons to guide them during surgical procedures.
Is this a physical job? Will I have to lift patients?
Yes. Working as an Ultrasound Tech may require you to be actively on your feet for long periods of time. You may find yourself squatting to speak with a patient at bedside, walking long distances between hallways in a hospital setting, as well as reaching and bending while performing tasks related to the upkeep of the ultrasound equipment.
One of the duties of an Ultrasound Tech is to lift or turn disabled patients for proper positioning. This allows the ultrasound test to be performed. In these situations, you may be required to assist the patient in turning. In situations where a large person cannot be turned, additional assistance can be provided by staff.
Does the Ultrasound Tech decide which tests to perform?
No. Only the physician orders the tests that are performed on a patient. The Ultrasound Tech performs those ultrasound tests as ordered.
If I become an Ultrasound Tech, will I be exposed to harmful rays?
No. Ultrasound imaging is obtained by using high-frequency sound waves. The sound waves are above normal hearing range. These high-frequency sound waves travel into the patient’s body, to the particular area being tested, and bounce back. The resulting speeds are measured and calculated, thus creating an ultrasound image.
X –ray tests, however, use x-ray radiation to create images. X-ray radiation is a low dose of a high-energy radiation. Technicians who work in the x-ray department must use lead shields known as ‘aprons’ to protect them while testing. These lead shields are able to block the radiation. Without these shields, the radiation can damage the electrons within the Technician’s body, causing damage to their DNA as well as cancer.
Does the Ultrasound Tech give results to the patient?
No. While the Ultrasound Tech may be able to provide competent interpretation of the ultrasound results, only the patient’s physician or surgeon should discuss any test results with the patient. Upon hearing results, the patient may begin to ask questions about their health. They may ask what, if any, additional tests may need to be performed. Only a physician or surgeon familiar with the health history of this patient is medically trained to answer these questions.
The patient may also become emotional upon hearing the results of their tests. Some patients who are receiving an ultrasound may be in the midst of a medical crisis, and are quite ill. They do not feel well, and are worried and scared. The debilitating physical strain and worry can also cause them to become quite emotional. Physicians have been thoroughly trained to deal with the emotional, as well as physical, toll that illness and disease can take.
Are there specialized areas of Ultrasound Technology?
Yes! Along with a fulfilling career as an Ultrasound Tech, you may wish to specialize in one particular area of interest. Each area, because of its location on the body, may hold its own unique challenges and require slightly different procedures than another area of specialization.
Areas of specialization include:
Abdominal -including kidneys, liver, gallbladder and spleen
Cardiac (echocardiography) – the heart
Breast –includes abnormalities, as well as to guide biopsies
Neurosonography – the central nervous system including the brain
Obstetric and gynecology – tracks the growth and development of the fetus
Vascular – Doppler ultrasound, to study the veins and arteries
Ophthalmic – the eye and its abnormalities
Would I earn more money if I was a specialist?
The answer to this question may not be a simple yes or no. There are several factors that may determine if you would earn more money as a specialist or as a general Ultrasound Tech.
If you are an Ultrasound Tech, trained and licensed to perform many different types of ultrasounds, you may be more marketable. You may be able to select where you want to work or live. In hospitals and clinics, you will be very valuable as a generalized Ultrasound Tech, able to proficiently perform the different types of ultrasound necessary for that setting. However, you may find the need to continue your education and become specialized in a particular area, to stay competitive in your field.
If you wish to specialize in one particular area of ultrasound, you may find certain employers in smaller areas such as hospitals or clinics do not need the services of an Ultrasound Specialist. While there may be fewer jobs available, the jobs you do find may pay more than that of a generalized Ultrasound Tech. In larger towns and cities, you may find a larger demand for Ultrasound Specialists. Becoming specialized may also find you more marketable.
What if there are abnormal test results. How does the Ultrasound Tech discuss this with the patient?
Only the physician, surgeon or diagnostician should discuss test results with a patient. While the ultrasound procedure is taking place, the trained Ultrasound Tech may notice areas that appear to be abnormal. Rather than halting the ultrasound test, exclaiming or showing emotion, the Ultrasound Tech remains professionally composed and continues the testing. Leaving notification to the physician, surgeon or diagnostician allows the patient to ask questions, and discuss such further treatment or testing as may be necessary.
Does the Ultrasound Tech have any other responsibilities?
Yes. The Ultrasound Tech has many responsibilities, making this profession particularly interesting and fulfilling. Because the Ultrasound Tech works with the ultrasound machine, they will be trained to adjust and maintain this equipment. The Ultrasound Tech obtains an accurate medical history from the patient, works with patients explaining the procedure, and positions the patient to obtain the best available images. Along with taking ultrasound images, the Ultrasound Tech will also have duties including patient charting, billing, and daily logs.