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What Is an Ultrasound Technician?
Many people first encounter an ultrasound technician during pregnancy. These technicians operate the ultrasound machines used to take pictures of the developing baby. The process is called diagnostic ultrasound imaging, where technicians and doctors can take pictures of many different parts of the body. It identifies both bone and soft tissue structures such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This technique can also make movies of these structures. For example, ultrasound can show the movement of a muscle and tendons or blood coursing through an artery and vein.
With these different abilities, diagnostic ultrasound is an extremely powerful imaging tool for doctors and other healthcare professionals. Along with general sonography, specialties exist for multiple areas of the body, such as abdominal, cardiac, vascular, pediatric, breast, and obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) for imaging pregnancies. Some doctors prefer ultrasound imaging over x-rays and CT scans because of safely reasons. Ultrasound uses only sounds waves to make images, which do not expose the body to radiation.
Ultrasound Technician Specialty Certifications
While many healthcare professions require graduate school and advanced degrees, a sonographer generally has a two-year associate’s degree. During this 18-24 month training, many schools allow students to pick a specialty. However, certain specialties, such as cardiac and vascular, are not always available and may require more training. After completing a training program, students must pass the sonography principled and instrumentation (SPI) examination from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. This provides the basic certification of registered diagnostic medical sonographer (RDMS).
Additional certifications examinations are available after people attain their RDMS. The registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer (RDCS) allows ultrasound technicians to take echocardiograms, real-time ultrasound pictures and movies of the heart. The registered vascular sonographer (RVT) is for ultrasound technicians who take doppler ultrasound images that measure blood flow through the blood vessels of the body, searching for blood clots or other problems. These and other specialties can strongly affect one’s ultrasound technician salary.
What Factors Affect an Ultrasound Technician’s Salary?
Ultrasound technicians are paid well. Monster.com considers ultrasound technician salary to be the second best of any job with an associate’s degree. This increases with specialty certifications, different locations, and experience.
Higher values are available if sonographers attain a specialty certification, such as OB/GYN, cardiac, or vascular sonography. Additional training or a bachelor’s degree in sonography may be required for some of these specialties. Despite the time required for training and to pass the certification examination, the pay increase for some of these specialties can be substantial and make the certifications more than worthwhile.
Geographic location can significantly affect salaries. The San Francisco Bay Area has the highest average salary at over $50 an hour, with the city of San Francisco holding the highest average at $56 dollars an hour. However, the cost of living is much higher in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, with some of the most expensive real estate in the country. On the other hand, Louisiana average salaries are around $27 an hour; half that of San Francisco. Of course, the median cost of a home in San Francisco is $1.3 millions versus $146,000 in Louisiana.
Experience and Other Responsibilities
Like many jobs, experience can increase an ultrasound technician’s salary. Starting salaries run $20,000 less than the average salary in this field. After several years, sonographers may take on other tasks, such as administration or sales, that can increase their salary. Still, specialty certifications have a much greater effect than experience on one’s ultrasound technician salary.
Typical Ultrasound Technician Salary
Ultrasound technician earn good salaries. The median salary for ultrasound technicians in 2017 was $71,410, with the first quartile (25% percentile) making $59,110, and the third quartile (75% percentile) earning $84,300. In terms of work settings, outpatient offices paid the best, with annual salaries averaging $84,890. Colleges and universities were second at just under $80,000 per year. Other settings paying over the median were specialty hospitals, employment service, and company management averaging about $75,000 per year.
Depending on the facility, the hours associated with this pay can vary. Some hospitals and other facilities require 24 hour coverage, meaning that some ultrasound technicians must work night shifts. These shifts can also vary by specialty, with certain specialties needed by hospitals for immediate imaging of potentially life-threatening conditions. Of course, these specialties can average better salaries, with more than 50% of cardiac ultrasound specialists earning better than the median salary. Those with multiple certifications can earn even more. The top 10% of sonographers earned over $99,000 per year.
Ultrasound Technician Job Prospects
Ultrasound technicians should expect good prospects for the future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for job growth indicate a 23.2 percent expected increase in ultrasound technician jobs. This translates to 15,600 jobs between 2016 and 2026. States with the highest number of ultrasound technician jobs are California, Florida, New York, and Texas.