Ultrasound Technician Success Factor: Must Know How Ultrasound Works

ultrasound apparatus used

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Do you want to work in healthcare but don’t know what job is right for you? We suggest seriously considering working as an ultrasound technician. Before you head on over to your local hospital to apply for a job, it is important for you first to understand how ultrasound works. 

What Is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is a safe, painless and noninvasive procedure of using sound waves to get a closer look at what is going on inside your body in regards to your internal organs, vessels, and tissues. How ultrasound works, though, is important to understand as it can help your doctor determine the cause of pain, swelling, and infection within your body. In addition, it can help examine a baby in a pregnant woman, help guide biopsies, diagnose heart conditions and assess damage after a heart attack.

Also known as sonography, the process is pretty simple. How ultrasound works begins with a machine used to transmit a high-frequency sound pulse into your body with a probe, known technically as a transducer. The sound is much higher than any frequency a human can hear. In a standard ultrasound, millions of sound waves are sent out.

These sound waves travel through your body until they hit something, such as tissue fluid or bone. Some of these sound waves are then reflected back to the probe while others keep going until they meet another boundary and get reflected back. These reflected waves are also picked up by the probe.

All the waves picked up by the probe and relayed back to the ultrasound machine, which is able to calculate the distance between the probe and the boundary as well as the time it took each sound wave to return to the probe. This information is used to determine the size, shape, and consistency of soft tissues and organs inside the body. This is all done at lightning speed.

Once calculated, the machine creates a two-dimensional image on the screen. This describes how ultrasound works on its scientific principle, next we will describe how ultrasound works as a process that the technician uses in steps. 

How Ultrasound Works

ultrasound infant image

A typical ultrasound machine contains seven parts:

  • 1The transducer probe is responsible for sending and receiving the sound waves
  • 2The central processing unit is the computer that completes all the calculations. It contains the electrical power needed to power both itself and the transducer probe
  • 3The transducer pulse controls change the amplitude, frequency, and duration of the sound waves emitted by the probe
  • 4The display screen shows the images created by the information gathered by the probe
  • 5The keyboard is how data is imputed into the computer and can be used to take measurements
  • 6The storage is just that, somewhere to store the newly created images
  • 7The printer is used to print out the displayed image

While ultrasound has a lot of parts. How ultrasound works and the process of completing an ultrasound is quick and simple.

After a quick exam of the area, a water-based gel is applied to the skin. This gel helps the sound waves travel through the skin into the body as they do not travel well through the air. In also helps prevent friction so the probe can be run over the skin without pain.  

They then place the probe, which resembles a small paint roller, on the body. It is moved back and forth in order to get a complete picture of the area. The sound waves are transmitted through the muscle and skin until they reach organs, tissues, and vessels, which bounce the sound waves back to the probe.

pregnant woman under ultrasound test

The computer takes the information received by the probe and creates an image on the screen. The image is saved for the patient’s records and can be printed out for the patient if they want a copy. This is typically done when used to look at an unborn baby.

Radiologists or other physicians can then examine later the digital copy of the ultrasound. A copy is placed in the patient’s records.

In addition to getting a better look at an unborn baby, an ultrasound is ordered if you are experiencing pain, swelling or other symptoms that require an internal view of your organs. The most common use of an ultrasound is to provide a view of:

  • bladder
  • brain (in infants)
  • eyes
  • gallbladder
  • kidneys
  • liver
  • ovaries
  • pancreas
  • spleen
  • thyroid
  • testicles
  • uterus
  • blood vessels

It can also be utilized during surgery to provide the surgeon with a visual of their movements. This is especially helpful when used during a biopsy.

What does an Ultrasound Technician Do?

 Still interested in becoming an ultrasound technician after learning how ultrasound works? Good!

How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

There are three routes you can take to become an ultrasound technician.

The first path is a one-year certificate program. This is only available to those who have experience working in the medical field and can meet the rigorous prerequisites of the certificate program.

physician and patient

For those who do not meet the requirements, they must earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography. On average, it takes two years to earn an associate degree and four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Keep in mind that this degree must be from an accredited institution.

After you receive your degree, you must take a national credentialling exam to become a certified diagnostic medical sonographer. This is not a requirement, but most institutions will not hire a tech without this certification.

In addition, some states require ultrasound technicians to be licensed. A simple Google search will help you determine if you are living in a state that required this.

Why Become an Ultrasound Technician?

Most ultrasound technician jobs are full time. That being said, if you land a job in a hospital, you will probably have to work nights, weekend and even holidays.

In 2016, the average annual salary of an ultrasound technician was $69,650, which breaks down to about $33.49 per hour.

The job outlook of an ultrasound technician is excellent. The US Bureau of Labor Statics classified this occupation as having a bight outlook as they expect it to grow much faster than other jobs throughout 2024.

Ultrasound Technician

In 2014, there were 61,000 people working as ultrasound technicians in the United States.

While there are a lot of positives with this job, it is important to note there are also some negatives. A large portion of your day will be spent on your feet. Many of the patients you will work with will have mobilities problems, which means you may need to help lift or move them. We all know technology is constantly changes. This is true for ultrasound technology as well. Because of this, you will have to complete frequency training and stay up-to-date on the latest updates.

What Skills Do You Need

In addition to knowing how to operate an ultrasound machine, there are a few additional skills that will help you be successful in this career.

Being an active listener is important as your patients will be asking questions throughout the procedure. You must be able to understand what they are asking in order to provide them with the right answer. Medical procedures are stressful. Not getting the answers to your questions does not help.

Communicating well is important as you will need your patients to move around in order to get the best picture possible. You must be able to convey instructions to your patients.

giving instructions on ultrasound

Having interpersonal skills is key for any patient-facing job. Getting an ultrasound can be scary, and many patients find it comforting to talk to you while it is happening. You should be able to sympathize and empathize with your patients throughout the procedure.

Reading comprehension is important as many of the instructions you receive from doctors will be written down. They are sending their patients to you for very specific reasons. Getting the right image the first time is will lead to better patient outcomes and a better working relationship with the doctors at your hospital.

Thinking critical is another necessary skill as sometimes things do not go according to plan. Patients only have so much time and energy for medical tests. If something is not working, you cannot simply ask them to come back tomorrow. You will need to be able to think on your feet in order to get the right results the first time.

A Typical Day as an Ultrasound Technician

As an ultrasound technician, you will be tasked with operating equipment that uses sound waves to gather images of patients’ internal organs. This information is crucial for doctors to make accurate diagnoses.

You will be tasked with preparing your exam room and the ultrasound equipment before conducting any exams. This means you must comply with infection disease, sterilization, and patient safety protocols, policies, and processes as outlined by your institution.

physical examination

You may be asked to assist radiologists with ultrasound guided biopsies and vascular ultrasound procedures.

You will be responsible for caring for the ultrasound equipment and reporting any failures or issues as soon as possible.

Last but not least on this list is performing ultrasounds on patients of all ages. While you will not be interpreting any of the data, as this is what radiologists do, it will be your responsibility for recording the information requested by the doctor. You will also have to create a written report to accompany each scan.  

Final Thoughts

As you can see, working as an ultrasound technician is a challenging and rewarding career choice. You will be a member of the medical field and will interact with patients on a daily basis. 

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